Kerala’s history is flavored with colonial influences. It’s reflected in the furniture, too. From the 15th century onwards, Malayali craftsmen have combined wood and metal to form a unique collaboration between the East and West. With the arrival of the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and then the British, European furniture was introduced in the homes of the wealthy and powerful. “Customary pieces were adapted to suit the region’s hot and humid climate and native materials,” says Meera Pyarelal of Temple Town in Thrissur.
Her mission is to revive and repackage classic Kerala furniture, which has been relegated by mass-produced sofas and plastic chairs to a few traditional homes. Renewed interest in traditional décor has allowed Meera to reinvent modern homes. “People like traditional furniture but find it difficult to put together the right ‘look’. How to place a traditional four-poster bed, which has been in the family for ages, in a modern house is the challenge,” she says.
It’s been over two decades since Meera set up her dream shop in her garage. Now Temple Town has grown into a large enterprise known across the state for its traditionally handcrafted pieces. She hires only experienced hands from nearby Peruvanam village, which was once the centre of traditional furniture and wood sculpture.
The Arabian Sea was the portal to ancient Kerala. It was a melting pot of cultures as far-flung communities and nationalities arrived from across the seas. In fact, the first European settlement in India was established in Kochi. Many relics from those days from furniture to art are found in museums and auction houses big and small today. “They are perfect heirlooms to be passed on to the next generation,” Meera says.
With more and more families moving into apartment complexes, Meera has to be inventive. But she hasn’t lost faith. “Traditional furniture always has an edge over contemporary pieces, which need to be replaced every five to ten years. It’s cost-effective for families in apartments,” she pitches. Meera’s objective is to preserve and promote traditional Kerala interiors design and craftsmanship while keeping comfort in mind.
People are getting more eco-conscious. Many of Meera’s clients only select furniture made with reused wood. “Old wooden pieces such as a sapramanjakattil—an elaborately carved four poster bed—are symbols of Kerala’s diversity, which is influenced by both eastern and western ideas. My furniture is inspired by such antiques and is beautifully reconceived to suit modern living,” she says.
Sustainability lies at the core of Meera’s design sensibility. Designs she creates and curates are made with responsibly sourced and recycled Indian teak. She encourages her patrons to focus on sustainability. “You can bring back the nostalgia of a traditional house through a number of ways such as using wooden furniture and different materials for floors and tapestries. Customising products while maintaining the right cost factor is a challenge,” she confesses, but is happy to meet.
Meera’s love of travel has enriched her aesthetic perception. She is a maven of old world charm who is at home in London because of the way the old and the new coexist. The city’s multicultural nature enables it to retain traditions and modernity, which appeals to her. Her designs are seen in South Asian and English homes. Even before the pandemic, Temple Town had been planning to go online. A wooden expression tells more than one story.
The Arabian Sea was the portal to ancient Kerala. It was a melting pot of cultures as far-flung
communities arrived from across the seas.