It all began with a triangle. A technically sound prototype of portable seating, designer Sandeep Sangaru’s Truss-Me stool, was where his journey with bamboo began. His designs made it to Christie’s London sale last month, earning him four times the Indian price for a bamboo coat stand designed by him. Lacquered and fitted with gold-plated hardware, the stand was on auction with the Truss-Me wall shelf. The stand sold for £3,000 (nearly Rs 2.5 lakh). But Bangalore-based Sangaru sees this only as another day in his life, ever eager in his endeavour to make craft the hero.
After his graduation in furniture design from the National Institute of Design (NID), Sangaru joined his alma mater as a faculty member. Professor MP Ranjan, who mentored several designers, and co-authored Handmade in India, directed Sangaru to Tripura, where he would engage with bamboo artisans. “Around the same time, I also travelled to Srinagar, and saw the fine craft of walnut wood carvers and pinjara kari work. This was in 2004, when I met Mohammed Ashraf, a craftsperson who repaired homes and objects made with pinjara kari technique. It’s like woven wood, made from batons of wood into geometric patterns without nails or glue. I had to search for these craftspeople, because nobody works with this technique anymore,” says Sangaru. Since then, he has been working with Ashraf and his team of eight to 10 artisans on designs for lampshades and shelves.
Likewise, Sangaru’s penchant for travel, and exploring new techniques, led him to Channapatna, Karnataka, in 2004. “The challenge here is in using the same wood for toys and jewellery to make furniture components. We have collaborated with Maya Organic, an NGO that works with craftspeople. Once the components reach our studio, we make the chair and add teak for stability,” says the 42 year old. His peers know him as a stickler for detailing, obsessing over joinery and pushing the limits of the humble grass to its tensile capacity. At the London Design Festival early this year, his “almost-wearable” bamboo sculptures dressed the windows of Varana, India’s luxury store of contemporary design.
The journey to Christie’s began in 2007, when the Tripura Bamboo Mission commissioned Sangaru a furniture line he called Truss-Me, which was inspired by the single load-bearing frame of the stool. The collection would have wall shelves and seating, which got him numerous awards including the Red Dot Design Award in 2009.
His showings at Beijing International Design Triennale in 2011 won him international eyeballs. Juan van Wassenhove, an entrepreneur and art collector, chose Truss-Me for The Temple Hotel in Beijing. “This is an ancient temple turned into a luxury hotel. Wassenhove is a managing partner of hotel, and much of my furniture is there. One of the days, during our conversations, he was talking about monetising them, such that it reaches a wider audience. Christie’s was his doing,” says Sangaru. “For the special pieces done for Christie’s, the lac coating was done 15-20 times, usually it’s not more than 6-7 times.”
His thoughts take him back to the craftspeople. “The question is what can we achieve and how far can we push craft? Often, when we work with artisans on such pieces, they are reluctant. They are often constrained by budgets. I tell them that unless people see what we’re capable of, they won’t appreciate it. End of the day it’s about balance, it’s not a business,” says Sangaru.