Presenting Harmony's silvers - sparkling lives, success stories, accounts of endurance, courage, grit and passion
Sailaja Paturi, 57

Nailing it!

Author: admin

What this woodworker loves most about restoring antique furniture is the stories they tell

When Sailaja Paturi moved to Hyderabad 26 years ago, she desperately needed a cupboard. “I bought an old cupboard from a small shop in General Bazar. It was falling apart but I saw the strength of the old wood. The store owner, Mr Mehta, told me it once belonged to a royal family from the East Godavari area, near Vizag. It had been discarded in their cattle shed. I paid ₹ 11,000 for it and spent almost double on its restoration.”

That was the beginning of Paturi’s love affair with old and antique furniture; she has been restoring furniture ever since. “I love that so many people have shared their lives around the piece. Something reaches out to me. Maybe it is the spirit of all those who have used the piece, maybe the men who worked on it, maybe the story behind it. I bring it home to savour, to study, and then start work on it.”

Paturi has learnt the craft of restoration from the Internet, books, and good, old-fashioned experience. She also makes furniture for sale and uses the same carpenters in her restoration projects. Pointing to an enchanting camphor wood chest she bought in Puducherry, she says, “It has an insignia and a crown inlay. The crown signifies that it may have been part of a British officer’s personal belongings. It was used to store woollens, especially on long voyages across the seas. When you open the chest, the smell of camphor wood still lingers!”

Sourcing old and exquisite furniture is like a treasure hunt; she scours scrap yards and raddiwalla, scans newspapers for announcements, taps into furniture markets across India, and relies on a network of friends. She even finds treasures at antique markets overseas. “I usually only bring back whatever I can carry. This February, I brought a small wooden box from Hungerford in the UK.”

Attention to detail is everything. And while it can test one’s patience, it can throw up some truly ‘aha!’ moments too. That’s exactly what happened when Paturi was looking for a suitable handle for a 100 year-old Goan rosewood cupboard, which she had chanced upon in Mumbai. “I fashioned a handle out of wood but it wouldn’t do, so I waited but didn’t give up. I found the crystal knobs I was looking for at Portobello market in London. After I returned home, I fixed one of the knobs on the cupboard.”

When focused on a project, Paturi says the rest of the world ceases to exist. She recalls a teakwood spindle bolster staircase she found at a scrap dealer in Hyderabad. “It was in horrible condition, layered in coats of paint. Every time I removed a coat, there was another—white, pink, green! We sandpapered it till all the paint was scraped away and the wood grain showed. Then, we smoothened it using highgrade sandpaper, which took several months,” she says, clearly revelling in this labour of love.

Saving the best for last, Paturi guides us to a pile of rusting iron nails—at least a couple of kilos worth—metal brackets and around 30 pieces of wood. Is this scrap left over from her last restoration project? She laughs! “It is a Victorian rosewood two-seater I picked up in Hyderabad. It was just sitting there on the road, outside a shop in the old city. We have taken it apart and, after cleaning each nail, we will put it back together.”

Paturi keeps some of the pieces she restores, gifts some away and hopes to sell the rest. “I feel the best piece is always the one I am working on. I hate to part with it but I cannot keep so many pieces. I just hope the person who receives it takes as much care of it as I have.”

—Shyamola Khanna

Read about Paturi’s furniture without nails here.


Photo: Shyamola Khanna
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
October 2018