Two decades ago, Adwait and Uttara Kher escaped from Mumbai to Nashik because they wanted their daughters — Saunskruti and Saiyami — to be raised close to nature; they were also fed up of the life in a big city. The Khers left behind a flourishing career in advertising and a restaurant business and shifted focus towards making unique furniture. Now, they’re back in the city, after a gap of 12 years, for a two-day exhibition that features their unique collection.
How it all began
Adwait (54), the avid traveller, began hitchhiking around the country and would bring back teak wood artefacts (including doors and windows) much to the consternation of Uttara (48) who was clueless. “He (Adwait) could see the designs within the wood blocks that I couldn’t,” she admits. Since Adwait didn’t have a background in carpentry, he would come up with contemporary designs and get a group of tribal carpenters to execute them. As he was eco-conscious, he chose to stick to recycled wood obtained from trees that fall naturally instead of chopping down trees for wood.
To procure wood, he would visit government auctions held in distant rural areas. He was always on the lookout for teak wood from old homes that would otherwise be sold off or used as fuel. Recounts their daughter Saunskruti, “Dad was always against the cutting of trees. He respects the fact that it takes decades to obtain seasoned teakwood and was alarmed that teak trees are getting extinct. If he ever came across someone chopping a tree, he would confiscate his or her ax. That’s how we have a roomful of axes at home.” She has teamed up with her sister Saiyami (both of whom are pursuing acting) to handle the publicity for the exhibition.
Spread the wood
While their first pieces of furniture were lapped up by acquaintances, the Kher’s chose to remain low-key. However, the brand, titled Uttara and Adwait’s, got plenty of word-of-mouth publicity and at the insistence of their patrons and daughters, they decided to organise this exhibition in Mumbai.
The brand name comes from the fact that the couple works as a team — Uttara looks after the logistics while Adwait sticks to the design aspect. “Often, we have disagreements but it helps add spice to life. He asks for my opinion about certain items but goes ahead and does exactly the opposite,” laughs off Uttara.
At the present exhibition, look up for 100 specimens of art furniture, which includes coffee tables, vases, benches, wall clocks, table lamps, beer jugs and wooden pots. Adwait terms the furniture as art since it is handmade and akin to a work of art which cannot be replicated. Some of the wood on display is 200 years old.
Beauty in unlikely places
Adwait, who claims to be a full-time vagabond and part-time furniture designer, observes that he would always opt for the ugliest piece of wood that no one wanted and turn it into something beautiful. He elaborates, “We have adopted the traditional, scientific method to make furniture. We don’t use short cuts by using screws or nails to hold the planks together. Instead, we use Japanese butterfly joint techniques to hold the blocks. Also, we don’t tamper with the inherent imperfections of the wood, be it the cuts to the block or the graininess as it adds character to the furniture.”
His major challenge is that there are few skilled carpenters who work with teak wood. It’s also very labour-intensive; some pieces take a few days to make, while others go up to six months. Uttara and Adwait’s are open to customising furniture. Among all of Adwait’s creations, his favourite is a wooden sculpture of a tree that took him six months to craft: “It’s not on display but it shows my concern for the future where we may no longer have trees.”