Such is the fickleness of the world of fashion, lifestyle and interiors today that it’s possible that by the time this piece is published, any trend we speak about could easily be passé. However, there has been one key design trend which shows no signs of abating—that of a world in which multiple cultures, genres and styles sit seamlessly next to each other.
It is no longer about appropriating an Indian, Moroccan or Chinoise look in its entirety, but rather about mixing and matching elements from all these worlds to create an eclectic and individualistic design sensibility that reflects you.
Today, the word minimalism has almost been obliterated from the vocabulary of interiors terms. While minimalism was about sameness and starkness, the trend now is to have a heady cocktail of sombre tones and splashes of colour, Victorian chairs and modern-day consoles, Buddhas and African sculpture, all coexisting with each other. It’s about reflecting and expressing your individuality, a way of sticking one’s neck out in an increasingly homogeneous world.
This trend, while all pervasive in the West, is only slowly trickling down into the urban Indian home. Most homes here still have a more unidimensional approach to interiors. A number of homes on the pages of interiors magazines have an Asia-inspired look, with straight lined furniture, a Buddha statue, concealed lighting and a slender vase or planter in one corner. The look is simple and beautiful in its starkness, but today’s globalized interiors would transform that space in the following way. Perhaps a straight-lined coffee table could be kept, but the chairs or sofa could be more complicated, a bit baroque and old school. One could incorporate more fabric—after all we are famous for our brocades—a cut-up sari draped on a wall to add warmth and colour. Place some old Kerala pots with the sleeker, slender vase rather than simply having a cluster of contemporary pieces on their own. Perhaps also mix a tribal piece, Indian or otherwise, near the Buddha statue to give the Asian look a more updated and current definition. You could use an old piece—a hand-me-down that you’ve had for a long time, mix it with a sleek, modern piece you may have bought a couple of years ago and to this, add one or two elements that are completely unexpected.
To bring the point to life, we put together a dining table at Bungalow 8 to express our definition of a heady cocktail. The table combines 1930s iron chairs with a modern day dining table, ikat bedspreads and linens as tablecloths, new red and white Chinese crockery, old-school English glassware, sculptural African candle stands and Italian plastic cutlery, together in a clash of cultures, styles and genes that is both sophisticated and kitsch at the same time.
The challenge, of course, is to bring together such disparate elements in a cohesive way. To do this, firstly, one should have a central theme that binds things together. In this case, it was a Chinoise theme, so everything on the table was built around this theme. While we have mixed different prints, in terms of colours we have focused on only one central colour—red—to harmonize things. You can mix a lot of prints, even bold ones, if you make sure to stick to the same colour. Bold prints in multiple colours are chaotic, not harmonious.
Accessories are also in keeping with the Chinoise theme. The candelabras have a Tibetan and straight-lined feel—don’t try candelabras that are too Indian or too bold because the table has already got a lot going on and needs accessories that simply blend in. Finally, to put zing into an area in the house, be it table or otherwise, there must be a material or element that one would simply not expect, like old crystal decanters and jugs, from a different school of thought from the rest of the table.
People collect different things at different periods in their life. Find a way to bring them together. A super-modern leather sofa, which is no longer in fashion today, doesn’t need to be thrown away. Get a colourful length of Indian textile, loosely throw it over the sofa and put it in a room with a classic 1940s crystal chandelier. Add on a concrete coffee table with straight lines, on which you can put an African basket, a vase with flowers or some pieces you’ve picked up on your travels. That’s a home with character, which mirrors the life of the homeowners.
In the same way, an old almirah, rich in character and patina, can be in a room with sleek modern stone planters, oversize block-printed cushions and an old trunk with muted accessories on it. This doesn’t mean you should have a cluttered space. An eclectic home is one in which different pieces are combined in an interesting manner, with some thought.
We are all afraid of mixing and matching and moving out of our comfort zones. However, to fully enjoy the global village in which we reside, take the best from everywhere and massage it together to form a unique concoction that is very you. And yours and mine must be different.
(The writer, Maithili Ahluwalia, is the creative director of Bungalow 8, an eclectic interiors store in Mumbai)