The Origin of Us
I spent my early childhood, in Bombay India, in a home we shared with my grandparents and in my memory, my first home was a simple space devoid of any eccentricities and all to my grandparents tastes. The house held basic decor and the walls played it safe in the tones of white with brown. We only owned a few things of significance that were passed down by family.
My mother, on the other hand, has always been a creative soul with a knack for decorating the space around her and soon enough, we moved to our new home and it was here that she found her canvas. Mango-coloured walls, bright pink and green sofas with antique tables and chairs carefully put together by the artist herself. We were not in Kansas anymore!
In my teens, influenced by my mother's decorative pursuits, I embarked on some ambitious ones of my own. Having never had a space to myself before, my room saw many changes over the course of our decade-long stay. It started with pink curtains against a lime green wall embellished with posters of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, with a little bit of Bollywood posters thrown in for good measure. Then came the era of silver walls with black furniture, a neon pink ceiling and finally the Louis Blue, gilded Versailles-inspired boudoir. I realized I was experimenting with my décor styles but with intention and loving it.
We eventually moved again into a larger house and our canvas grew. I realized that our style as a family was rustic, warm and full of life . We sought printed and patterned, homey and full to the brim. ‘Maximalism’ wasn’t a word we were familiar with but it was what we were all about. We filled the house with incredible art, souvenirs from our travels all over the world, beautiful antiquities and sentimental knick-knacks we inherited. The rule was simple - no bounds, no restraints.
My parents, sister and I had an equal role to play and through our collective labour of love, we created our unique space. We were finally in OUR home!
Somewhere along the way, my mother found her passion for antiques, which led her to the City of Joy, Kolkata. The former capital of British India is riddled with history and one finds Victorian, Colonial, Neoclassical and Art Deco buildings all around. While most are preserved, the others are less fortunate. Neglect and the lack of upkeep have made them subject to demolition with all their priceless belongings being given away.
During one such visit to an old townhouse where some artifacts were being sold for scraps, my mother decided to purchase nearly everything the place had to offer. Ornate gothic-style beds, mirrored dressing tables straight out of a Downton Abbey episode, authentic Chippendale dining table with chairs, Art Deco light globes and compact Deco bar cabinets, original Indian Master paintings, vintage Bengali film posters and so much more!
Along with this incredible haul, she brought me a priceless present for my 23rd birthday: A portfolio with exquisite prints on tattered, yellowing pages. Unbeknownst to us, we struck gold!
The condition of the images was not the best as time had taken its toll, but the vibrancy was intact and quite frankly, incredible. As old books go, the bibliosmia of the pages made me giddy with joy and I was ready to dive in.
To my surprise, I was holding The Grammar of Ornament by the 19th Century English-born Welsh architect, Owen Jones. I wanted to explore everything I could about this precious find. It all started with a quick google search, and lo and behold, I was the newest member of the Owen Jones fan club!
A key figure in the history of British design, Jones was born in London in 1809 and went on to become a design theorist and architect. He travelled through Europe and Asia which ignited the awakening to study Islamic art and patterns which eventually led to his seminal work published in 1856, The Grammar of Ornament. This influential work was revered by the likes of William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright and continues to be a beacon inspiration for modern day designers.
I believe I hold the original reproduction from the early 20th century based on the condition of the pages and was aware it was still in print all over the world so I got myself a recently printed copy but the colours and clarity of the new book did not hold a candle to the prints I owned. I sought to learn all about Jones’ travels, in detail, his passions, his influence and the principles that were his foundation.
Luckily I knew how to preserve these prints for posterity by archiving them in acid-free tissue and box, in a dry room with no sunlight thanks to my archival class during my NYU Masters program. But before I did that, I wanted to go through the prints in careful detail for any alternate future use, so I embarked on a 3-week long process of scanning each page and I eventually had a folder of the loveliest, oldest thing I owned.
Time flew and I went out to explore the world. At age 29, after a short stint in California, where I tried for a career in costume for film and television, I realized I needed a reboot. I wanted to explore many creative career paths and it took me back to New York where I began the cathartic process of styling my tiny new apartment. I was thousands of miles away from my home in India, so I yearned for a space that was filled with all the things that made me feel warm and secure in that strange but vibrant concrete jungle.
Through many visits to chain home stores and a lot of label-turning later, I was surprised to find the sheer number of things being made in India. And then the proverbial light bulb went off!
Perhaps, I could create things that allowed me to share this very joy with people who sought the same. My childhood hobby came flooding back to me and I realized I found my purpose and that life had come full circle. Thus began the journey of the Itihāas company.
Itihāas means history in Sanskrit and an exploration into my love for culture, art, decorating a home, but most importantly, storytelling. I wanted my strongest passions to be the starting point of my new venture.
I dusted through old folders in my laptop and there it was waiting for me, The Grammar of Ornaments; my inspiration from a distant past. I thought to myself, what better way to reboot than with something old that I’d make new, kind of borrowed and full of character. I wanted to share it through different mediums, that would become a part of one’s home, memory and just like history, be retold through ages and families.
History and storytelling for some might be fact versus fiction, it is subjective, however for me it is all the same. A narrative to share with the world through objects.Pieces created from objects of the past I might one day source, own, borrow or recreate. To retell an old story in a new way, or to create a new tale with a side of my imagination, to bring an element of joy and wonder into your homes, to pass down to your children, for it to become their history and as the cycle continues, weaving the threads of human connection.
Welcome to The Itihāas Company!