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Suman Sharma on Having Fun With Furniture

2 years ago / by Bindu Gopal Rao
Image courtesy of Suman Sharma

Mangrove Collective has a furniture design approach that is rooted in a dynamic synergy between the designer and the craftsperson, combining the delicate artistry of handcraft with the cutting-edge precision of engineering tools to create impeccably detailed products known for their timeless beauty, finesse, and strength.

Looking Back

Suman Sharma was born in Delhi and grew up in Connaught Place, her childhood was shaped by memories of the capital’s Lutyens-era neighborhoods and its colonial architecture. She did her schooling in the city and pursued her master’s degree in furniture design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. She then worked with lifestyle brands such as Good Earth, Samir Wheaton Design, and Krea, where she served as creative head, and helped set up the Retail Division. Earlier, she ran her own entrepreneurial ventures, including Viva Design (exporting furniture) and Sotomoto (retailing a range of kids’ furniture and lifestyle accessories). She was also a visiting faculty member at Pearl Academy, New Delhi, for five years.

Design Details

Design has always appealed to Sharma, primarily owing to childhood memories of growing up in English bungalows adorned with tall ceilings, fireplaces, and verandahs.

“My father, a photographer, also inspired my curiosity towards learning about space and form,” she said. “My design approach and expression are a result of these experiences.”

Sharma started Mangrove Collective in 2015 to bring alive stories of indigenous skill and material artisanal craft through a contemporary idiom. Studio Lotus, a multidisciplinary architecture and design practice, helped give birth to Mangrove Collective.

“The studio struggled to translate design concepts into reality without collaborations with like-minded people specializing in this domain, and who could bring the requisite technicality and expertise on board,” Sharma said. “It is easy to find people who are skilled in a particular material like wood and metal. However, to strike a balance between multi-materials and assimilate regional craft into it, has invariably been an arduous task.” Currently, the team has 30,000 sq. ft. of studio and workshop space, and an experience center. The team comprises over a hundred people with numerous stakeholders, including clients, architects, interior designers, product and furniture designers, and craftspeople.

A Woman in a Male Preserve

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Sharma juggles roles as a designer, entrepreneur, curator, and academician.

“I feel creative individuals are products of their environment due to their upbringing and what they have been exposed to during their formative years,” she said. “I look both inwards and around for inspiration, often going back in time to reflect on my narratives from my journey and past experiences.”

With two decades plus journey in the field, Sharma has learned a lot.

“In my journey, there was a huge phase where I noticed the architecture and design industry was not invested in local and artisanal work, relying instead on imported furniture, which was ‘superior,’” she said. “The biggest trend I have noticed of late – and I would like to take some pride in the fact that we are one of the people bringing in that change – is the fact that there is a renewed appreciation for our rich heritage of traditional crafts, of celebrating the imperfections that a hand brings to a piece as a feature as opposed to a flaw. I believe this change of mindset has picked up rapidly over the last several years, which was not the case when we began.”

Looking Ahead

The pandemic has meant that the community is on the verge of a massive change, and homes have become almost sacrosanct, protecting, and nurturing us in these difficult times. Homeowners have now realized that domestic spaces need to be reinterpreted for personal growth, satisfaction, and well-being rather than as a space that meant entertaining and flaunting material wealth. As private spaces become the place for self-expression, less is more. Changing notions of luxury that veer towards embracing local crafts and artisanal products, has several takers today.

“As a collective, we have always been rooted in this idea,” Sharma said. “One of our core values is to emphasize ‘local’ as much as possible, and that’s what will happen at a broader level in the future because people have started noticing its value.”

To engage with the stories of more pioneering women spotlighted on, check out Debunking One Myth at a Time