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February 21, 2015

Three to Create

Text by Huzan Tata. Photographs by Sukhie Vohra

Friends and newly-turned entrepreneurs Gitanjali Mehta Anand, Heeral Akhaury and Payal Srinath invite Verve into their contemporary studio-cum-workshop, where they take her through their journey and share the dreams they have for their space

It’s not an easy place to find — tucked away in the second-floor corner of an industrial estate in the Mumbai suburb of Wadala. But once you discover it, you know the search was every bit worth the effort. The vivid blue doors, with a large, colourful parrot drawn on the right one, welcome you in. And when you enter, it’s a riot of colour all around. There are pieces of bright furniture, some in the process of completion, plant pots filled and unfilled, and three smiling faces waiting to greet you. The founders and owners of this workshop-cum-studio for plants and furniture are three friends, Gitanjali Anand, Heeral Akhaury and Payal Srinath.

Though they have been friends for a while, the trio only started the studio around 10 months ago. Says Anand, “We started talking about it at least a year ago. We all stay in the same complex, and wanted to do something outside home. We figured we’d get together in one space…I think we found the whole concept very exciting, you know, of getting various disciplines together and creating a studio.”

The three work in similar fields, but each has their own area of expertise — Anand and Akhaury work with wooden furniture — designing, painting and even restoring pieces — and Srinath designs potted plants, to add just the perfect amount of greenery to people’s homes. Though their clients are usually different, many do show an interest in buying the others’ products on a visit to the studio. “Someone who comes to buy plants looks for the furniture,” explains Srinath, and Akhaury adds, “One product enhances the other so it works out very well.”

It’s not just the work they do that is unusual; the names of their brands too are as different as they come. Anand’s furniture business is called Something Blue, Akhaury’s has been christened Ullu Ke Patthe and Parrot is Srinath’s plant store. And each of them has an interesting story to tell. “Everything in my life is blue so it was inevitable actually,” says Anand about her company’s name. And Akhaury’s was inspired by all the owls or ullus we’re constantly surrounded by — and these owls also find a place in almost all the products she paints. About Parrot, Srinath says, “The fact that a parrot is close to nature, it’s green, it’s in a leafy environment…the name is perfect for what I’m doing.” Though they haven’t zeroed in on a common name for their studio yet — they’re still thinking about it — an exhibition held last October at the space was titled Sentidos, which translates to ‘the five senses’.

“Considering where we are located, we didn’t expect more than 50 to 70 people. We hadn’t done any kind of advertising…it was just via word of mouth and social media. We had more than 250 people. And in this area! This is in the middle of nowhere,” says Akhaury about the exhibition. Anand continues, “We had wine in our chai glasses, and lots of cheese. It was a great day and we had a lot of fun.”

As they talk about their plans to make this exhibition an annual event, I’m still thinking of how they managed to fit so many people in the quaint studio, amidst all the furniture, but we move on from the topic. What is the USP of their space, I ask, for I know Mumbai has no dearth of home décor stores. “No mass production. It’s almost like every piece is bespoke,” comes Anand’s reply.

Srinath pipes in, “Each and every piece is handcrafted. There are times when you’ll see Gitanjali doing something with sandpaper, and I make my own soil here. We just don’t believe in mass production. It’s not something we’re looking at for some time.”

Working with other creative minds has been a refreshing change for them, from labouring alone at home where the ideas only came from within. “Suddenly we’ve got creative interaction happening. I’ll be stuck and ask Gitanjali, should I do it this way? So there is conversation, interaction and brainstorming which helps you evolve,” explains Akhaury. Adds Srinath excitedly, “There’s been so much learning since we’ve gotten together. It’s so much fun. I’ve picked up a small place in Goa we’re designing and as I was just telling them, I’d love to pick up pieces to restore. It’s great to work together.”

Though they’ve never been free of work or devoid of orders, the three — who prefer that people take an appointment before visiting the studio simply because they’re always so busy — don’t wish to go commercial or sell their wares at other places anytime soon. Their studio-workshop however, is not the final goal. “Ultimately, the dream is to have our own store,” says Akhaury. “We are eventually going to turn out to be a mix of something like this but a little more polished in terms of presentation… it’ll be separate spaces of workshop and studio,” completes Anand. And of course, in keeping with the USP of their work, each piece will be different just like it is today, but I’m told the three struggle to part with their creations, because, “We fall in love with everything we make and want to take it home!”

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