Mankind's association with wood has been a long and varied one. As a pliable material with its beautiful textures and colors, wood has, over the centuries, lent itself to many uses: as weapons, building material, furniture, transport and as a material that could be carved into a beautiful object of use in daily life, something of artistic value that could last decades.
With huge forest cover at one time, and a large variety of trees, Indian artisans and craftsmen have made maximum use of wood over the years. The carved wooden doors of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the inlaid wood tables of Punjab and traditional wooden furniture with from nearly every region in the country immediately come to mind. In the modern world, wood is also extensively making an appearance in home decor products and accents, chosen for their aesthetics rather than utility.
Wood is a harmonious material, slipping into the existing scheme of your home without much fanfare, yet elevating its overall persona. And that is what makes it a material of choice for many design outfits that are experimenting vigorously with new forms and borrowing inspiration from far and wide.
Using Gamari and Lukath, two unusual types of tree-woods, New Delhi based Ethaan Design Studio draws on the rich culture of Nagaland, India, using prominent motifs like the Indian Hornbill – a bird that has immense significance to the people of Nagaland. Other motifs too, like the “Mithun Horn” used by Ethaan, are contemporary takes on traditional Naga patterns and designs and decorate items like trays, containers and butter dishes.
Objectry, a Gurgaon, India-based design studio relies on their own imagination to create minimalistic designs reflecting contemporary aesthetics and a high-utility quotient. Using pinewood, walnut and red oak, and simple wood-working techniques, they create products that add swathes of sophistication to a home's décor. From tissue boxes, platters and unusual designs for bowls, Objectry aims to craft products that show off the natural look of the wood and integrate the form with the material.
The Beehive, a New Delhi based research and design studio works with a wide variety of woods for making products like subtly elegant wooden accents and serve-ware. Beehive employs traditional wood decorating techniques like inlay work done by craftsmen from Mysore in Karnataka and Kanghi craft of Bijnour in Uttar Pradesh. The designs, inspired by nature and its lines, forms, colors, textures, appeal to an audience looking for contemporary, efficient designs.
At one time, it would have been more of a challenge to find a market for products like these; an audience with refined aesthetic has always existed, but either they visiting the region of a wood craft's origin or at an exposition, where they were able to purchase a wooden accent for their home. The retail revolution in India changed that at an accelerated speed and now a discerning customer not only has a wide variety of products to choose from but also the facility of making a purchase from anywhere on the planet.
With the increasing use of different types of wood, a new scenario is emerging: the motifs on a variety of woods like the well-known sheesham and teak to more uncommon choices that are etched by hand. Other techniques include wood burning and Kanghi craft, reviving the use of these traditional processes and becoming popular in a new urban milieu. The artisans and the designer, both are able to explore new avenues for their creativity and skills, while the consumer is able to acquire something that celebrates India's rich heritage of handmade crafts that varies between traditional and avant-garde but also completely Indian.