Oct 8, 2009

My Grandpa and me - The Mid Century Enthusiasts

I seem to have taken on my grandfather for my interest in furniture design. His idea of design meant utility and simple lines. My grandfather was a true modernist, he lived in the era when Eames, Charles Ray and George Nelson brought in revolutionary ideas to Interior Decor on this side of the world, and he lived in India.

His precision in designing and keen eye for clean lines were my greatest inspirations. I am sure that his exposure to idea of MCM would have been almost nil. He may have not known one designer from the other. Can't blame him, as never traveled out of India.Although, his job with the Armed Forces took him from one corner of the country to the other for 33 long years.

I am amazed by how similar his ideas were to the ones from the Scandinavian style and the mid century period. Given the minimal resources in terms of books, or any other media he must have had, I am sure he built on the ideas from what he could lay his hands on.

Another reason I presume, could have been the time he spent in the Royal Air Force and then the Indian Air Force. Over exposure to colonial furniture must have increased his desire to go more clean and geometric with furniture design.

To be frank, I never knew about Mid Century Modernism or minimalism or any other associated terminology until recently. My exposure to Apartment Therapy and criagslist were what led me to researching on MCM and furniture design eras.

Coming from India, I was familiar with traditional Indian and other Asian Design and styles. I love carvings and detailed wood work done by craftsmen back home. I admired my grandfather's carpentry and welding skills. I remember being an eager 8 year old handing out a hammer, a spanner or a screwdriver and seeking his approval for everything. Time flew and I grew to appreciate him even more for his design ideas and choice of furniture.

I come from a typical Tambram middle class family with minimum in terms of furniture. Most of us in the family did not have a cot or a mattress unless we were too old to sleep on floor mats. Our decor staples until recently were a few folding chairs in the living room, a TV, a stand for the TV and a small table. Walls were filled with solid wood frames with a pleasing multi-colored print of Hindu Gods, and our ancestors. Hh! how could I forget a calender dangling from a rusty nail. Not that we dint like it, we just dint know anything different. Most of us fondly remember our decorating sessions which meant dusting a table or the folding chairs before a relative or a friend visited. The steel tumbler and davara (a small cup/saucer) to serve a steaming cup of tea or coffee. We used to wait for festivals so that amma would pull out all the fine brass ware -kutthu vilaku, trays (thambalams) and silver poojai saaman :). All of them were promptly returned to the huge wooden chest (carefully wrapped in appa old veshti).

Bollywood and Regional movies showcased credenzas and dressers which were what the film stars could afford! (thats what I thgt !). Notice the eclectic decor in this movie set : Anand Special focus on the 6 drawer at the back everything else which went into making this "home" while enjoying the song.

Did you notice the danish modern credenza, hollywood regency style sofa and chairs, the dining table and chairs. The chair in which the Rajesh Khanna's friend and wife are sitting is a cool chaise with the danish modern look. Check this site : to relate to what I am talking about: swanklighting.com

Another song clip from the movie: Golmaal (my amma would be smiling at this).. for you to see the Retro looking art direction.This was bollywood in the seventies. Their clothes are a sure giveaway! Notice the Indian accents added to the classy retro furniture through out the house.

Now back to our humble homes, we had a steel iron armoire in our bedrooms to store expensive clothes and jewels and may be a cot. I found this cute cartoon so had to share it with you. Source: outlookindia.com

Our family did not have a refrigerator until 1995. Our kitchens had a decent two burner gas stoves. Having said that, we loved our life and never missed out on anything. Late eighties is when most of the Indian Middle class was able to afford a sofa set and a center table in the living room. now when I come to think of it,furniture design in was mostly danish style or retro. Most of the furniture was made by a local contractor/ carpenter. We had to go through the hassle of buying raw materials and putting up with them while they worked in our foyer or the veranda.

No complaints! People who could afford or had heirloom furniture had the classic Indian carved colonial furniture. They were the "panakaara" (tamil for the rich and elite) for me. Things have changed a lot in the last to decades. We are evolving slowly and are able to source the most expensive of things from around the world. Thanks to our liberalized economic policies. I am however not convinced that cost brought in quality. That is another topic up for debate.

Now coming back to my grandpa and his ideas. I would like to share one of his table designs. I recently realized it was similar to a Mid Century Modern design - Modernica Case sold in the 1960z here. 

I inherited the table and constantly think of ways to use it in my house.I came across a similar looking design  from a manufaturer/seller called 1stdibs.
TV stand - Thatha
I will be jotting down more as I explore my thoughts and the Internet. Happy reading!


  1. may be you can add some more about pathamadai mats.Pathamadai a town in Tirunelveli dt.,is famous for mats. These are made of a kind of grass known as Korai or Gorai .Krishnan Great work,Keep it up.

  2. Hi appa

    Thank you for the comment. I had mentioned the point, but seems like I had to rearrange the write up to make the point visible.

    pl keep visiting the blog

  3. well u have really done a lot of research ...good going...u should become an antique collector and seller that way i can atleast be sure of the stuff when i buy one.:) .

  4. thanks arthi

    thats a huge compliment... :)


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