Tucked in an isolated green corner of Jaunapur village, on the outskirts of Delhi, is Wrap - the small factory-cum-studio of furniture designer Gunjan Gupta. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary metal foundry but inside, craftsmen are busy giving finishing touches to chairs that sell for more than a lakh.
Gupta is perhaps the only Indian name in luxury furniture and tableware. A graduate from the famous Central St Martin's in London, 37-year-old Gupta broke into international design scene with the 'Dining Throne", which she showcased at the 100% Design exhibition in London in 2006. It was a gold-leafed chair with a back rest and base similar to your average throne. The synthesis of modern design with aristocratic flamboyance became a talking point and the chair went on to feature on many design magazine covers.
"International buyers and collectors want the traditional textures and stories but modern interpretations,” says Gupta who has won the Elle Dêcor International Design Award thrice and has been felicitated with the International Young Design Entrepreneur Award by the British Council in India.
Two years later, at the Experimenta Design Bienalle in Amsterdam, Gupta again wowed a select international audience with her interpretation of a familiar sight on Indian roads - bicycles overloaded with stuffed boris (gunny sacks). She created a 45-kg 'bicycle throne' for Droog Design (an international design firm). Stuffed 'boris', stacked one on the top of the other, became the back rest and six creatively arranged V-shaped bicycle seats, complete with spring shock absorbers, became the seat of the chair.
For the forthcoming Venture Lambrate - a prestigious exhibition that showcases design talent from around the world - to be held in Milan this May, Gupta has re-invented the back rest of the 'throne' by using colourful rolled gaddas (mattresses) instead of the boris.
Transposing the mundane with the precious is Gupta's hallmark. Her chosen tool of transformation is gilding. Gold and silver leafing, in some case the pure metals, magically transform routine objects into super-expensive collectibles. "I like to use Indian design sensibility and materials to create new forms. Design should press a button beyond functionality, “she says.
The idea of Bombay Deck, for example, takes root in the ordinary balcony chair reinvented as a collector's item with a burnished silk seat and stylish tweaks to the angles. Gupta uses a lot of gold and silver sourced from Jaipur and Udaipur and crystal glass from Ferozabad for her designs. The wood used in her creations is sheesham.
Gupta's pieces could cost anywhere between Rs 25, 000 and Rs 8 lakh. "Today, Indians are willing to spend on luxury and design. They want a wow factor, brand name and durability all rolled into one item, “says Gupta who further explains her point with the example of her designer thalis. "I created them as part of 'Dinner Stack' project which was exhibited at a Janice Blackburn-curated show at Sotheby's London in 2009. “Gupta’s 'thalis' were made from silver and gold-plated brass or from pure gold and silver, and could be stacked aesthetically as artwork. The price for the ensemble ranged from Rs 50, 000 to Rs 3. 5 lakh. "It could be used as a cake tray, cocktail platter or as a puja thali. When you invest in an object like that, you can use it as an installation in any setting, “says Gupta who now is working on a Tea Stack.
She has again been picked by Blackburn - an art patron who's been exhibiting Indian design globally for the past 20 years - to be a part of her 'Inspired by India' show to be held from May 8 to May 15 at Sotheby's London. Fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee and potter Rahul Kumar will also be part of this selling exhibition. In April, Gupta will be showcasing her work at The Alchemy Festival organised by the British Council in London.
In addition, she has a growing local business where she designs bespoke furniture for five-star properties and exclusive residential projects. "I am designing 24x7 in my head. I have ideas that will last me for the next 10 years. “But she rues the fact that the Indian design sensibility is not tuned to appreciate single pieces. “Here, they want everything in sets. “Reinvention, as she says, is the key.