The paraphernalia of home decor can sometimes be entirely made up of superfluous artefacts and standoffish furnishings that don't speak to the people who own them.
Yet somehow, homegrown brands in the league of BeatRoot Co succeed in varnishing their statement pieces like That Chair or their Stone Vase Tray with a traditional warmth, straddling the line between grandeur and utilitarianism while also staying rooted to the pilasters of heritage architecture. “There was a gap that caught our eye,” says creative director Shreelekha Lakshmipathy about the elemental dichotomy underlying the 'feeling' of the form and the 'doing' of the function. “The gap between lounge seats and stools, between benches and end tables, between functional seating and something sculptural”.
Reintroducing intentionality and innovation to our living and work spaces, the brand delves into the collaborative production of revivalist furniture, minimalist tableware and other bespoke accompaniments. Moulded into existence in 2017 by Lakshmipathy, who is an architect and industrial designer by profession, the Chennai-based studio is dedicated to reinvigorating the local handicraft economy by liaising with small-scale industrial units and independent clusters of craftspeople.
“We had just returned from the pottery unit near Pondicherry,” Lakshmipathy harks back to the genesis of Kaapi, the coffee filter she conceptualised close to four years ago. “It was our very first product, so it couldn't just be a mug, it had to be something more.”
The ceramic glaze of Vietnamese and Japanese drip filters have been known to endure higher temperatures and be easy to hold but this had not been tested in South India before. Lakshmipathy went about rehashing these intercultural antecedents to create her own incarnation in glazed stoneware with a brass disk and cork stopper, the initial few models proving to be dead ends but soon the process turned into "a game with hurdles you solve" and according to her, that's the fun part.
Likewise every product goes through an empirical testing phase before it is released, the concept sketches shared with the artisans from the outset, who take some time to realign their 15-20 years of expertise in woodwork or leather-ware with the ‘fresh minds’ of the studio. Sometimes the 3-D renderings and reworked variants get relegated to a folder called 'random'.
This is what happened to That Chair, the eccentric extension of a stool with a sinuous backrest and wide legs, when it was first thought of in 2020. "We did not have a solid wood unit at that point," says the designer, but she had a clear understanding of the Chettinad style vocabulary with its bold lines, visual balance and durable teak. "We finally found our unit and started work in 2022." The studio hopes to keep this series going, adding a product or two every year until maybe in two decades or so, they can display them all together in an exhibition.
Sure to resonate with those who are on "a constant lookout for a product that can have more than one function,” the creations of BeatRoot are inspired from palatial homes of the Chettiars — an accomplished banking and trading community dating back to the 13th century — transmuting legacy motifs like carved pillar brackets into contemporary shapes.
Another case in point being the Stone Vase Tray, which also comes in black after being treated with wax and ageing chemicals, "made in Mahabalipuram by the artisans who have traditionally made only statues." An often misunderstood two part sculpture, the top is shaped like an uruli to hold flowers or candles while the bottom is akin to a vase.
Whether it be the reinterpretation of a South Indian coffee filter Kaapi in ceramic or the historical craftsmanship of their Ghoda Chair, BeatRoot’s ‘relevant objects’ surpass their functionality in a bid to become totems of ornate self expression. Having earned accolades like EDIDA in 2019 and the Lexus Design Award in 2020, Lakshmipathy is an artist who has tilted her chair so far back that the whiplash of archival research has catapulted her into an avant-garde assimilation of cultural authenticity.
You can shop for their products here.
If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown: