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‘Flawed & Fabulous’: Designer Crafts Exquisite Furniture from Waste, Pipes & Manhole Covers

‘Flawed & Fabulous’: Designer Crafts Exquisite Furniture from Waste, Pipes & Manhole Covers

Gujarat-based designer Anurag Bhandari runs Ek Kalakar, a sustainable design studio that turns the most unlikely objects — fallen trees, manhole covers, or even regular waste — into stunning eco-friendly furniture.

Flawed and fabulous is how Anurag Bhandari describes his products. 

The founder of Ek Kalakaar Designs, a sustainable studio dedicated to handcrafted designer furniture, has gone through life priding himself on his creative choices, and taking the road less travelled, even when the path wasn’t very clear. 

As I chat with him, it becomes clear that a love for nature is deep-rooted in everything he does. And this reflects in the ethos of his brand. 

“I had a degree in transportation design and was then engaged in my family business for a decade. But I soon realised it wasn’t my cup of tea. I couldn’t cope as I wasn’t of a business bent of mind, but rather a creative one,” shares the 38-year-old from Ahmedabad in conversation with The Better India

As he spent his days wondering what profession he should turn to, a sense of uncertainty lay ahead when a series of family disputes in 2017 pushed him out of his family business. Even so, it was as if the universe itself had answered the question of whether he should leave the business and take a leap of faith. 

“While the way forward was now clear, I did not have a lot of savings to go full throttle into something,” he notes. 

As he was wondering how to proceed, Anurag realised he had always held a fascination for furnishings and decor. He’d also seen furniture design as a space where he could explore his creative side. And so he decided to dive into this space. 

Moulding waste into exquisite decor

Make a decision, and things fall into place in the strangest of ways. That’s what Anurag witnessed firsthand when he began looking around for material with which to build furniture

Ek Kalakaar's range of designs include furniture made from old tin sheets, wood, plastic pipes, etc
Ek Kalakaar’s range of designs include furniture made from old tin sheets, wood, plastic pipes, etc. Picture source: Anurag

He turned to the discarded wood, TMT steel bars, old cupboards, broken chairs, and other such waste that had been left lying in a spare room of his farmhouse. “It was like a storehouse of everything discarded, and one look at it and I was sure this would be my very own studio someday,” says Anurag, adding that the farmhouse also had numerous trees that had fallen and were lying around, meaning there was abundant wood to use. 

Thus began Anurag’s quest of building his brand from scratch, from the ruins that lay in his own home. To do this, he decided to marry his interest in furniture and design with sustainability and aesthetics. This, he thought, was a good time to test his hand at utilising the waste material in the spare room, considering that he did not have a lot to invest in this venture. This way he would also be able to minimise on buying new wood, or other material. 

Boring holes into large pieces of wood, he then began moulding his first piece, refashioning it along the way. After months of working on the discarded wood, he created a bench supported on a wooden trunk — a model that would later go on to be his best-selling piece. 

A simple, creative idea had manifested into a pretty amazing design, but the product needed work, Anurag notes. “Everything was on an experimental basis and looked raw and ugly, factors that I realised needed to be worked on if I were to sell in the contemporary market. When my friends would come to visit, they’d give me their suggestions and I would incorporate these into the following products. One of the most helpful ones was to work on the finishing touches to the product.” 

Not having a background in interior design meant Anurag was not well aware of trends. But while some would perceive this as a problem, he says it worked in his favour. “I wouldn’t follow trends. I make things from my heart.”

Anurag Bhandari, founder of Ek Kalakaar Designs
Anurag Bhandari, founder of Ek Kalakaar Designs, Picture source: Anurag

Curated with style and passion  

As Anurag points out, the story behind every piece of furniture he has created is strong and meaningful. So, in 2019 when he decided to broaden the horizon of Ek Kalakaar Designs and take them online, the response he received was welcoming. This was around the same time that the COVID pandemic forced everyone into the confines of home. Anurag put this time to use, spending hours in his studio perfecting designs. 

While the sustainable brand is keen on avoiding mundane designs, they work towards building timeless furniture that ups the aesthetic of the house almost instantly. But at the heart of everything they do, upcycling and sustainability are key. Most weekends see Anurag visiting scrap markets to source TMT steel bars — that are byproducts of construction — along with metal corrugated sheets, plastic pipes, old tyres and, of course, wood from his farmhouse. 

“I have left the wood in its most natural state in my designs. If I see old wood eaten by termites, I see it as art and I don’t disturb it, as I want my designs to be art,” says Anurag, pointing out at the same time that he sprays natural medicines on the wood to ensure it is free from the insects. For metal, a high-pressure jet stream is used to clean the rust and dirt, while sanding is often done for most raw materials to get rid of rust. 

‘Making waste look beautiful is tough, but gratifying’

What are the most unique products from the existing creation? 

Anurag points to a table he created using a fallen tree, which had been completely uprooted during a storm. “What was wonderful was that the tree had its roots intact. So I took it to my studio, cut the roots vertically in half and made a table out of it. I then supported this wooden structure with a mirror box that created the illusion that the roots were elevated in the air.” 

This centre table, says Anurag, fetched him not just buyers but also praise. 

“People see a fallen tree every day in their lives, but they’d never seen a fallen tree being turned into something like this.” 

Anurag also uses PVC plastic pipes to make standing lamps by boring holes into the pipe and putting a light at the bottom. “What is amazing is that if you see this lamp at night, you won’t believe it is made from waste.” Another unique product was a table made out of a manhole cover! 

“I often have to convince people that this beautiful work of art is made from waste. While sometimes I think it’s an achievement that the art is so good that they cannot tell it is made from waste, it is exasperating that they don’t see the work going into turning that waste into something unbelievable.”

Ek Kalakaar ships pan-India and the price of the product ranges as per the intricate work that goes behind it. While a chair retails for Rs 18,000, a table retails for Rs 25,000. The brand clocked a turnover of Rs 18 lakh last year, and Anurag couldn’t be prouder. 

“I always maintain that while during the making process of contemporary design, brands have an idea and then mould the material around this idea. In my case, I mould the material and the design emerges along the way. Making waste look beautiful is tough, but gratifying.” 

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