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Exotic carving on colonial furniture is often elaborate and bold, depicting Indian motifs such as exotic animals, temples and birds. This gives colonial furniture a unique style and a distinctive Indian touch.

Richly carved Anglo-Indian rosewood center table - The Past Perfect Collection


Colonial furniture speaks silently of a bygone era, evoking romance, it stirs the imagination back to a time long ago. It is the high quality of the materials used, the handwork and the attention to detail which brings this furniture into a class of its own altogether.

It was born from the meeting of two cultures – the European and the Indian, in India during the period 1500-1700. From this tumultuous time in history, something beautiful was born - colonial furniture.

In many ways, this furniture reflects how the Europeans, and the local artisans producing furniture for them, combined European and local sensibilities and skills to create something truly original. A happy marriage, if you like, between the two different cultures, resulting in the creation of the colonial style.


Exotic Carving on Colonial Furniture l The Past Perfect Collection l Singapore

Interior of the Tuncum in Madurai showing a room furnished in the colonial style. Once used for hosting grand events, the building later became the official residence of the British District Collectors. Photo credit: British Library

Exotic Carving on Colonial Furniture L Sandalwood box from Mysore l The Past Perfect Collection l Singapore

Profusely carved sandalwood box from Mysore –

The Past Perfect Collection


To begin with, the European traders imported Western prototypes for the local craftsmen to copy. However, it was soon discovered that the Indian carpenters were, in fact, highly skilled. They adapted their skills to furniture making and added their own stamp with typically Indian decorative flourishes.

Richly decorated pieces were produced with beautiful exotic carving and distinctly Indian touches, patterns and motifs. The southern regions of Mysore and Canara were known for beautifully carved sandalwood pieces, with Western forms, but with a design and decoration usually of local influence, such as temples or lotus flowers designs.


  • In Surat and Ahmedabad, in the West of India, flower designs were popular as was the distinctive and striking sunburst design.The sunburst or ‘Surajmukhi’ is a typical motif of the famous wood carving state of Gujarat and symbolizes prosperity. It features a central circle or oval with sun rays or beams radiating out from it.
  • Hindu deities and temples. For example, for the Empire of India Exhibition held in London in 1895, Indian carpenters produced Western style furniture in ‘purely Hindu style, the decorations being taken from the temples of Madura, Vellore and Tanjore’ (Furniture from British India and Ceylon by Amin Jaffer).
Exotic Carving on Colonial Furniture 3 l The Past Perfect Collection l Singapore

Carved sunburst on cupboard

Exotic Carving on Colonial Furniture - The Past Perfect Collection

Portuguese colonial Malabar chest with breadfruit carving – The Past Perfect Collection



  • Exotic fruit such as breadfruit can been seen on furniture, especially chests from the Malabar region. On this chest (pictured left), leafy tendrils are carved springing from a central vase. The circular pendulous fruit depicted is believed to be breadfruit. It is thought that breadfruit trees are indigenous to the Malabar area.


  • Animals and birds such as parrots, elephants and snakes. These animals were common in India, but to the Europeans they were considered exotic and unusual.
  • Elaborate floral and foliate designs. Many pieces were richly decorated with different types of vegetation from the natural world. Much more ornate than the carving associated with traditional European designs.


This type of carving, along with the fact most of the furniture was made from indigenous hardwoods such as rosewood, ebony, teakwood, mahogany and satinwood, resulted in a very distinctive style.

A mix of Western form and Indian craftsmanship, colonial furniture is elegant and high quality. A different and unique style of furniture, which is greatly sought after and collected all over the world.

Find out more about The Past Perfect Collection's colonial furniture and follow our social media channels – Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Anglo-Indian carved walnut sofa - The Past Perfect Collection

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