Not everybody can appreciate the beauty of fallen trees and even fewer can imagine a piece of furniture around them. Where most would see waste, decaying material, Aakriti Kumar senses endless potential. ‘‘The design process should not be bound by birth and death. A linear model doesn’t work for me. Circular, sustainable approach is what I work on,” says the 26-year-old founder of the furniture brand, Differniture. By circular, she explains, “I am referring to how trees once fallen should find their way back into our lives.” On a regular work day, you’ll find her waiting for shipping containers from southeast Asia to be unloaded and dismantled, in the far flung factory districts of the national capital. And, on a morning after a heavy storm, she walks around town in a search for fallen trees. “Drying of wood takes a lot of time and seasoning takes even longer, as does the crack-filling process. “But this is what I work with,” Kumar says.
Not boxes or lines, her forte is fluidity. Crafted with reclaimed pinewood, the Ripple tabletop has small waves arising from one end giving an illusion of water. Even the legs are noteworthy, which have been created by arranging small wood blocks in a staggered manner. The Topographic coffee table made with reclaimed pinewood, plywood and glass is one of her favourites. Its layered design mimics the undulating topography of hills. There are chairs that look like guitars and a lamp that looks like a sitar. The Woman is a contoured, sculpted lamp resembling the idealised silhouette of a female body. The Shousugiban table, made with Jackfruit wood, has been treated with an ancient Japanese wood-preserving technique. The top layer is burned and brushed off to expose a dark, water-resistant, fire-retardant piece of wood.
Everything that leaves her studio-cum-workshop in Delhi’s Sainik Farms is a zero waste design and no two are alike. “At Parsons School of Design, New York, we were often challenged to create furniture with minimal wastage, minimal impact on the environment,” says Kumar, who is now working on an outdoor furniture collection made of solid rosewood.If Parsons taught her the art of sustainability, working at Peguform, a German automotive design company, where she was the only designer among engineers, taught her that not every idea can be translated into a practical product. Her final pit stop before launching her own label in 2015 was a leather goods manufacturing company in Delhi. In her 10-month stint, she worked closely at the crafting end of the design process. In just over a year, Differniture has become one of the most promising names in the design scene. Retailed from her studio and worldartcommunity.com, products are priced between Rs 16,000 and Rs 2.5 lakh.
“The days I am not out procuring wood, I am at the workshop with my carpenters. Since everything is handmade, I work very closely with them. It’s a boon to have skilled people working to convert my dream designs into functional pieces,” Kumar says. The creative process starts with a sketch and then reaches the stage of prototypes and three-dimensional models made using computer software. The products are finished with oil and no toxic material is used throughout the process. “I am not too touchy about trashing an idea if it doesn’t deem suitable in terms of crafting,” she says. “It’s difficult to convince clients to spend on creations that are different. I don’t sound like too much of a businesswoman, do I?” Well, business is not for everyone but then not everything should be business.