There’s a delicious green Italian leather oak-frame chair I’m coveting these days, with little wooden armrests and space enough to turn and face the friend you’re sitting with. It costsRs 50,000 even without the leather—Rs 1 lakh, leather included—and is designed by the design firm Urbanist. The difference between this and traditional luxe popular in India till now? Material, functionality, form.

A certain kind of Indian customer is moving away from ostentatious luxury to high design, gilded thalis be damned. No patience for lazy kitsch or the boring albeit lovely richness of traditional Mughal or Rajasthani design; the luxury is in the detail of how the object feels, functions, charms.

How are today’s young Indian designers handling the new appetite for luxury?

Good finish: Urbanist’s Brian DeMuro (left) and Puru Das. Courtesy Urbanist
Traditional: Designers Kuldeep T. (left) and Salam Hidish Singh co-founded bent by design five years ago, along with Yusuf Mannan.

A team of craftsmen and contractors handles larger projects and the central three craft more personal projects in their workshop, situated by a mango orchard outside central Bangalore. “The only way to achieve high design is to make it lovingly with my own hands," says Kuldeep, whose rocking crib with attached seating space for the mother (Rs 50,000) is particularly unusual.

Gentle luxe: Urbanist’s oak-frame chair, 45,000 (without leather), complemented by a lamp imported from Portugal, 1.57 lakh. Courtesy Urbanist

For Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, whose design firm Urbanist is much sought after in the National Capital Region for personalized furniture and interior spaces, the perception of what is beautiful is just expanding in today’s urban India. “Taste is not calcified here," says Das, displaying the parchment they imported from Turkey and played with to finish a subtly mottled shelving unit in their Jor Bagh home—the final visual effect is like that of an understated painting. “People are confident about what their taste is, and will spend on good finish."

All their materials are of a high quality or particular finish: gentle luxe. An oak-frame chair is complemented by a lamp imported from Portugal; a shelving unit is made of palisander shelves and matte black supports—the screen in the shelving unit is made of hand-carved teak. These considered, even fussy pieces are part of the two lines Urbanist plans yearly.

Das, 37, and DeMuro, 46, left New York City for New Delhi a decade ago to found Basix, their earlier, more plebeian avatar. They ran their business for six years. Basix was rebranded as Urbanist four years ago. They began to customize more high-end furniture one-and-a-half years ago, and were soon doing entire spaces.

“Design for me is an organic sensory experience," says Mukul Sood, 36, an ex-lawyer who formed a design firm called Parapluie in New Delhi two years ago, without any formal training. “Parapluie works to bring harmony between life and design," he says. The firm has designed spas, houses, book fair spaces and home accessories which Sood customizes for clients. “I have an idea for a mirror frame, fully upholstered— even in the back."

Stretching the envelope: Bent by design’s rocking crib without seat, under 50,000.

Luxury is something desirable, not a necessity. But luxury is, of course, also that which is expensive or hard to obtain, something sumptuous the neighbours will envy, as the ubiquitous Onida TV jingle went in the 1980s. It is within these multiple definitions that the Indian concept of luxury exists. While Indian designers want to take more products out to a sector with increased spending power, they don’t want everyone to have them. “Luxury is not democratic," says DeMuro. “How would it be luxury then?"

It is in a redefinition of luxury that young Indian designers find their vision—and their market. “A luxury product doesn’t have to be something which hasn’t been done before; it’s about how it makes me feel now," says Sood. “The ability to choose what I want."

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