Twenty-six years later, furniture label Shakti Ganapati, still churns out designs that are contemporary and can be handed down through the generations
If not for the two cheerful Golden Retrievers comically rolling about and wagging their fluffy tails, it’s quite easy to miss Shakti Ganapati. The furniture label has a name board that is rather minimalist — a reflection of their design sensibility — and is tucked away in the corner of the gate. But that is hardly a concern, because the 26-year-old company does not bank on branding to get recognised.
The team comprises seven carpenters and is led by Reshma Chengappa, who started the brand in 1993, along with her now late husband Deepak Chengappa. “This is a result of Deepak’s passion. He was inspired by American woodworker and furniture maker George Nakashima’s work. Nakashima is better known for having worked on the Golconde, a dormitory in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Puducherry,” explains Reshma, adding, “When Deepak was around, he did everything while I handled all the paperwork. Now I have to go to timber lots, buy the wood, and design too.”
At Shakti Ganapati, the designs are contemporary; they hardly go out of fashion and can be handed down through the generations. The speciality of the furniture is that they are made without nails and pegs. “This is an example of perfect joinery where it is all about locking the wood. It’s traditional craftsmanship from Japan and China,” explains Reshma. The joinery methods they use include butterfly key, dovetail wood joint, saddle joints, Chinese wedge-nail joints… The large dining table where we sit across has butterfly key joints. Shaped like bows, they make the table look like a well-built hunk dressed in a suit with bow ties running along the placket.
This kind of joinery makes the furniture long lasting as opposed to nails that rub against the wood and come off, says Reshma. Interestingly, the glossy brown table is 23 years old but shows no signs of age or deterioration. “We buy wood from the same log so it has the same symmetry and colour. We don’t colour the wood, it’s just oiled once the furniture is completed. Wood has fibres running across and we have to work with the grain. Everything is completely hand done,” she says. The team works with tropical hardwood like teak, rosewood, mahogany, black walnut, black wenge, sycamore and padauk. The logs come from Africa, Malaysia, the US, and Papua New Guinea.
The process, from buying wood to executing the piece, takes around four to five months. First the drawings are done, then the whole furniture is put together using cheaper wood just to check for stability and comfort and how it holds. Only then is the final piece made. “After procuring the wood, we seal the edges with beeswax and then put it in the kiln to season the wood, so the moisture content becomes low. The idea is to make the wood incapable of absorbing moisture. This process of seasoning the wood can take up to two months,” says Reshma. Seasoning helps strengthen the wood which in turn makes the furniture long lasting. “That explains why some of them survived the Chennai floods and the cyclone,” informs Reshma.
The wood is bought only after an order is received. Reshma says she doesn’t believe in making furniture on a large scale or retailing out of stores. This helps her keep a check on the quality of the product. Other than beds, chairs, recliners, storage units, puja units Shakti Ganapati also creates lights, cushions and sometimes elegant wooden staircases for homes. “A number of expats buy from me. I believe my furniture is for keeps and that’s why they even take it back with them across seas and continents,” smiles Reshma.
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