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Handmade Soul: Meet Indian Designer Ayush Kasliwal

Ayush Kasliwal is one of India’s top product designers. He curates the 2019 Ambiente partner country presentation. His designs dig deep into the treasure trove of traditional crafts, while simultaneously showcasing a commitment to the modern.

This approach proudly goes back to the future, and results in an astonishingly urban minimalism with a lot of Indian soul. In this interview, he explains how tradition can underpin sustainability.

Jaipur is an Indian metropolis well known for its majestic sights. On a journey through the city, modern and industrial buildings rub shoulders with historic palaces. Ayush Kasliwal founded the AKFD Studio in this multifaceted city, having studied at India’s leading National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.

The 44 year old’s own work combines a contemporary aesthetic with local crafts that have developed over many centuries. His ideas are implemented by artists and craftspeople from across India. Ayush has created side tables inspired by traditional bowls for kneading dough. From their sustainably harvested mango wood tops to their recyclable steel tripod legs and their environmentally friendly water-based glaze, these are fully in line with the ideal of sustainability. The Bowl-inspired table top is manually shaped by an ancient Indian community of wood turners, the Kharadi.

So you studied furniture design in a country which doesn’t have a strong tradition of furniture making.

“True. Until 50 years ago, most Indian households did not contain any furniture. You sat on the floor, that was our tradition. Original reinterpretations of objects really interest me. The Bowl Table is one example – you can remove the legs and use it as either a large tray or a bowl. The table’s design also speaks a pared-down Scandinavian design language. In fact, I designed it for a Danish label; our studio thinks globally.”

How does your homeland manifest itself in your designs?

“There are the techniques, some of which are very old; the materials also inspire me – partly due to their natural colours. These are primarily various types of wood, but also copper, brass, bamboo and jute. India has a long history of working with these materials. Dyes also play a major role. Indigo, for example, has been important since time immemorial. Handmade items are the obvious choice for me, as we have such great resources in India, and many unbelievably talented craftspeople.”

Are some designs particularly close to your heart?

“I am of course particularly attached to our award-winning designs. One of these is the Trinetra tea light holder, made from a trio of hand-hammered brass bowls. The idea references Shiva’s third eye of enlightenment. With white marble tea light holders inside, the bowls do indeed light up like mystical eyes. Local Thathera metalworkers contributed their skills to this design, which won the UNESCO Award of Excellence. Then there’s the minimalist Shiva copper jug, with matching tray and cups. In 2017, this set won the Elle Decor International Design Award (EDIDA).”

What is the philosophy that informs your work?

“Objects are messages that have taken physical form. All the things around us state who we are, and this message is just as important as the object itself. Our studio’s philosophy is: ‘Never more than necessary, never less than beauty’. We pay as much attention to the underside of the chair as we do to the seat on top: it’s what honest design is all about. Sustainability is an important part of our philosophy. If someone feels an emotional connection to an object, it can promote sustainability. How long can you treasure an object you feel no connection to? Usually not very long. That’s why we design products that make a connection.”


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