Like a rosewood cabinet, Bharat Floorings’ heritage collection adds a few decades to any room. Designed in the 1920s, in shades of green, earth and ochre, the collection originally carpeted the most iconic buildings in the Fort area of Mumbai — the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, the High Court, the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay University, Bombay Gymkhana and Readymoney Mansion. With the aesthetics of the art deco movement overtaking all forms of design, however, the floral patterns of the heritage collection were retired, and the art deco collection, featuring tiles made of chips, became omnipresent. That was until the 2000s, when architects and interior designers, nursing a soft corner for the vintage, brought them back under the soles of the moneyed in every cafe, pub and restaurant.
Bharat Floorings & Tiles was conceived in the heat of the swadeshi movement. In 1922, Pherozesha Sidhwa and his nephew Rustom Sidhwa wanted to ‘make in India’, and started a company producing cement tiles. In another touch of patriotism, a map of India (which included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh) was stamped on the back of every tile. Hand-made, with skilled artisans creating each tile (metal moulds were filled with colours and then stamped onto cement), the collection was loved for its imperfections. Architect Tejal Mathur, an early fan, says, “Any process in architecture that takes time will be charming. Something that takes so long to make will also endure for that long.” That is certainly true for the collection which, at the very least, can last three generations.
The heritage collection initially made a comeback as a part of restoration projects by architect Vikas Dilawari, in Mumbai buildings such as the Bhau Daji Lad Museum and the BMC headquarters. Then, in 2008, Mathur, who was designing Pali Village Cafe, in Bandra, wanted an “old, chic Bombay setting” for the restaurant. “We wanted the cafe to be reminiscent of what Bombay looked like in the 1930s and 1940s, and we had to have Bharat Tiles for the flooring to recreate the part,” she says. With the launch of Pali Village Cafe, many eateries followed the trend. Nowadays, be it Claridges Dhaba in Delhi, SodaBottleOpenerWala in Gurgaon, Loft 38 in Bengaluru and quite a handful in Mumbai (from Pizza Express to Colaba Social) sport Bharat’s tiles, as do Phantom Films’ office, Kangana Ranaut’s Mumbai home, Lara Dutta’s Goa home and Alia Bhatt’s Juhu home. Chef Jamie Oliver’s yet-to-be launched Delhi restaurant is also using wall claddings from the company in its kitchen shelves.
Taking its cue to keep up with the times, Bharat Floorings, currently run by Firdaus Variava, Pherozesha’s grandson, has also started reaching out to all stakeholders. They curate walks to heritage buildings with Instagrammers and have launched a designer collection, with designs by Alice Von Baum, Sian Pascale, Ayaz Basrai and Sameer Kulavoor. They’ve also diversified to entertain designers’ requests. Mathur, who most recently approached them for British Brewing Company in Palladium, did so because she wanted to recreate a cobbled floor. “It’s quite difficult to do cobbled floors indoors. Bharat Tiles supported me so much in sticking to my vision and executing it. You cannot ignore the flooring, as the cobbled floor just takes you to another continent.” In another case, when Basrai was redesigning St. Jude’s Bakery, in Bandra, as an alternative venue, he asked “Bharat Tiles to give us all their junk”.
Where you’re likely to see Bharat Tiles
- The palace-residences of the maharajas of Bikaner, Kolhapur, Palanpur, Mysuru and Porbandar
- Madras University
- Salarjung Museum, Hyderabad
- Bangalore Club
- Nearly all of the residential buildings lining Oval Maidan