Basil – A foray into Enchanted Woods

I have just moved house and was in the process of decorating it. I had been hunting through furniture and lifestyle stores, picking up showpieces and knick knacks, and was on the lookout for the perfect door for my house! I think doors are kind of important, because that’s the first thing that you see when you enter a house, don’t you agree? Anyway, I hated the plain wooden door of my new house, and wanted a miracle to transform it.

During one of my walks through Lake Avenue, I noticed what seemed like a furniture store, called ‘Basil’. However, it looked completely different from any run-of-the-mill outlet.

Basil Home Furniture

The first thing that I noticed was the door – a magnificent piece of work in vintage, distressed wood that resembles the temple doors that one would typically see in Kerala or Tamil Nadu. The exterior was lit up by quirky lamps made of colored glass bottles with streams of Christmas lights stuffed inside. The glass windows displayed beautiful showpieces – each one a unique work of art!

I couldn’t resist walking in. And when I did, my jaw dropped a mile! It was like walking into a beautifully designed artist’s studio! Each of the pieces was one-of-a-kind showstoppers – skillfully and painstakingly crafted. The space consisted of an eclectic medley of furniture, curios and showpieces, and they were arranged so artistically that the complete effect took my breath away!

Basil Home Furniture

I started looking more closely and could discern three distinct styles in the pieces – ones that are typically from Tibet, Nepal and the Far East – delicately painted with intricate motifs and lacquered to achieve that perfectly antiquated, distressed finish; then there were pieces that are quintessentially traditional Indian  – Basil Home Furnitureornamental and elegant artwork and furniture from Rajasthan, Gujarat or Southern India; however, the third style struck me most with its originality – these were furniture of a rugged, Gothic style, curved out of sleeper wood. The beauty of these pieces were that they were designed to keep the effect as virgin as possible, with the natural veneer including the grain, cracks and crevices intact, so that they have an almost unfinished look to them.

Every piece was laid out in such a way that they show their beauty to the greatest advantage, illuminated by cleverly arranged lighting. The lights themselves were stunning in their originality. There were small blocks of the same sleeper wood, from which hung little bulbs – perfect for enhancing an area that you want to highlight. In the central space hung a wooden ladder, supported by thick rope, from which hung little bulbs emitting soft, yellow glow – one of the quirkiest and most original chandelier that I have ever seen! On a minimalist and rugged bench of barely polished wood hinged by brass fixtures, was sitting a beautifully ornamental statue of Nandi – Shiva’s bull. There were wall arts made of chunks of wood that look like tree bark, embellished with beaten sheet metal flowers; or brightly polished, little brass bells fastened with red silk to impart that contrasting warm brightness.

Basil Home Furniture

I was lost for words for a while and then finally regained my composure when a pretty lady smilingly greeted me. I felt a little weird asking this but still blurted out “umm.. I’m looking for a new door for my house. Do you, by any chance, make doors?” To my surprise, the lady said “Yes, we do. Why don’t I get you introduced to the shop owner? I’m sure he can help you with this”. Great! I thought. Minutes later, a soft-spoken, suave gentleman came out and met me with a smile. “Hi, I’m Prakash Mehrotra,” he said. “What can I help you with?” “A door! My kingdom for a door!” I said in my mind.  When he heard my requirement, Prakash suggested “Why don’t I go take a look at your house, and see the setting, so that I can figure out how best we can work on this”.

Basil Home FurnitureThe next morning, he showed up promptly at the appointed time, with a couple of his workers. He looked at the door and said “It’s of good wood. No point in replacing it. What I can do is cover this with panels of polished sleeper wood, put a couple of vintage cast iron latticework pieces (like you see in verandas of old houses) for decoration, and finish it up with an antique brass knocker and a door handle. I’ll paint the backside with a metallic muted gold and black to give it a distressed, antique look”. It was as if he could almost visualize the finished product! The idea sounded very stylish in a sombre, gothic way. I was sold.

My door promptly arrived on the agreed date, and I was floored! It looked magically transformed! Perfect for its surroundings, perfect with the look of my house.

Basil Home Furniture

This is the genius of Prakash Mehrotra. The man with an artiste’s passion for his work, a keen eye and a fine sense of aesthetics. For all his shy, introverted demeanor, Prakash is a maverick, choosing an unusual career in furniture designing that raised eyebrows in his family; choosing a niche clientele that is genuinely appreciative of his work. The man is fiercely passionate and proud of the work that he does and is extremely low-key about promotion. He rightly thinks that it is his products that will speak of him, instead of any marketing gimmicks. He showed me a roughly-hewn piece of wood that he has carved to give the rudimentary outline of a bird – a sheer work of art! He told me that when he noticed the original piece of wood, he could see the shape of the bird struggling to come out. He carved a little here, and chipped a little there, and out came the bird in its magnificent glory, much like Abanindranath Tagore’s fabled Katum Kutums.

Furniture designing is not just Prakash’s business, it is his passion, and you can feel it when you walk into his store.

Basil Home Furniture

Go pay him a visit if you ever want, and you can see why ‘Basil’ is indeed a store with a difference!

Purba.

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