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.
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
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.
Carved sunburst on cupboard
Portuguese colonial Malabar chest with breadfruit carving – The Past Perfect Collection
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.