Luxury with a conscience

Sarthak Sengupta of Sarthak Sahil Design Co. tells us why traditional materials and Indian craft practices are intrinsic to their ideas

Sarthak Sengupta of Sarthak Sahil Design Co. tells us why traditional materials and Indian craft practices are intrinsic to their ideas

When Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta returned to India from Italy after studying design, they decided that they didn’t just want to cater to an existing market or design contemporary spaces. They wanted to change the way we consumed lighting and understood interior design. And while doing so, they wanted to use materials that were not only functional but some that found their roots in traditional Indian crafts.

In keeping with that dream, Sahil and Sarthak have been consciously working towards creating lighting products and installations since 2009 — the year they set up their design practice. Sarthak says, “We wanted to create products that were global in nature but local in spirit. Our instincts told us the definition of luxury was changing internationally. We wanted to be the front-runners at least in India — to cater to a market that believed in luxury with a conscience.”

This philosophy has found its way right from their first major project — the Lakshman Sagar Resort in Rajasthan — which is one of their most published projects till date. Since the resort is located near Raipur, the two recreated an ambience “that is inspired by the region, and made with materials that are found abundantly in that region.” Calling it the “Zero Kilometre Design”, Sarthak says, “We documented craft practices, rituals and customs, objects, farming tools and vessels, in order to capture the true spirit of the land. These were then reinterpreted into modern day objects such as light fixtures and furniture that adorn the interior of this resort.”

Sahil and Sarthak are currently presenting Kalpataru, their festive light installation at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London as part of the India festival. The central tree is shaped in the form of the tulsi or the holy basil. The remaining structures are in the shape of the mango tree, champa flower, banana, jackfruit and lotus plant — elements that form an intrinsic part of rituals in India. The framework, a handcrafted beaten brass body, was made in old Delhi, while artistes from Kerala worked on the paintings. Sarthak says, “To us, the Victoria and Albert is a treasure trove of meaningful objects that narrate varied human customs and traditions over time. We wanted to design something that encapsulates both diverse cultural symbolism and contemporary customs, embodying the metaphorical tree with the spirit of both Diwali and Christmas celebrations which everyone can enjoy.”

Their signature collection remains, The Katran Collection, which once again was developed as part of the Zero Kilometer Design. Traditionally, farmers spin the leftover colourful cloth found in cloth mills into ropes (which is then used to weave traditional Indian beds) as an additional source of income.

Sarthak says, “Our effort has been to use this material in an innovative way. We created contemporary furniture that is sustainable and beautiful and yet has a ‘glocal’ appeal. These pieces are completely handmade and brought to life by the ethical interactions.” The Katran Love Chair was awarded the Best Product by the India Design Forum 2013 and was also awarded at the Asia Talents Exhibition in Bangkok.

Among their latest projects which garnered praise, was the Kerala Sutra, which in their words, “brings together land, legend, legacy, love and lifestyle” in each object. Some inspirations that were explored in this project were the leather puppet makers and performers, nettipattam elephant decoration makers from Thrissur, mural artists from Calicut and theyyam decoration makers from Pallakad. What we see are wall hangings, mural paintings, installations made of red wooly ropes and lamps.

The duo is inspired by the late industrial designer, Achille Castiglioni and Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Sarthak says, “We admire all of Gaudi’s works, our most favourite is Casa Batlló in Barcelona. We have spent hours in this beautiful and surreal residence building, moving from room to room, admiring his unique Art Nuovo style.”

For Sahil and Sarthak, design is much more than an architectural blueprint or a functional prototype. He says, “Design is a tool to address the needs of the present culture, and the aspirations of a future culture. Our designs are deeply rooted in traditional art practices as we try to address contemporary spaces.”

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