Meet Phantom Hands, the Brand Creating Modernist Furniture
The Bangalore-based furniture brand Phantom Hands’ name is an ode to all the invisible craftsmen who contribute to the perfection of their handmade furniture. Founders Deepak Srinath and Sumanth Rao (his father-in-law!) are committed to making exceptional modernist furniture for the present day.
Rao ran a successful bespoke furniture and interiors firm, called Woodrose, in Bangalore for nearly four decades before retiring to Coorg. Srinath coaxed him out of retirement to form Phantom Hands.
Today, the company’s furniture can be spotted around the globe: in Manhattan’s Spring Place (a co-working space and private club), in Brooklyn’s The New Work Project (co-working space), at Netherlands’ Museum Voorlinden, and even Australian cricketer Brett Lee’s home (who “bought 3 chairs as a surprise gift for his wife”).
As the brand launches at Le Mill, we got Srinath to tell us more:
How and when did you decide to make the transition from sourcing vintage furniture and artefacts, to creating modernist furniture?
“A year or so after we started Phantom Hands, we realized that sourcing good quality vintage furniture and artefacts on a consistent basis was going to be difficult. When we found a piece whose design resonated with us, it usually required a lot of restoration. So we had built a small team of carpenters and artisans.
Around this time we also discovered these fascinating furniture design legacies from modern (post-independence) India – modernist designs created by Pierre Jeanneret and his team in 1950s Chandigarh, the Nakashima- and Eames-influenced designs from Ahmedabad, and so on.
The idea of contributing to and in a sense carrying forward ‘Indian Modernism’ took hold and we started making a few chairs based on the design language of Chandigarh. Without actually articulating it, the vision was to try and make Indian Modernism as well-known as say Brazilian Modernism. We wanted to use traditional Indian craftsmanship and production methods to realize these designs.”
How do you celebrate and sustain Indian craftsmanship?
“Phantom Hands is an artisan collective, first and foremost. Over the last 3 years, we’ve created a community of nearly 30 artisans from different parts of India such as Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. We provide housing, medical insurance for their families and support them without making them overly dependent on the company.
Practicing the craft has to be financially rewarding for the craftsperson, and should help meet their aspirations. We pay our artisans well above market rates. As a comparative yardstick, many of them make more than a mid level software engineer would make (deservedly).”
Tell us the story behind the creation of the Mungaru chairs. How did you meet and collaborate with the designers, INODA+SVEJE?
“I first came across chairs designed by INODA+SVEJE in a furniture store in Belgium in 2016. I remember thinking that these are the most beautiful chairs I’ve seen in a long time — simple and minimal, yet quite complex in their construction. I looked up the pieces they had created in collaboration with Miyazaki chair factory, Japan, and became fascinated with their work.
I contacted them on Instagram (a sign of the times we live in!) and immediately got a reply from Kyoko Inoda [Nils Sveje is the other half of this Milan based Japanese+Danish design duo].
Soon after, in September 2016, I made a trip to Milan and met them in their studio to explore the idea of creating a collection with us. My brief was that the collection should be inspired by the legacy of Chandigarh furniture designed by Pierre Jeanneret and others, but must not be too nostalgic or overly derivative. We should be able to produce the designs by hand, exactly as we do for the Chandigarh re-editions. Kyoko and Nils loved the idea and immediately agreed.
Over the next few months INODA+SVEJE worked on concepts for the new collection. They came down to our workshop in Bangalore in July 2017 and spent a few weeks understanding how our artisans work and their skills. They adapted their design and prototyping process to the ‘Indian way’ .
We challenged ourselves to push the limits of hand craftsmanship — to what extent could organic shapes and curves be created by hand held tools? Would it be feasible to produce the chair by hand in reasonable quantities when it went into production? Moreover, no CNC machine was to be used in the making of these chairs.
Out of this process the Muṅgāru Lounge Chair emerged as the first production-ready chair of our collaboration. Minimal, modern, organic and completely handmade! Muṅgāru is a Kannada word, used to describe the gentle, rejuvenating and life-giving pre-monsoon rains. Kyoko and Nils designed & prototyped the chair in our workshop as the monsoon set in and the name became apt for the chair.
Three more models were added to this collection over the next few months.”
What ideas are you toying with for your next collection / piece?
“We’re working on a second collection with INODA+SVEJE. We’re already prototyping the models and the designers are coming down to our workshop in August 2018 to fine-tune the models.
We’re also collaborating with Amsterdam-based interior designers X+L [Xander and Leon] to create a few pieces. They’ve been collaborating with Indian artisans across different crafts and mediums for nearly 30 years and understand the Indian way of working. So they got into the groove easily and we’re nearly ready with a couple of products.
We’re excited about handmade fabrics from different parts of India and creating products such as seat cushions that compliment our furniture. We’re also working on upholstered furniture using these fabrics.
There are a few other collaborations with designers in the pipeline.”