“Weekend With” is a series that explores the world of design through the eyes of a designer on their days off. Our last installment saw poly-mode founder Silas Munro on surf culture, burritos, and art book stores in his adopted home of Los Angeles. This week, Mira Malhotra, founder of Mumbai-based Studio Kohl braves the city’s traffic to take us through the secret hangouts of Bollywood set designers and vintage Indian screen prints.
Sunday mornings are generally more active than Saturdays, which are largely for just kicking back and recovering from the mountain of weekly work. It’s a completely enforced, non-negotiable, official day off. I laze in my bed, and this time of year (Mumbai’s so-called “winter”) I’m partial to starting off the day with a DIY dessert—a big bowl of Mahabaleshwar strawberries that I dip in sugar.
I work from my 1bhk (one bedroom-hall-kitchen) home—my living room is my studio—so escape is necessary and swift. After my “doing nothing” time, I usually run off to my mom’s to chat with her, my sister, my dad, or the whole family. If my husband Yorick and I are not home with his mom, he hangs out here (us Indian kids never grow up, we just find new parents). I check on our WIP terrace garden that my dad maintains. He has appointed me Garden Design Director (thank you papa!).
Designing my studio is oddly enough just as, if not more, enjoyable as designing in my studio.
Sunday mornings, on the other hand, are a time for my husband and I to be alone. It’s a day where we get to do what we want, and actually have the energy to do it. We head out in our little bright orange Tata Nano car (we still have to get around to repainting it), which resembles a toy car. This weekend we do our designer shopping, finding old, odd things in curio shops to repurpose for our small fledgling design studio. Designing my studio is oddly enough just as, if not more, enjoyable as designing in my studio.
After braving the never-ending Mumbai traffic, we reach the suburb of Oshiwara. An old industrial area of Mumbai, it’s the lesser known alternative to the famed streets of Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market). It’s a fancier part of town, and the street is known to be a secret hideout for Bollywood set designers and treasure hunters like me—though I prefer the term “gold digger.”
One of the largest main roads of Mumbai, SV road, is a place that time forgot—a whole street worth of chock-a-block narrow shops (single file, please) holding dusty antique decor items that are utterly beautiful, provided you can see through layers of protective grime. Antique four-poster beds, large round mirrors, old-timey locks, cupboards you could hide dead bodies in—this is the place for them. We know some of the guys here by name, and have been to the “back rooms” where everything is even dustier (and sometimes even rotting). The salesmen call out while we pass and put on their best “English” accents. This street is where I’ve got most of my furniture, all teak, and all, mystifyingly, at half the price than elsewhere. The light fixtures are a surprise combo of tacky, mod, and sparkly. Getting to a “find” honestly isn’t difficult, but still immensely rewarding.
There’s character and originality to this art, and even some questionable, eyebrow-raising pieces.
In shops that have smaller items, I make a beeline for the miniature folk sculptures of tigers, lions, parrots, and drummers. The objects I’m most attracted to are usually bits and pieces of havelis [traditional Indian townhouses or mansions], shed from architectural facades of yore. You can’t go to Oshiwara without spending a bit of time at Rural Arts. A more polished and overly expensive shop than the rest, the retro advertisements are hilarious and the screen prints come from the same school as Satyajit Ray’s famous film posters. There’s character and originality to this art, and even some questionable, eyebrow-raising pieces.
After not buying anything but feeling pretty satisfied with our window shopping we cross the busy road to Cafe Gulshan, a local Mughlai/Irani restaurant not for the squeamish. I scarf down a masala bheja (brain fry) with some paratha (no naan today). I can’t leave Cafe Gulshan without having its speciality, the caramel custard.
Back across the road, we head through a gully to behind the street where it gets weirder. We visit the guy who sold us a medicine cabinet sourced from an old Mumbai hospital to see if he has anything new. Beyond the Oshiwara street is an old polluted creek, dried out at this time of year. Aged chairs are stacked all over, legs everywhere. All the random pieces are out in the open air, even in the monsoons where they still somehow survive. This is also the only place where you can get the really massive stuff. Heavily ornate two-story door frames are flung in a corner.
These aren’t the only attractions that draw me here. It’s also the idea that we once had so much space, a time when a Mumbai home could house for not just the everyday useful paraphernalia, but also larger, grandiose things of beauty.