At the start of my career, I always felt it would be important for me to travel as part of my work — to be lucky enough to experience peoples and cultures that are exciting to embrace, and that allow reflection on who I am and where I come from.
As a student, I went out of my way to pursue opportunities abroad. I became the first student in my degree course to participate in an exchange programme in Spain, and this was preceded by a year working in an architect’s studio in Bolivia.
In travel, I have always loved the feeling of being made welcome, and out of this enthusiasm there have emerged both friendships and opportunities.
With the launch our Phantom Hands project, I have been reflecting on how this project came about, and how satisfying it feels to finally see it come to fruition.
During a spell working with clients in Bangalore, I struck up a genuine friendship with Amit, an enthusiast for the work of Graphical House. Amit took it upon himself to introduce me to some talented and ambitious business leaders who were always generous with their time.
A recommendation came to visit the workshop of a furniture company on the outskirts of the city, and on 7th October 2017, Amit took me to meet Deepak Srinath, CEO of Phantom Hands.
It was late in the day, and a thunderous monsoon had soaked us completely. Deepak welcomed us with a smile, a dry towel, and the now customary cup of tea.
His office was surrounded by a collection of modern teak and woven cane furniture. For someone of my architectural background this was somehow very familiar.
Deepak explained that his business was founded to make reproductions of the modernist furniture that once adorned the futuristic government buildings of Chandigarh, conceived of by Le Corbusier and his contemporaries at the start of Indian democracy in the 1950s.
The furniture design was lead by architect Pierre Jeanneret, who true to his socialist principles designed with the intention that each piece be open source.
Under a welcome umbrella, we moved into the workshop. Men and women were sat on the floor holding tools and wood with a dexterity that was mesmerising. These people, Deepak told me, are the Phantom Hands — an assembly of crafts people drawn from across India whose traditions are fundamental in skilful production of such desirable works.
As we left, I felt I had experienced a unique business that had genuine significance in the culture of Indian design and making. I kept in touch with Deepak, and later had the privilege of meeting his wife and partner Aparna in Edinburgh when Graphical House was asked to lead a rebrand of the business.
In the spirit of friendship, we introduced Glasgow based designer Derek Welsh to Phantom Hands. After a trip to India in 2020, Derek is now collaborating on a range of furniture designed in Scotland but made in Bangalore.
Almost 3 and a half years have passed since my first visit to Phantom Hands, but the relationship we have developed is one that I treasure.
With travel curtailed the last year has been challenging for us all, but I hope to see our friends in India again soon.