Why home buyers are travelling 35 kms out of Mumbai to do their tony residences
Centre tables and bedroom sets designed in Italy and manufactured in China are sold, of all places, in Bhiwandi, the new furniture hub of the country
In Kasheli, Bhiwandi, nearly 35 km from Mumbai, you can navigate between the living rooms of three countries: Italy, China and India. Since 2006, around 40 furniture stores have made the stretch their home.
The first one to set up shop, at a time when it was a jungle, was White House, with a 15,000 sqft showroom. It then opened a second 15,000 sqft space for modular kitchens, and even a massive warehouse in the same quadrant. Owned by Amit Chheda, the arrival of White House brought a flood of furniture stores to the hood. In the last three years alone, a dozen stores have opened their outposts, with the largest one, a 60,000 sqft space called G&C Casa, opening its doors two weeks ago.
At Trezure, the furniture has been sourced from Italian labels such as Casa Italia and Kelvin Giormani
Every weekend, about 20 to 25 customers, chaperoned by their architects and interior designers, walk the mile between Maublé, Sanjar, Trezure, Empire, T World Furniture and others. During the week, the place is bereft of customers, owners, and in some stores, even air-conditioning. So much of the furniture comes from China that the area is called mini-China. Broadly speaking, the aesthetic can be described as modern-contemporary with several tie-ups with Italian labels. "Most Italian companies now have their manufacturing units in China," says architect Monik Chheda, co-owner of G&C Casa.
"I mean, even the iPhone comes from China." His brother, Rajesh Chheda adds, "Italian designs have a few specifications in terms of fabric, quality, stitching, concept, the height of the sofa, and so on, that we want." The duo stresses multiple times that they only deal in luxury premium products. It's the kind of furniture you see in five-star hotel lobbies or hoardings of residential projects that are meant to be aspirational.
However, after spending the day in Bhiwandi, we do think you can find great statement pieces there, without breaking the bank. In a store called Selimoglu, a Turkish label, we discovered the most beautiful, flower-shaped centre tables for under Rs 40,000. In Recliners India, we sank into a recliner (Rs 1,10,000) that we could live in. And, in Bajoria Furniture, a store dedicated to handmade Shekhawati furniture, there was a bar cabinet (Rs 42,000) around which the happy and the tipsy could drool forever. So, here's a handy guide that would make your trip to the back of beyond easier.
All the pieces in Bajoria Furniture reflect its Shekhawati roots
Looking Italy, talking China
G&C Casa is so new that the swastika outside is still visible when we visit. It opened on Shivaratri, and is co-owned by three brothers, Monik, Sachin and Rajesh. As an architect, Monik has designed the space to impress newcomers. The size itself is astonishing; the ground floor is spread across 30,000 sqft, with neat divisions he calls islands; there's a first floor as well. "We have come up with a concept in which high-end products are displayed in a premium way. In these islands, people can actually imagine their home, which is a 1,000 sqft space, and how the combinations work." They opened the store in Bhiwandi because, "walk-ins are comparatively higher here, than any part of Mumbai. The furniture market has come up over the years, and the majority of the architects and interior designers have started visiting this area. It has become the second China."
In fact, the new trend is to visit China to source furniture, "which has malls as big as cities. But the client doesn't always have the time to go there, so they come here." He believes that stores such as G&C Casa make the architects' job easier. "This store is a USP for architects, because they can work within the client's budget. If people see these products, they'll ask the homeowners, 'Who's the architect?'" says Monik.
Maublé had an outlet in Worli as well, behind Four Seasons Hotels, which had to shut down because of the ongoing Metro work. "Even the showrooms next to us shut because there were few footfalls," says investor Surendra Gala. "Without parking, this business doesn't work." Owned by Ellora Group, which is largely into construction, Mauble's Bhiwandi outlet is spread across 22,000 sqft. "In construction, we had a problem getting quality products. So, we decided to start with one showroom before scaling up." Its sofa sets are in the range of `2-6 lakh, and the dining tables from `1-3 lakh. "When we came in, this market was famous for low-cost products. We were the first high-end store to start in 2016. We have a professional team of interior designers, who visit Turkey, Malaysia and China to finalise the products." Earlier, he says, things were unorganised. "But today, we're getting good interior designers visiting from across India. This market has become India's furniture hub."
White House was the first major furniture store to set up shop in Kasheli
At Trezure, co-owners Parin Nishar and Nilesh Gala have sourced furniture from Italian labels such as Milano & Design, Casa Italia and Kelvin Giormani. "Our products are Italian in taste, but at Chinese prices," says Nishar. They set up the store in 2016 in Bhiwandi because, "the rent is reasonable and the area that you require for the furniture is spacious. That's not possible in the city. So logistically, this is more [feasible]." Trezure is spread across 40,000 sqft and all of its products are from China. "We go to China three to four times a year. I have an experience of 19 years, so I know the taste of customers." Its leather and fabric sofa sets are from Rs 75,000 to Rs 5,00,000, and the bedroom sets from '1.5-2 lakh. "We are a bit more expensive, but we are brand-conscious."
Rajesh and Monik Chheda
A touch of royalty
From Churu, Rajasthan, Virendra Bajoria and his karigars have been creating handmade furniture for the last 20 years. But its only store in Mumbai, Bajoria Furniture, was set up in 2016 in Bhiwandi. It specialises in Shekhawati furniture, which turns sesame wood into elaborate, intricate pieces. With gold accents, a mix of wrought iron and carvings of flowers, ducks and leaves, the diwans and cupboards are fit for rulers. Sreekant Agarwal, the manager, says, "It's in the same style as the furniture found in Rajasthani homes. The style is 100 to 200 years old." In Rajasthan, the districts of Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar make up the Shekhawati region, and the 3,000 sqft store is a glimpse of how its people live. "All our publicity is via word-of-mouth, and we give a lifetime guarantee. Only if you push this off the terrace [of your building], will it break. It also has resale value. Chinese furniture doesn't have that."
Surendra Gala from Mauble
A chair for comfort
At Recliners India, sales associate Anwar Iqbal introduces every recliner to us as, "This is Rani Mukherji's chair, this is Farah Khan's." It specialises in only its namesake product, and sells to multiplex chains such as PVR, Inox, Cinemax and Insignia. "We have 80 per cent of the market," says Iqbal. In fact, the seats in the Parliament are also their handiwork. A few of the recliners we tried (range Rs 35,000 to a lakh-plus) were among the plushest seats we've been in. A Delhi-based company, with showrooms in LA, Dubai, UAE and South Africa, it even has recliners in three-seater sofas, massage chairs and an auto-lift chair for those who can't get up on their own. A touch we especially loved was the miniplex they have on the premises, where you can check how comfortable your home theatre can be.
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