For young adults like myself, bespoke furniture is a rather amusing concept. Why would I spend thousands on a mere bedside table when I can instantly call up RentoMojo and ask for a whole bunch of things that are not only going to help fill my apartment with basic, necessary furniture but also prevent me from going broke. I’ve always looked at the articles in my mother’s living room as prestigious decoratives that existed primarily as symbols of vanity. However, it wasn’t until my conversation with Maulika Gandhi that I realised the relevance of home decor as a tool of self-expression. An underappreciated art that has the potential to move away from its assumed pretentiousness.
Maulika Gandhi co-found Magnolia – a bespoke furniture atelier – six years ago, after her brief stint as a lawyer came to a natural end. Throughout her education days in Mumbai as well as London, something always seemed amiss. “Being a lawyer was just not fulfilling enough. I wanted to use my creative skills to do something different. At that time, there was a dearth of large retail furniture spaces in Mumbai, and I wanted to bridge that gap”, says Maulika, who teamed up with her father to breathe life into Magnolia. “Having my father on board, who is an engineer by profession, was a natural progression and made everything easier.”
From a very young age, Maulika was always the enthusiastic little one tagging along on adult shopping trips and pitching in her two cents wherever she could. But living your passion vicariously can only take you so far. So in 2012, Maulika decided to take a leap of faith and immerse herself into the entrepreneurial world of home decor.
But what started out as a traditional brick-and-mortar retail space has today evolved into a distinctive design house. Magnolia was initially only a retail venture, sourcing furniture from across the country and making the most eclectic pieces available to the ever growing demands of Mumbai’s hustle. Today, it is so much more. “We not only sell custom made furniture, but we also design entire houses, give advice on the look and feel of a space etc. From fabric selection and designing to the final delivery and setup, we’ve become a one-stop-shop for people’s creative needs”, Maulika tells us.
Although, that’s not it. As someone with a special place for vintage furniture in her heart, Maulika has managed to stock her store with upcycled furniture accessories that she works on herself. “We take old pillars or door panels which we then upcycle into something new and interesting. We also make vintage furniture which is not necessarily old, but definitely has that unique vintage look and feel to it”, she tells Homegrown. “Moreover, vintage furniture is just so eternal and effortless in its beauty – and that’s what I love the most.”
In a world where we are all running to get into the most prestigious universities for some semblance of certainty when it comes to our careers, Maulika proves that the ‘right’ degree doesn’t always define the rest of your life. As someone with no professional training in the field of design, it is Maulika’s interpersonal skills and her understanding of design spaces vis-a-vis those around her that has helped her build from ground zero. As she beautifully puts it, “One big advantage for me, as someone who is not a formally trained interior designer, is that I can appreciate a lot of different styles and not limit myself to anything. My learning curve has always been upwards because I never stop learning – both, from a creative and a business point of view.
Named after the magnolia flowers in Maulika’s backyard from her childhood days of mirth and merry, the store’s articles are a reflection of everything that the flower stands for — grace, beauty and fragility. Moreover, having roots in something so organic has driven Maulika to keep her practices ethical and sustainable in the long-run. “We are strong advocates of no plastic, we don’t even serve water in plastic bottles anymore. We don’t deliver our products wrapped in bubble wrap, instead we have developed our own packaging material which can be used over and over again,” she says.
Maulika is constantly trying to experiment with the kind of material she uses. Her current favourite material to work with is cane, as it is one of the few crafts which is totally handmade and no machine can ever replicate the intricacies of a handmade cane product. She adds, “We like doing offbeat things like upcycling furniture parts, and using sleeper wood, which has a very humble origin as it was used to lay down old railway tracks. And since, now all the tracks are made of metal, this sleeper wood is often sold and we like to use it in our designs.”
Looking back at her 6-year-long journey, Maulika can’t help but reminisce about how much has changed in such a short span of time, “India is such a beautiful place for entrepreneurs because we’re always troubleshooting and overcoming hurdles, but at the same time there’s also the flexibility to pursue different things – just like we did. From a traditional retail business we’ve turned into an all-inclusive creative enterprise.”
But it’s Maulika’s perception and philosophy that truly stands out for me, as she believes in home decor as an art of storytelling and expression. Every piece of furniture has its own distinct personality, “I don’t think there is anything wrong with quick or temporary alternatives as everyone goes through different phases in life, of starting out with a rental home and so on. Whatever your phase in life is, the stuff around you will represent that. That’s just how it is.”
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