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A conversation with Harshita Jhamtani, designer, Forma

Harshita Jhamtani's tryst with furniture design began when the architecture graduate took a year to apply herself in a few other design streams that interested her. A series of experiments finally guided her towards furniture design. She then went onto doing a diploma course from The Florence Institute of Design International where she nurtured the idea of removing any unnecessary elements from a design. This clean and minimal approach has of course also found its way to Harshita's contemporary lamps for Forma, 'HALO' - which was one of the three nominations in the Lighting category at Elle Decor International Design Awards India (EDIDA), 2018.

Shristi Singh has a conversation with the Forma designer about her journey in furniture design so far, her inspirations, the concept of 'contradiction' in her work, and the making of the 'HALO' lamps. Edited excerpts:

Could you share some of your earliest memories of art and design that may have informed your career?

While most kids usually want to be astronauts or pilots, I've always wanted to be an architect. When I was in the third grade, we crossed this really beautiful building in Bandra and my mother mentioned how she'd love to stay there. And I told her right then that when I grow up, I would make her a building better than that. Essentially, that's how it all started for me.

Was becoming a furniture designer always the plan?

Not exactly. During my second year of architecture, I realised that what I was doing was different from what I had imagined. So I took a year off to try and put myself in every possible design scenario. I interned with Arjun Rathi, working on the origami installations at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. I also interned with Samira Rathod Design Associates where I worked on a few furniture designs and helped build her website.

During all these experiences, it struck me that furniture design was something I had complete control over as compared to architecture or interiors. I then found myself exceedingly fascinated with many aspects of this discipline, and after that, there has been no turning back.

"When it comes to furniture, it's really hard to distance yourself from the pieces that already exist. Having been trained as an architect actually gave me insights into various related fields like graphic design, interiors, landscape, and urban planning."

Tell us a bit about your time at The Florence Institute of Design International. What was your biggest takeaway from the time you spent there?

Florence was great. I came in contact with many different cultures. The alumni of the course were so diverse and my cohort was a vibrant mix of almost 40 different nationalities. I was exposed to an entirely new system where everyone was incredibly encouraging. I was able to grasp and comprehend my own creative potential. I found myself in a position to explore and experiment with the resources at my disposal.

Doing this not only changed the way I saw my designs but also how I saw myself as a designer. My biggest takeaway was definitely the culture-exposure – for example, I drew many colour inspirations from Brazil and learnt about how design needs to complement lifestyles from the US, wherein the concept of household help does not exist and most furniture is designed keeping that thought in mind.

Your designs for Forma have a very clean and minimal look to them. Is that something that resonates across all your designs?

I believe that in India, the idea of 'less is more' has never been popular. However, I wanted to specifically and actively train myself in a completely opposite, non-traditional approach, which is to remove any unnecessary elements from a design. That's how I have developed this style. Initially, I had to consciously make an effort to do it, but now it is almost natural.

Also, I've always wanted to work with the concept of 'contradiction'. It's a recurring theme across all my designs, which are clean and minimal in parts while also being complicated and uneven in others. I hope to incorporate such contradictions in my upcoming designs as well, but that nevertheless depends on the requirement.

Coming to Forma's 'HALO' collection, how did you get around to creating the lamps?

I wouldn't call myself spiritual but I do dabble with spiritual books and concepts out of curiosity, and I really wanted to incorporate the idea of 'halo' in this lamp. Even if you take a look at my write-up about the lamp, it says:

The HALO collection was designed to encapsulate the eternal essence of light itself in the never-ending struggle between order and chaos. Your space is a culmination of you, your aura and energy. The agents of your aura — love, wisdom, peace and hope are represented by a crown of light - the halo.

The lamp has had about ten design iterations from ideation to completion, the final one evolving tremendously from the first. While the idea of 'halo' remained a constant, I added concrete to the equation along the way. Since I come from an architecture background, I've always incorporated the use of different materials in my designs. Also, the cement we have used for this is JSW cement, which is green-pro certified and thus, eco-friendly and sustainable. Sustainability is also something that we are truly conscious about. I designed this range with the idea of 'contradiction' in mind, and therefore you can see that the piece has clean lines on top and this rock-like structure below.

Could you also take us through some of the technical aspects behind these lights?

It took me several months to get this lamp developed because it was quite tricky on the technical level. The halo ring is actually a glass tube that uses a cold-cathode method similar to how a tubelight functions. So you have to pump the gas in, create a vacuum, and place it in mild-steel pipes. I approached many vendors for this, but unfortunately none of them could develop this. Then I happened to bump into a college senior, who is an architect, and he took this up as a challenge. He is my manufacturer now. ‍

"I've always wanted to work with the concept of 'contradiction'. It's a recurring theme across all my designs, which are clean and minimal in parts while also being complicated and uneven in others."

How do you stay inspired?

I try hard to not be on Pinterest, and even when I am on it, I try to look for inspiration from things other than furniture. I have friends in the fashion industry, so I end up attending many shows which subconsciously influence my work. I often get inspired by the textures and try incorporating them in my furniture pieces.

When it comes to furniture, it's really hard to distance yourself from the pieces that already exist. Having been trained as an architect actually gave me insights into various related fields like graphic design, interiors, landscape, and urban planning.

Is there anything new you're working on right now?

I'm currently working on a few uber-luxury furniture pieces for a commissioned project. I've always had an interest in luxury furniture, and working on this project alongside an interior designer has been an exciting experience. Apart from that, I'm working on a few new designs for Forma as well which includes a queen bed and two new wardrobes.

Lastly, is there any furniture from your own home that holds special meaning for you?

As we all know, most Bombay houses suffer from a space crunch issue. Over the years, I have noticed that the lack of space for a separate pooja room (place to worship) leads to placing small temples in our living rooms. And the local vendors who create these are focused on very traditional details and carvings. So on one hand, you have a contemporary living room and on the other, you end up having a temple that's completely traditional. This clash bothered me, and I wanted to reinvent the way temples are designed.

‍I put together this new design for the temple in my own house, keeping all the basic rules of a temple design in mind and yet giving it a contemporary feel. I assume it's been a success because many people have started commissioning me to work on similar models for them, after taking a look at my temple design.