INDO- is an award-winning contemporary furniture and homeware design studio based in Providence, RI and New Delhi, India. Founded by Urvi Sharma and Manan Narang, both of whom grew up in New Delhi and met in Providence while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the brand was launched at the Architectural Digest Design Show 2018 in New York. INDO- is a product of living in and experiencing both places and cultures. Experimenting with traditional craft processes and modern manufacturing methods to create contemporary objects, INDO- produces work that is both innovative and acknowledges the places and people who inspire it.
Manan is an architect, furniture designer, and maker. Having completed his B.Arch from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi in 2011, he worked in his family-owned furniture retail and manufacturing business - Lifestyle Furnishers - in New Delhi before moving to America. In 2018, he completed his MFA in Furniture Design from RISD. His aptitude for highly demanding, detail-oriented design work along with his experience in manufacturing and construction methods has allowed him to deconstruct and distill traditional craft processes as the inspiration for his design work.
Urvi is a furniture and product designer based in Providence. She completed her BFA in Furniture Design at RISD in 2017. She has worked with a number of furniture and product design companies in the United States, UK and India, including Established & Sons, Bethan Laura Wood, Nicobar and Studio Endo. She uses her experiences growing up in India and working across the world to develop a unique design process that embraces aspects of both Indian and American design and production.
According to Narang, weaving as a craft is still highly relevant unlike basketry or carving. All three processes have been mechanized but hand-woven fabrics/rugs still hold high economic and perceived value. Through their designs, Sharma and Narang have used Indian craft to put a unique spin on a range of furniture pieces including barstools, tables, benches, chairs, rugs and other items. The duo have successfully created modern furniture pieces that reference traditional dyeing and weaving methods from their childhoods in New Delhi, India. According to Narang, deconstructing traditional methods‚ finding what makes a process special‚ is at the core of their philosophy.
A series of solid wood dip dyed coffee and side tables that reference the technique of glazing ceramics, the Pilar Tables are inspired by the rich use of colored tiles and mosaics in Gaudi’s architecture. Available in American maple, white oak or walnut with varying tops, and with the ability to work in clusters or by themselves, they serve a wide range of demands, from accent to statement pieces. The Pilar Collection is a nod to simple, functional contemporary design with a beauty inherent in the handmade, absorbed layer upon layer into its surface. In addition, the Mooda Mirror, also available in maple, white oak or walnut is composed of hardwood dowels stitched together to create a beautiful geometric edge. The glass in turn reflects the dowels, completing the form of the Mooda.
“We’ve designed nine different products across four collections and have started gaining some traction. In addition, we also offer custom design and build services if customers demand a particular version of a product. Not only are we using traditional techniques and knowledge and skills that have untapped potential, but we also aim to explore new techniques and different ways to create more contemporary objects for younger audiences and consumers,” said Sharma. “Before INDO- was established, we worked on a number of projects individually that are now being refined to be included in our product line. In addition, we are also planning to release a new range of lighting fixtures within the Mooda series, which includes 2 sizes of wall sconces and pendants in the second half of 2020.”
The Ikat credenza is a low-rise tambour credenza inspired by the process of weaving Ikat fabrics, in which each warp end is dyed individually with the desired pattern prior to weaving the final product. The result is a pattern that has a slightly 'fuzzy' appearance, a distortion inherent in the fabrics, yet shows the skill that is involved in such a labor-intensive process. Each slat of the sliding door is treated as a warp end and hand dyed prior to assembling them together to create the tambour surface. The uneven quality of the lines creates an enhanced sense of movement as the tambour turns a corner, creating the illusion of unrolling fabric.
Char Quarter is a contemporary take on the humble Charpai/Charpoy, an archetypal Indian rope bed, literally meaning four legs (Char=four, pai=legs). The name borrows from the split turning method employed to create a subtle reference to the spindle turned legs, the method of wood measurement which is peculiar to the United States (in quartered board feet instead of cubic feet), and the Indian pun for a full measure of a liquor bottle.
“Homogeneity in contemporary design is something I loathe. Everything looks so similar; there's no sense of place or identity. Living in a place where most objects were traditionally handmade and have been replaced by mass-manufactured counterparts makes you aware of what is being lost for the sake of convenience or cost,” adds Narang. “The furniture that we have created has become an outlet for practitioners of that craft to continue forward. The same example can be extrapolated to apply to other crafts with the whole premise of pushing craft forward as a source of inspiration. Looking ahead, we hope to continue to design new products and bring in new work every year that helps INDO- stay relevant and keeps its audience engaged.”
Sharma and Narang work primarily in solid wood but also incorporate other materials or composites wherever appropriate. Their focus currently is on using high quality and accessible American hardwoods, such as maple and white oak. However, they also offer their current range in walnut or other species if a customer requests for it. Sharma started working with American hardwoods when she came to study furniture design at RISD. It was there that she was introduced to multiple species and the possibilities of working with solid wood. Narang, on the other hand, has been working with American hardwoods ever since he joined his family's furniture business.
“We chose to use American hardwoods for their durability, appearance, availability and sustainability. Every species has unique characteristics and the same product rendered in hard or curly maple or white oak can look vastly different,” said Narang. “We pride ourselves on our resourceful and judicious use of hardwoods, which are probably amongst the most natural and sustainable materials available to us today. Yet, because they have a long growth cycle, it is important to be mindful of where and how much we use of this amazing resource. The story of our products is after all inspired by regional crafts, resourcefulness in using easily available and local materials and reimagining the applicability of processes long forgotten to create fresh and unique products.”
INDO- came about as a product of their individual inquiries into identity and craft. Sharma was working on how to create an interaction between Indian and American furniture through her degree project while Narang was focused on how to apply craft in new and interesting ways in order to revive dying art forms. Through INDO-, the duo have embraced the Indian qualities of things being handmade, meaning each piece is one-of-a-kind, and merged it with the forms present in contemporary American furniture. They also understood the importance of creating an identity and origin for each of their products given that quite a lot in Indian design and the products made are related to the places and people who make them.
“Since we started INDO-, we have become a part of a growing movement of designers and makers that have emerged in the last few years in America. Discerning clientele now want to know the designers who create good work and where their furniture comes from rather than just picking up something that is readily available. This convergence of identity, craft, quality and finish is where our work lives. It is for this reason that INDO- was featured as a part of the Dwell 24 Emerging Designers of 2019. In addition, we have also received multiple awards and nominations including the 2019 NYCxDESIGN Emerging Product Designer Award and the Providence Design Catalyst Grant 2019,” added Sharma.
Both Sharma and Narang are very positive of the potential for their pieces in India. Aggressive deforestation over the last three decades has resulted in shortages and inflated pricing for CP teak and thus opened the market for ‘plantation teaks’ from African countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Tanzania. According to Narang, these woods are available at lower costs, but because of the way these woods are harvested (grown to a 7-8" girth, chopped and sized to a 6" square with a prominent water line in the center), the quality is highly suspect. The search for alternatives has led to people accepting American hardwoods such as ash, maple and oak and this transition has been steady over time.
“In general, red oak has been more easily accessible compared to white oak. However, ash remains one of the most commonly used American hardwoods in the Indian market owing to its dramatic open grain structure and its ability to accept different stains uniformly. Indians still love ‘brown furniture’ and hardwood furniture is highly sought after. In light of this, we're working on establishing a manufacturing supply chain of pre-finished furniture parts and home decor products between American and India in the near future and spent the latter part of last year sampling our Mooda and Pilar collections in Delhi,” said Narang.
“Growing up, a lot of the objects we encountered were handmade. Now some of that is being lost for the sake of convenience. Through INDO-, we’re trying to celebrate an element of the hand and the identity it brings with it; something that resonates deeply with all Indians. With this in mind, our long-term plan is to introduce our product line to the Indian market and gauge interest from the design industry, but a lot of work still needs to go into developing the logistics and product consistency when manufacturing remotely. That being said, we have recently received an order for 40 rooms at a luxury hotel in Sri Lanka, which will allow us to further explore manufacturing in India. For now though, we’re happy to see the business growing, while also supporting traditional crafts,” concludes Sharma.
INDO- is an award-winning contemporary furniture and homeware design studio based in Providence, RI and New Delhi, India. Founded by Urvi Sharma and Manan Narang, both of whom grew up in New Delhi and met in Providence while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, INDO- is a product of living in and experiencing both places and cultures. Experimenting with traditional craft processes and modern manufacturing methods to create contemporary objects, INDO- produces work that is both innovative and acknowledges the places and people who inspire it. For more information, please visit: www.indo-made.com.
Image credits: INDO-