Sourcing items that express your individuality has to be one of life's more pleasurable pursuits. Cue Bungalow 8, a retail gem in Mumbai, selling vintage furniture alongside contemporary home accessories. "It's all about being eclectic and worldly. Mixing and matching. And careful editing," says the owner, Maithili Ahluwalia. Defying the glitzy shopping malls proliferating across Mumbai, Ahluwalia opted for a bold and somewhat unconventional location: a decaying 19th-century mansion, complete with dramatic 40-foot high ceilings, original burma teak rafters and terrazzo floor. (Its sister outlet - in an equally subversive setting: a 4,000 sq ft space beneath the benches of the city's Wankhede stadium - is currently closed for renovations). Over the three floors Ahluwalia has created distinct spaces dedicated to dining, living, dressing, bathing and sleeping. Rather than being a series of interiors showrooms, there is a connection between each area. "Bungalow 8 is about a way of life, rather than simply being a showcase," explains Ahluwalia. "There is little to suggest it is a retail store. It could be the house of some grande dame who is quite comfortable straddling the past and the present."
Ahluwalia's philosophy is to juxtapose opposites to produce unexpected results. "I try to find things that people have never seen before but will be happy to see every day 10 years from now." You can't help but be drawn to the intriguing displays: contemporary block-printed linens inside Art Deco cupboards; new-age crockery on baroque tables, and sleek bathroom accessories on vintage basins and bathtubs; 1920s dentist's lamps and ceramic toothbrush holders; textured wooden planters and tribal necklaces from Papua New Guinea.
"We source from all over the world, but with a bias towards India. In principle, we don't stock designers available elsewhere in India." This involves collaborations with up-and-coming talent, re-working existing designs found at design fairs, tie-ups with craft organisations, and hunting out things at markets. "I am fortunate to work in India, where we still favour the hand over the machine," muses the retail pioneer. "Being drawn to tactile products, these are often hand-made or -moulded." This could be an influence from her mother, the jewellery and ikat designer Jamini Ahluwalia, who is renowned for her striking and sculptural creations.
Ahluwalia had an inkling that there was a gap in the market for contemporary home accessories, specifically catering to the new homeowners setting up in Mumbai's sprawling suburbs. "The revolution that has happened in food and fashion is now happening in the home segment," she says. After observing a demand for Indian designer homewares, Bungalow 8 is a bid to promote young designers and resuscitate artisanal skills that are in danger of dying out. "No one thinks in terms of Indian contemporary designer items, yet there is so much happening here right now." Aware that customers need to be constantly stimulated and inspired, Ahulwalia says there is no room for complacency: "We're always on the lookout... constantly challenging ourselves to do better. We change the feel of the store every few months, and organise talks and trunk shows." Her latest project is a fashion label, The Bungalow, created by the French designer Mathieu Gugummus Leguillon - whose debut collection includes some fabulously oversized kantha embroidered jumpsuits.
"Our clientele is Indian in spirit and global in outlook," says Ahluwalia, which might perhaps explain why Madonna is a fan. "Bungalow 8's customers are not bogged down by design definitions but look for things that they can see themselves through and in. All we do is encourage people to take chances to stand apart from the crowd." www.bungaloweight.com * Yvonne Courtney