unliked – the UNLIKE DESIGN CO. blog

usttad project – bidri craft technique

Posted in 1, Been, Designed, Process by unliked on October 10, 2017

This post covers Harpreet’s design workshop with traditional Bidri craftspeople at Bidar, Karnataka during June 2017 as part of USTTAD – a project of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India in partnership with NIFT – National Institute of Fashion Technology.

 

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The topic of Craft in India may be imagined as a musty crumbling library with more librarians than readers and terribly low chances of any new books being added to its shelves. Harsh as this may sound, even after I may be forgiven for my admitted lack of awareness of current developments, this may be the truth.

Earlier this year, I accepted to be part of the USTTAD project on behalf of NIFT Bengaluru, which involved working with one of three selected crafts in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. My opting for Bidri was largely influenced by my total ignorance of the making technique and of the people who practice it. The allure of newness. And of course a sense of optimism towards an opportunity like the one presented.

As designers, I often think we are like trained marksmen, killers on hire. We descend upon our subject in full concentration, educating ourselves in extremely short periods of time about their core behavioural patterns and identifying the optimum modus-operandi to achieve a clear objective. I think it works. Though maybe not in a manner as simple as that.

A typical USTTAD project workshop involves the development of a range of 25 objects within a workshop span of 15 intensive days on location with a group of 15 craftspeople mentored by a single master craftsperson. The objects to be developed should ideally bridge a now reducing gap between the craftsman’s aesthetic and the taste of the urban Indian consumer. This does not, however, permit the visiting designer to shun everything that precedes his or her visit. I think it’s important to remember that even the most traditional of objects was once the most contemporary creation of its time. It is surprisingly quite easy to often overlook this thought. We tend to bundle everything preceding us in a common cabinet labeled history, and lock it up. But this discussion shall go well beyond a small post like this. Moving on.

 

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Bidar, the city that lends Bidriware its name, is a small hilltop town in Northern Karnataka. One of many laterite moles on the vast cheek of the Deccan plateau. Due to its location, there is as much Telangana as Maharashtra in its local Kannada flavour. Hindi is spoken everywhere, a blessing for a visiting designer already struggling with four languages.

 

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The closest and possibly fastest connection to Bidar from cities outside Karnataka is via Hyderabad. 2 hours from Delhi, and then 3 or 4 hours via state bus or taxi. The state buses are cheaper and better acclimatisers to the winds that sweep the Deccan Plateau. Taxis are taxis.

 

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The workshop I’m working with is in the busy old fort area, very close to the easily identifiable ancient tower called the Chowbara. The soil is a burnt red across the city. Its like being in a film with a dominant colour filter. Laterite bricks are everywhere, and so are exposed laterite hills.

On my request, the fifteen day workshop was extended to twenty days. A few extra days to soak in the local-ness. After much necessary paperwork, verification of the participants and even a short speech by me and the coordinating officer from NIFT, I dive right into quickly making as many mistakes with my prototypes as I can. Hopefully, of the 25 objects required, 10 would turn out worthy of further marketability.

The process of making a typical Bidriware object is not very complex to understand visually. Though on the technical (and chemical) front, things are different. To describe it briefly, Bidri involves the inlay of either silver, copper or brass onto a surface that is an alloy of zinc and copper – which is then oxidised to a deep black, leaving the inlaid metal unaffected in stark contrast.

Expanding into more detail, I divide the process into five main parts. First – the creation of the ‘master’ piece from which other replicas shall be generated. Second – the surface ornamentation and creation of the patterned bed into which the silver (or brass, copper) shall be inlaid. Third – the sand casting of this master to generate the required number of pieces. Four – inlaying the silver. And five – the pre-finishing, oxidation and final finishing of the piece.

In terms of importance, the engraving/chiseling of the patterned bed is a core skill. What pattern shall be engraved is a matter of either personal choice of the artisan, in which case he may consult his heirloom of sheets, photocopies or tracings – or, it could be briefed by the designer or entity who has commissioned the order.

The other important step is the surface oxidation of the zinc alloy, which is how the name Bidri actually comes about. Amongst the craftspeople, the sudden deep matt black oxidation of the previously shiny silvery alloy is attributed to the process of heating the finished object in a mixture composed mainly of soil collected from the shaded ramparts of the Bidar fort. Researchers have probed further on the subject of this particular oxidation due to the local fort soil. The black patination has been studied in detail and the results presented in the paper ‘The Technical Examination of Bidri Ware” by Susan La Niece and Graham Martin, even though the precise cause of the blackening has not been determined.

 

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To explain it visually, the process begins with the selection of the ‘master’ design piece. That is if the object to be produced is one that has been ordered previously. In the case of a new design, the process begins with making this ‘master’ design itself. Local carpentry workshops assist in this case with either turned wood models or shaped wood blocks (using jig saws and sanding belts). In other cases, waste plastic (acrylic) sheets may be cut and joined to produce a rough model. This model is then sand cast once to produce what shall be the ‘master’ design piece. Many such master designs may be seen in this picture of the workshop store above.

 

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In order to prepare the surface to create an engraving pattern, a small pouch containing moist copper sulphate is quickly dabbed over the surface. Copper sulphate is bright blue in colour, and the dabbing produces a black patination over the surface of the master design. This helps in creating the engraving pattern since it shall be easily visible on the blackened surface.

 

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This is a picture of a pattern scratched upon the master design surface, before the engraving begins. In this case, the pattern was requested by me to be drawn by memory.

 

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The engraving tools used to create the inlay ‘bed’ for either silver wire or sheet are shown in the pictures above. The interesting part being that these engraving chisels are engineered from old files. Understandably due to the hardness of files. The local blacksmith assists in deriving the rough sizes and shapes, though the final sharpening is done by the craftspeople themselves.

 

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For the inlay of wire (left), only the outline path is engraved. For the inlay of sheet (right), the entire design is chiseled out to create a ‘bed’ that shall accommodate the sheet to be inlaid.

 

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By the time the engraving progresses, the blackened surface of the master design turns a dull grey. This is still sufficient to provide the visual contrast needed for accurate engraving.

 

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Once the engraving is complete, the master design will look like the picture above. A flat chisel has been used to debur the sharp edges produced due to engraving. Once it is sandpapered and cleaned, the master will look like the lower picture, and is ready to be sandcast into replicas.

 

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The materials crucial to sand casting can be seen in the pictures above. In the upper picture, the sandy soil that shall be used to create the sand mould and in the lower picture, molten alloy of zinc and copper (9:1 ratio) that shall be poured into it. For better understanding, the video below should explain it much more clearly. Do excuse my decision to shoot the video in a vertical format.

 

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The sand cast pieces are then filed, brushed, sanded and cleaned to prepare them for the wire inlay (or sheet, depending on the design). In the picture above, the pieces are to be inlaid with silver as well as copper wire.

 

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A variety of tools are used at different stages of the process, though the ones above are the most frequently used. These do not include the buffing wheels which impart the final polish to the finished object.

 

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The pictures above show the sequence of wire drawing – thinning down wire to match the engraved channel ‘bed’ that it must be inlaid into. A wire drawing plate helps in this regard, thinning the wire through pulling via sequentially smaller holes.

 

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The detail of a silver wire that has been partially inlaid can be seen in the upper picture. In the lower picture, the craftsman is hammering the wire into the desired channel. Silver and copper being softer metals inlay easily. Brass is harder and needs to be hammered a lot harder.

 

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Inlaid wire looks like this. The piece is now ready to undergo the pre-finishing polish, involving hard buffing to smoothen out the surface, and soft buffing to give it a lustre. Once the piece has been polished, it is often hard to distinguish between the inlaid silver wire and the zinc, since they both shine equally well at that stage (see lower picture).

 

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The next stage is by many ways the most crucial – the final oxidation of the object that shall impart upon it a black patina which forms the very identity of the Bidri craft. The soil credited with enabling this black oxidisation is collected from shaded areas of Bidar fort (above). The collector simply tastes it to ensure that it is the right kind. By many ways, this is the core skill passed on from each generation to the next. Taste.

 

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The mud collected from the fort looks like this (upper picture). After basic sieving to remove the larger pebbles, this is mixed with ammonium chloride (middle picture) to form a solution as seen above.

 

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More water is added and the solution is then heated to a boil.

 

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Sequentially, each polished piece is then dipped and throughly stirred in the heating solution. In about 15-20 seconds, each product is given a wash in water and all that was a shiny zinc surface turns a deep matte black. The inlaid metal, be it copper, silver or brass, does not attract the black oxidation. This is the precise moment that the Bidri process lays absolute claim to.

The geographical heritage tag associated to the craft of Bidri rests pretty much on the availability of the ‘magic’ soil from Bidar fort. With the Archaeological Survey of India getting increasingly strict about soil being collected from the fort premises, the craft shall of course look towards substitute oxidants. Already, new research at the IIT Madras has been able to recreate the Bidar fort soil in a laboratory. More such results shall of course define the future of Bidri ware.

 

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These are finished Bidri coasters, the making of which can be seen in the some of the pictures above. They are inlaid with copper and silver. A set of two can be purchased at our studio webstore: www.towithfrom.com

More products shall be available soon through www.towithfrom.com and other offline and online channels.

Much thanks to the workshop team of 15 artisans at Bidar as well as Yathindra Lakanna, Sanjeev Kumar and Girinath Gopinath of Fashion and Lifestyle Accessory Design Department, NIFT. All Photographs ©Harpreet Padam 2017.

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salone satellite: 20 years of new creativity

Posted in 1, Been, Designed, indiandesign by unliked on July 1, 2017

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In April 2017, we were part of the mega exhibition Salone Satellite: 20 years of New Creativity at Milan, Italy. The exhibition celebrated 20 years of the young designer’s section of the Salone del Mobile – the Salone Satellite. 500 products curated by the Italian architect Beppe Finessi were exhibited at the Fabbrica del Vapore space during Milan Design Week.

 

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Our product, Kvikk, was displayed in the category ‘Typological Innovation’ alongside work by Marc Newson, Nendo, Matali Crasset, Scholten & Baijings, Satyendra Pakhale and a long list of Satellite alumni.

 

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Besides Kvikk, two other selected products by Unlike Design Co. – Ammo and Slot – were also published in a new book by Corraini Editions.

 

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Also included in the exhibition was Indian design studio Studio Avni, the only other Indian representation.

Many thanks to Marva Griffin Wilshire and the team at Salone Satellite and Salone del Mobile for this wonderful opportunity.

Photo © Andrea Mariani and © Unlike Design Co.

hiroshima appeals

Posted in 1, Been, Spotted by unliked on May 28, 2016

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Came upon this beautiful piece at the Contemporary Japanese Posters exhibition in the city today. The designer of this poster Yusaku Kamekura with illustrator Akira Yokoyama have managed to very successfully capture a feeling of the moment that cannot be described in words alone. In that sense, it is a true poster and a magnificent piece of communication design.

Having visited Hiroshima alters the way you imagine the atomic bomb forever. It links you to the place and the incident that holds such importance in world history. The moment of destruction embeds itself in your memory, and August 6th is no ordinary date anymore. That we were to come upon this poster only a day after US president Obama visited Hiroshima is also interesting.

The exhibition Contemporary Japanese Posters is on at the Japan Foundation, New Delhi from May 13 to June 4, 2016. A second part of the same exhibit opens on June 10th to close on July 1st. Many thanks and wishes to the Japan Foundation for bringing this inspiring collection of posters to New Delhi. Poster Design: Yusaku Kamekura, Illustration by Akira Yokoyama

in elsa’s words

Posted in 1, books by unliked on April 9, 2016

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” Portofino in the sixties was magic. All the women were stunning figures in shockingly beautiful Pucci silk, each with a gardenia in her hand. I whiled the hours away in the company of my own gardenia, nursing its dying soul… This drove me to design something in which to carry the flower, in which to keep it alive.” – Elsa Peretti on her Flask Pendant for Tiffany & Co.

Picture from Elsa Peretti / Twenty years with Tiffany / ©Tiffany & Co.

in books we trust

Posted in 1, books, indiandesign by unliked on December 7, 2015

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One can read about the history of the National Book Trust on the website and several other government htmls. Like many other organisations and government bodies, the original and often genuine intention at the time of establishment has stayed constant. It’s time that has moved on. Whether this is a consequence of the usual government-body culture or a deliberate intention, it is by both perspectives a nice thing.

At Unlike, we have a special interest in the children’s titles – the ones that speak of an innocent India – where children wake up at the crack of dawn and don eager smiles as they get ready for a beautiful sunny day at school. The father drives a scooter and the mother packs everyone off before sitting down to knit or chop green mangoes for the yearly pickling. Parents seldom quarrel and old clothes can still be exchanged for steel vessels via loud travelling saleswomen.

As much as it is about an erstwhile era, it is also about an alternate India that still exists in majority and is a bit removed from the culture of her large cities. In a nostalgic few minutes that it takes to read a story, readers like us whose childhoods have been immersed in the modest and frugal eighties can look back and remember the good times.

In Japanese culture, there is a word that somehow encapsulates the subject, characters and nature of these children’s stories – Ninjô: translated roughly as “the heart or feelings common to man; human affections; humanity; kindness”. 

It will be interesting to see how the National Book Trust manages to generate contemporary content while retaining this inherent goodness – which continues to be a relevant and craving need in these modern times.

 

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National Book Trust publications can be ordered here.

Illustration by Shaival Chatterjee / Text on Ninjô reference: The Circle of On, Giri and Ninjo – Sociologist’s Point of View – Kiyohide SEKI, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan (Hokkaido University Library)

 

 

 

unlike design co. for godrej design lab

Posted in 1, Designed, indiandesign by unliked on February 19, 2015

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For the past few months, we have been working to develop a new design prototype with Godrej Design Lab and Elle Decor. The lab is an initiative by Navroze Godrej of Godrej & Boyce to promote and support Indian design and designers. Unlike Design Co. were amongst eight designers and studios selected to be part of the first edition of this very welcome initiative by a proudly Indian consumer product giant.

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Our product proposal with the lab began with a wall utility unit designed for speedy urban lifestyles. Placed next to the main door of the apartment, the idea was to provide the functions of a mirror, shelf and hooks, all installed by the user without much effort. In close collaboration with the team at Godrej, this idea has now further developed into KVIKK – a versatile wall system offering further flexibility and enjoyment for the user.

 

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This week, the prototype developed as a result of this process was presented at the India Design ID 2015 – an annual design event dedicated to interior and space design. The response has been more than enthusiastic from potential consumers, architects, interior designers and retailers.

More details to follow as the lab continues to gains momentum. In the meantime, stay updated at: www.godrejdesignlab.com

Photographs © Vikas Dutt Photography / © Zero9 / © Unlike Design Co. / Video © Godrej Design Lab

The TV series CNBC Young Turks recently covered the Godrej Design Lab as a unique initiative by Navroze Godrej. Watch the video here.

new products in the shop

Posted in 1, Designed, indiandesign, towithfrom, Web by unliked on January 2, 2015

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Our TOWITHFROM webshop has received a new stock of products – this above is a set of Toss soft cases, available in three vibrant colour combinations. Order at this link. It might also be a good idea to follow the TWF Instagram feed and Facebook page to be the first to know of the special stuff (you know what that means).

Photograph © Unlike Design Co. / TOWITHFROM

 

 

a design workshop at boisbuchet

Posted in 1, Been by unliked on August 9, 2014

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Four wednesdays ago, I jumped at the opportunity to attend Sebastian Bergne’s summer workshop ‘Gravity’ at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in France. Sebastian has been a favourite ever since we came across his work some years ago and the chance to attend his workshop and interact closely with him was too good to let go off. To add to that, Boisbuchet has existed on that hazy big list in the mind since 1998 when I first saw the poster at design school.

 

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So here I am. The location of the workshop, Domaine de Boisbuchet, is a sprawling estate in the French countryside with mentions of its existence in documents from as early as the 16th century. Alexander von Vegesack, founding director of the Vitra Design Museum, purchased the site in 1986. For the past two decades, the estate has been host to summer workshop programmes attended by design students & professionals from across the world and tutored by acclaimed designers and architects. The chateau in the picture above is it’s visual ambassador, the symbolic heart of the Domaine de Boisbuchet.

 

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Day 1 at the workshop begins with a tour of the estate. It’s called an architectural tour because the enormous landscape is dotted with structures, installations and buildings that have been designed and built by renowned architects, either on invitation, or as part of the workshops.

 

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Shigeru Ban, this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, built his first permanent paper building in Europe on the gardens of the Domaine. This is the structure – the Paper Pavilion, made primarily of recycled paper tubes and constructed together with 24 students in 2001.

 

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The Japanese Guesthouse cannot escape the eye, standing on the large sloping grounds leading to the river Vienne which runs through the campus. A gift from the Japanese people, the guesthouse dating back to 1860 was dismantled and brought to Boisbuchet to be reassembled on site by Japanese craftspeople.

 

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I particularly like the joints and details of this domed structure by the architect and engineer Jörg Schlaich, who co-developed the Munich Olympic stadium back in the day. It does not take long to realise that we are witnessing some really great pieces of work by passionate and dedicated architects.

 

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The tour ends with viewing an exhibition about the Domaine at the Chinese Pavilion, a bamboo structure by the German architect Markus Heinsdorff. We learn more of the estate’s history and of the thought and making process behind the various projects that we have seen across the site.

 

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And then it’s down to business – meeting and discussing the workshop theme with the other participants and of course Sebastian, who has chosen ‘Gravity’ as the theme for the work that we shall do. We are five people in the Gravity workshop – Chris, Sam and Kenting from Taiwan, Nico from Italy and me, from India. There is another workshop being held simultaneously and the mentor is Andrea Trimarchi from the Netherlands studio Formafantasma. As the week begins, it’s exciting to anticipate the numerous upcoming interactions within and across groups. Work, people, ideas and a place to match.

 

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Over the next few days, as a group and as individuals, we explore the workshop theme through models, experiments, trials and numerous errors. The process is fun and Sebastian is an equal and encouraging participant in the successes and failures. It is exciting – especially not knowing what shall happen when it is finally time for everyone to present their work at the end of the week.

 

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At our disposal is a massive workshop space, equipped with raw material and basic machinery for metal and woodworking. It is managed by three very skilled and energetic guys who have probably never said no to making or trying out anything new. Coupled with the vast natural resources and found materials on location, the combination is magic.

 

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The woods, the river and lake, the rolling grasslands, the rocks and the earth, the plants and trees, mosses and mushrooms – all offer as much a calming sanctuary for ideas as for the material they present, urging to be transformed into objects and experiments by eager minds and hands.

 

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As much as the members of my group are exploring gravity, the other group participants are discovering and creating new natural materials and processes. By the time it is Thursday, the workshop area and surroundings are busy with activity. There is a mess of material and chaos of kinds, but the design process is very much like that, and to those that immerse themselves into it, it is a beautiful experience.

 

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Despite the quantum of work, it’s nice to take some time off to count the clouds, canoe in the lake or sit by the bonfire.

 

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On Friday, after the usual coffee break at half past four, the presentations begin. As the entire group moves from project to project, the participants speak about and present what they have been doing through the week. It is an enjoyable privilege for a designer to be introduced to the methods and processes of another designer. Consumers and end users do not often get to hear of the stories and design process behind the objects they desire to purchase, possess and use.

 

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Sebastian speaks about our first group exercise together where we played with a can of paint left to the pendulous freedom of gravity. The artistic results of the process have been spectacular and surprising. Simple thoughts when pursued and coaxed often reciprocate with astonishing outcomes.

 

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For my own project, the idea was to explore the otherwise usual effect of gravity and interrupt it with a secondary force, in this case the circular motion experienced by the rock due to its relationship with the pole and the cord connecting the two. The user/participant swings the rock freely into the air, setting forth a circular motion that makes the connector cord wind and unwind around the pole several times before coming to rest. The process usually lasts between two to three minutes, offering a kind of slow and calming form of entertainment for the participant. I call it ‘Two Masters’. Here is a video clip of it at work.

 

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At dinner that evening, conversations turn into email exchanges and promises of staying in touch. Amidst it all, somebody turns on the music and a party begins. Tomorrow, it’s back to Paris and the flight back home. But that’s tomorrow.

A full calendar of workshops for the year can be seen at the Boisbuchet website. You can also register and pay online for a workshop. Domaine de Boisbuchet is easily accessible via train from Paris (to Poitiers station, where a paid bus picks up participants every Sunday evening). Accommodation and dining is included in the workshop fee. For any details not found on the website, feel free to write to me at harpreet (at) unlike (dot) in

All photographs © Unlike Design Co. and © Lucia Peluffo / Domaine de Boisbuchet

 

 

new products at salone satellite 2014

Posted in 1, Designed, indiandesign by unliked on May 19, 2014

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Last month at the Salone Satellite 2014 in Milan, we showcased our new furniture and accessories.

The Milan furniture fair is the largest of its kind in the world. Come April and the entire city celebrates its love for design through events, exhibitions, launches and shows. At the heart of this activity is the Salone Del Mobile trade fair that spreads across the Rho Fiera grounds, a complex designed by the Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas. Within this mega fairground, the Salone Satellite exhibition takes up a portion of Halls 13 and 15 in an area large enough to park two Boeings.

Founded and curated by Marva Griffin Wilshire (We think her interview here is a great introduction) since 1998, the Salone Satellite brings together almost 700 young designers below the age of 35 from proposals that are examined and evaluated by a prestigious Selection Committee drawn from a pool of international professionals from the world of design, architecture and media. 

The focus of the Salone Satellite is to connect young designers with the big guns of manufacturing. Designers showcase their design prototypes with the objective of signing design contracts with a now almost global list of brands and manufacturers. Extensive press and media reports on these prototypes is only natural and an added benefit.

We received our letter of confirmation in November last year and designed and developed these product prototypes to be launched at the fair in April. Focusing more on furniture complements and accessories, our work looks at ‘functional decoration’ – a balance of utility coupled with the pleasure of its visual and emotional ownership.

 

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As a holder of stationery or as an object of decoration, AMMO provides the freedom to decide how and where to use it. Handcrafted in hand rubbed leather, walnut wood and turned eucalyptus wood.

 

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MARGIN is a colour reversible side table in two colored leather that can be flatpacked and assembled easily. Made of plywood and clad in leather. 

 

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KVIKK is a modular wall unit consisting of a mirror, shelf and hooks. Made of ash wood and aluminium, it allows for quick installation with the help of only two screws. The shelf, hooks and mirror slide and lock into the slotted wooden block. A handy assistant while entering or leaving the house.

 

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The HOMETOWN lamp is inspired by the decorated cycle rickshaws from the old city of Banaras. Hand embossed by the same rickshaw craftsman in aluminium, the embossing creates an interesting visual texture even on the inside.

 

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Using only wood and decoratively knotted natural fibre rope, the reversible TEJA frame uses a rope fastening method to do away with cold and un-emotional hardware. No hinges, clasps, wire or hooks. An attempt to return to a sense of functional romanticism. 

 

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Designed in accordance with our approach to decorative function, the SOMEWHAT mirror is handcrafted in leather and offers the additional function of an incorporated shelf.

 

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Adding to the function of a mirror, the ALSO mirror is handmade in leather and includes an inbuilt anodised aluminium hook. 

 

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The SLOT shelf is cut from a single piece of MDF in a way that each piece slots into itself to form a wall shelf.

Delhi, though vast and very resourceful, is not an easy city for a designer to make prototypes to exact and intended specifications. Add a strict deadline, and you’re headed to almost certain disappointment. Within these situations, it is a pleasure to be able to work with Cuir Inde (the manufacturing arm of designer Parminder Pal Singh), BeeHive (the workshop and studio of designer Pankaj Narain) and The New Black Design Studio (by designer and dear friend Rohit Kumar). Them, we thank.

All Photographs © Unlike Design Co.

 

at salone satellite 2014

Posted in 1 by unliked on March 28, 2014

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A very welcome email in November last year announced our selection for the Salone Satellite 2014, a part of the Salone Del Mobile in Milan. The Satellite is now in its 17th year and brings together global designers and studios under the age of 35 to present their ideas and prototypes to the world’s best furniture manufacturers and brands, the visiting trade and of course consumers and the general public. So from April 08 to 13, we shall be at Hall 13/15 of the Milan Furniture Fair aka Salone Del Mobile presenting our new furniture and accessories at Stand C4.

Follow our updates from the fair on instagram (@generalaesthetic and @lvnya_), on facebook, twitter and of course we shall post a string of pictures on the blog after the after.

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