The cool breeze from the vast blue expanse of the Arabian Sea hits you immediately as you turn into this cosy corner of the otherwise bustling Carter Road in Mumbai. An abstract artwork on a large canvas near the doorbell is proof enough to suggest that I have come to the right apartment. Letting me in through the huge wooden door with a bright smile is the tall Laila Khan Furniturewalla playing the role of perfect hostess as she walks me through the dark, wooden stairway. At first glance, the spacious home offers a lot visually – the large living area registers the perfect amalgamation of genuine antiques with hip contemporary furniture – making it a space with a purpose and not just a display case. It fittingly makes the ideal address for one of India’s foremost furnishing couples – aptly called the Furniturewallas.
While Laila has entrenched herself in the creative world as a well-known painter, designer, aesthete and one of India’s best dressed women, Farhan has been in the furniture business for the last 20 years. He launched his company, Furniturewalla about 12 years ago importing furniture from around the world for discerning Indian homes. A decade later, as the global village phenomenon becomes stark reality, their brand is all set for reinvention and revaluation. That’s when Laila stepped in and Furniturewalla became FW – “a brand that’s an extension of us,” explains Farhan proudly.
Every corner of their plush open space has a fascinating piece of furniture – brought in from some exotic corner of the world – with a story of its own. In fact, travelling together is one of the many common passions of this duo, who think too similarly for an outsider’s comfort. “We love seeing beautiful spaces and beautiful things, it gives us a high,” says Farhan, casually lounging on the brightly coloured stylishly low sofa.
“When we travel, the first places we visit are the various home stores, because that’s our common passion. Apart from the markets in India, an inspirational place is Milan, which is undoubtedly fantastic in terms of its styling. I also love the Philippines – it has some great, high end, trendy furniture. We also love to pick up stuff from Morocco or Istanbul but they specialise in accent pieces. Each place gives you some ideas and it’s a culmination of all these things that our brand stands for.”
While Farhan’s strength lies in furniture design, Laila studied Fine Art at the Slade School of Art in London and together they have combined their expertise to create their furnishing line. Just like their uncluttered contemporary offerings, they have astutely carved specific roles for each other. “Like in her art, I can help and give my inputs but she has the final say just as in the furnishing work she lets me have the final say because at the end of the day I’ve been doing this for years,” says Farhan.
Laila agrees, “His great grandfather was in the business so it’s been in his family for centuries and I bow to that. You know I have to, I’d be arrogant if I didn’t. He is a very involving man, he sort of indulges my thoughts and my ways of seeing which I appreciate and respect very much.”
Art is clearly her way of life – something ingrained in her since childhood. Born into one of Bollywood’s premier families, to one of the most flamboyant stars of his times – Feroz Khan – style, vivid imagination and a little bit of rebellion comes very naturally to Laila. “Creativity for me is breaking the rules. I could never go to art school for a very extended period of time. All my courses have been three to five months because I had a definitive sense of what could be wrong with my work. But what is right with the work, is what you explore and find. And I didn’t want too much polish and technique,” she says matter-of-factly. She may have been good at art, right from her school days but gives her mother due credit for spotting that talent in her. “My family is less practical and more emotional and artistic – both my parents being unconventional and non-conformist – but I agree I was always inspired and influenced by art because of my family background,” she says.
Art may be her first love but marriage to Farhan opened ingenious new avenues of design and interiors for her that have taken the couple around the world. “We are very sensitive to a beautiful environment. We decided to reconstruct the brand after 12 years because we wanted it to be an extension of our lifestyle. We wanted to be able to walk into our own store and buy things for our own house. We didn’t want it to be just a commercial venture. I’ve given it my artistic sensibilities. All the sourcing is done by me and Farhan and nobody else,” she reveals.
What clearly works for their brand is the fact that they both have identical notions about home décor and furnishing. “We are very biased towards earth colours and believe they give a cosy and warm feel to a home. Also wood is an old time favourite that cannot be compensated by any other material,” say the duo in unison.
Their spacious two-bedroom apartment reflects the same sentiment. While the whole house bears a fresh contemporary look, the living room is tastefully done-up in warm colours and straight line furniture with a luxurious twist at every corner – like the simple sofa is accessorised with glamorous cushions and dramatic lamps to add that dash of oomph and class. The huge terrace outside – which happens to be their favourite space in the house – is uncluttered and the perfect place to have that first cup of morning coffee that keeps them going through the day.
Laila’s own artworks are also discerningly displayed around the house. Her current Ganesha series – that sees her shift from oil to gold leaf and acrylic – in the bedroom demands attention. “In India the Hindu deity Ganesha is ubiquitous, his image appearing everywhere. I found it very fascinating. I wanted to depict this powerful deity in a very abstract way where you could see the work and tell it’s a Ganesha, yet at the same time you cannot. I have delved into the mysteries and complexities of the face, as a work of art. And whilst doing that, I realised, all your inner struggles, dilemmas and personality rebellions get diluted and disappear,” she says with a certain Zen-like calmness exemplifying her own words.
Not one to restrict herself to any limitations, Laila’s sense of personal style has made it to several best dressed lists. “I think that it’s 50 per cent about what you have and 50 per cent about what people think you have. I just concentrate on what suits me and my body type. I’m conscious about what I wear. But style is not just what you wear, it’s all about combining fashion and your own personality,” she says.
A Luxe Space
After Mumbai, Furniturewalla, the household furniture brand, is launching its flagship store in the capital. Divided into two sections – one of which caters exclusively to the luxe villas in Delhi – the 20,000-square-foot plush store offers an array of handpicked furnishings by Farhan and Laila Furniturewalla from across the world.
Like its Mumbai counterpart, the newly launched Furniturewalla FW store displays a fine ensemble of furniture, accessories, lighting and art in a rich, contemporary, luxurious design for every nook-and-corner of your abode.
416, M.G. Road, Opp. Metro Pillar No. 128, Ghitroni, New Delhi.