Nouveau Raj

Think Indian design and an elaborate mix of exotic ornamentation, richly carved furniture and sumptuous silks exploding with colours ranging from saffron yellow, fuchsia pink, blazing red and vibrant blue often springs to mind. This is India at its most opulent - a throwback to the grand interiors of the great Maharajas palaces.

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By  Monika Grzesik Published  July 7, 2006

|~|Indian-body1.gif|~||~|Think Indian design and an elaborate mix of exotic ornamentation, richly carved furniture and sumptuous silks exploding with colours ranging from saffron yellow, fuchsia pink, blazing red and vibrant blue often springs to mind. This is India at its most opulent - a throwback to the grand interiors of the great Maharajas palaces.

With its large Indian population and strong cultural links to the region, it is no surprise that Indian design traditions have taken root in the Gulf. Faisal Butt, president, Tribal Monsoon states that: “There is a natural cultural link between the Middle East and South Asia. Many Indian design furniture items display Islamic motifs, and residents in the Middle East have a deep historical connection with these designs.”

But while Indian designs are undoubtedly entrenched in the cultural heritage of the Gulf, contemporary designers appear to be rejecting the visual assault on the senses common to traditional Indian interiors. They prefer instead to borrow from Indian opulence and contemporise designs to create a fusion of Eastern and Western styles that fits in with the eclecticism of the region. “The over-ornate and ultra elaborate look is out,” says Butt. “Indian designs look trendy when mixed with modern minimalist décor. An Indian inspired chair, for example, will look outstanding in a room that is minimalist and relatively plain. The same chair will look mediocre at best in a room full of similar products.”

||**|||~|Indian-body2.gif|~||~|Mandeep Nagi, design director at Shades of India describes the current trend in the Middle East as being a move towards modernised versions of Indian style: “The classic Indian design has lost its following to an extent, partly because the region has seen many more global chains and brands that offer a more European and minimalist style. So even though we see a lot more people open to Indian design, they’re looking for a fusion of East and West — something that offers the richness of Indian design without the elaborateness of it.”

Designers frequently use traditional Indian style furnishings in modern interiors and give them a contemporary twist, producing pieces that conform to today’s consumer demands for comfort, utility and functionality. An example is the carved screen, commonly used today as decorative room dividers. These screens have their roots in ancient India, where they were used in women’s quarters to enable them to view the events of court without being seen. Intricate geometric carvings, which are today seen as ornamentation, were originally used to allow passage of fresh air.

Added to the continuous flow of Indian antiques, not to mention reproductions onto the GCC market; the main attraction of Indian design rests in the quality of its textile and wood products. Throughout history, India has been a pre-eminent producer of textiles with strong traditions in the making, dyeing, printing, and embroidering of cloth. “With a strong multi fibre base India has emerged as a leading source in the world market for its high quality textiles. With big investments in technology and infrastructure, India’s resurgent textile industry is today driven by its innovative designs and value,” says Khurshid Vakil, managing director, Marina.
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Carved wooden furniture involving intricate craftsmanship and skilful design is experiencing a revival in the GCC. Pieces produced in walnut, rosewood, teak or cane, which glorify the cultural richness of India can be found in exclusive, high end interiors. The quality of the hardwood compares favourably to products from countries that use woods such as MDF or particle boards, particularly for its ability to withstand the harsh climactic conditions of the Gulf.

“Apart from their elegance, Indian products are desired for the durability of the natural material compared to other mass produced synthetic products. Further more, their availability at extremely competitive rates in the local GCC markets is an added attraction,” says Vakil.

Inexpensive pricing is undoubtedly an appealing element of Indian design. Prices are extremely competitive, particularly when compared with similar quality designs from Europe. However, Butt warns designers not to be lured by cheaper alternatives, “Indian designs can be very competitive but designers should be careful about the quality they are purchasing. Price correlates very closely with the quality. I’ve seen excellent, high quality Indian furniture that is comparable to furniture made in Indonesia and even in some European countries. There are also low quality spin offs of most Indian products and I would suggest that designers in the GCC be wary of these.”

Whether used as accent pieces to provide the exotic touch in high end interiors, or fused with Western minimalist styles for a more subdued contemporary look, there is no doubt that Indian design is experiencing a surge of popularity in the Gulf region. Vakil sums up the general desire for Indian style: “Indian design is popular in the GCC for its richness of colour, beauty and intricacy. It has an indefinable feel of tradition, a sense of comfort and luxury. Thus bringing to mind the word ‘classic,’ which is the real essence of the Gulf and its life style. ‘Nouveau Raj’ is all the rage at the moment.”
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