Making India international

At the bent of many a serpentine lane in God-fearing India you might have noticed one ubiquitous entity. Smeared with generous dabs of vermillion on his forehead, this colour-blocked stone deity of Hanuman gets uninterrupted obeisance from those passing by. The faithful curtsy is a reflex, sometimes, not even needing a glance in his direction.

A similar statue gracing the lobby of Vikram Goyal’s home demands more than such a squint though. For, as is expected from the aesthetics of the product designer, a humongous wooden frame showcasing the ancient temple art of south India is backdrop to the deity. Almost as if the indigenous craft is decoratively ensconcing the monkey-God of valour. Trust Goyal to add an edge to all things quintessentially Indian. We prepare ourselves to witness more such interesting representations of India inside.

In New Delhi’s tony Shanti Niketan, Goyal’s house is a talked about address. Clean white walls and a manicured foliage almost conceal the splurge of glamour and high design that lie inside. Goyal’s seven-year-old labour of love; this beautifully designed home is a recognition of how the crafts of India can adorn a modern space making it elegant, modish yet seeped in history. Friends took note of his acumen and the product designer was soon doing up his friend’s home in Chennai. One project led to the other and Goyal found himself dressing up a Manhattan penthouse, an assignment that earned him worthy accolades. “Another home in New York turned out quite interesting as well,” says Goyal sitting in his well-furnished study, lambent in a warm yellow haze. The black walls are a crisp canvas to the plethora of old antiques and artefacts strewn strategically in the room. “Black is one of my favourite colours. Its bold masculinity highlights everything it frames — -the paintings, the busts, the sculptures and the accessories,” explains Goyal.

While growing up in the Capital, Goyal’s vacations at his maternal grandfather’s abode in Rajasthan familiarised him with the labyrinthine allure of the historic forts, havelis and palaces there. His eye for architecture, design, especially those imbued in the indigenous craftsmanship of India, was honed during those formative years. “My grandfather’s house in Jaipur was a treasure trove of artefacts, sculptures and paintings. I grew up with a deep appreciation of history in all its forms. I guess my sense of design was imbibed from childhood,” he recalls.

Goyal started off rather conventionally studying engineering at BITS, Pilani and then graduated in economics from Princeton University, followed by a stint in banking at Morgan Stanley in New York city. But even while he was crunching numbers and analysing statistics, he de-stressed with visits to different museums in the US and Europe, breathing in the rich tapestry of art, design and architecture. “It was a terrific chapter of my life. Then one fine day I decided to call it quits and returned to India to do something on my own. I co-founded Kama Ayurveda and then eventually Viya Home happened,” narrates Goyal.

Over a decade old, Viya Home started with designing products. “My aim was to work with skilled metal artisans to bring our ‘India Modern’ designs to life. Nowhere in the world will you find such mastery in workmanship as in India. The idea was to take something indigenous and reach out to a wider audience. So, we delved into design, branding, quality control to take Indian crafts to a global platform. We want to celebrate Made in India, especially when tastes for high end furniture and accessories are skewed towards what comes out of countries like Italy and Germany. We want the world to appreciate what India has to offer,” explains Goyal pointing to a malachite table inlayed with brass. Its uniqueness lies in the combination of brass, a much-favoured metal at Viya Home for its burnished and versatile character, and malachite, a semi-precious stone (they also use lapiz lazuli, tiger eye and amethyst), as against marble, which is oft-repeated by many designers. “The materials are Indian but the designs and execution have international appeal. For the first few years, our design forms were modern interpretations of traditional Indian art and architectural elements — the lotus, finials, domes and herringbone patterns. As our markets grew and developed internationally, we maintained our ‘Indian-ness’ more in terms of artisanship and material than forms and patterns. We became decidedly India-agnostic and started drawing inspiration from different artistic references such as art deco, art nouveau, modernism and brutalism. Now, we work with more abstract works.”

He points out how pieces like the Stalactite Console (a brass console beaten to look like stalactite formations) or the Persepolis Wall Sconce stand out for their global appeal. “These are bold pieces. They glamorise a space. A well-designed home should be well lived-in. When I design a space, I use products that turn it into a jewel. That might mean pairing a Viya product with a French stool or a Japanese screen. The pieces should complement each other,” Goyal says.

We ponder on the inspiration that triggers Goyal’s artistic eye. “I have always been drawn to Indian art and sculpture — the diversity and the beauty of form, expression and craftsmanship — particularly with the ancient and also some of the contemporary. Whenever possible I use them liberally. They add a sense of individuality, history and uniqueness to spaces and work wonderfully with modern or modernist furniture and accessories. Without them, spaces risk being clones and bland repositories of expensive furniture and lights. The physical ‘mixing’ or juxtaposition of objects and styles comes quite instinctively to me. I follow no diktat or formula. That’s why I choose my clients carefully. Someone with an art collection, an open mind, and a trust in my aesthetics is ideal,” he maintains.

Goyal selects from a spectrum of Indian art and artefacts. “There are miniature paintings (Rajasthan, Mughal and Deccan schools), pichwai paintings (Udaipur), old textiles, sculptures in metal and stone, wooden figures of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat) and Tanjore paintings to name a few. But I also see what kind of art the owners have and follow my design instincts according to them,” Goyal says, adding, “Also, while working on the initial blueprint, I check the source of natural light and the owner’s preferences. Then I decide on whether the space should be summery and cheerful or dark and moody.”

Apart from meeting the evolved aesthetics of clients in UK, France and the Middle-East, Viya Home has also been retailing their products from Dedar, one of the world’s top companies selling luxury fabrics. Goyal has worked with Kelly Hoppen on a hotel project in Mauritius and the brand also has been collaborating with esteemed names such as Studio Jacques Garcia and Alberto Pinto. “The Made in India story has travelled well globally with ‘soft products’ such as textiles, fashion and rugs and, of course, jewellery. With ‘hard’ products for home decor the story has been somewhat different. The tags are mostly ‘cheap and cheerful’ rather than heritage and sophistication. At Viya, we strive to alter that perception — -at least with high-end interior products — -superior quality, exquisite craftsmanship and innovative design have been the mainstay of our brand. Our design and products are not overtly Indian. We use Indian materials to create items that are stunning, innovative and global.”