Out of the shed and into the world
Hidden away from distractions and influences, Priyanka has been lathing away in her workshop in Surat, Gujarat. Experimenting with woods and metals, she has converted her architectural knowledge into creating fine, handcrafted objects and furniture.
We discovered Priyanka’s international debut as part of this year’s This is India pavilion at London Design Fair. After recently graduating from university and setting up Shed two years ago, it is apparent she’s a self-driven and ambitious designer to look out for.
Bound caught up with Priyanka to talk about her practice and what led her to starting her own research and design studio.
Where were you born and where do you currently reside?
I’m born in Ahmedabad and live in Surat, Gujarat. I’ve lived in Surat all my life until the tenth grade, moved to Bombay for two years, then moved to New York, which is where I studied at Parsons for 4 years.
New York! What was that like for you?
It was the best! It was always imperative for me to go outside of India for College, I needed that other perspective. New York was a complete transformational time for me. It helped me gain some strength and opened my eyes to the world.
At Parsons, I felt like I could embrace my Indian side even more. Every single project I did was based on Indian tradition. I felt as if I was representing India the whole time.
So was it always your plan to study abroad then come back to India to practice in your field?
Well, I’ve always had the option to stay in New York but I decided to leave around the last semester of college when everyone was getting frantic about getting jobs and visas. There was just so much I learnt in those four years that I was desperate to go back. I didn’t want to beat around the bush hunting for the unknown – I knew what I wanted to do already.
What inspired you to start Shed?
Right after graduating I backpacked around Europe and met with my cousin in Amsterdam, who’s also from Surat and was studying Automotive Engineering in Oxford at the time. We got talking and we had a huge conversation about cross-pollinating between what I wanted to do and what he wanted to do – that’s when the concept of Shed came about.
The whole idea was to get a space, a workshop and mechanical facilities to share the resources. Luckily, around this time a space in our family factory got vacated and it already had an engineering set up. We got started and things went from there.
What was your first project that you created in your new space?
So the first project was actually very different to what I'm doing currently. I started with a semi-architecture project to design a playground for a school. That was cool, but in the middle of all that, I actually needed a work stool for myself so I made a stool with a screw in the middle so when you turn it, it goes up and down. It turned out to be something that I was really proud of and arguably was the first step into product designing for me. I thought ‘this is what I have to do’. It all happened very organically.
You say you are a research studio. Can you elaborate on this?
What I really want to do is explore a concept that I think is interesting in a particular moment. What ends up coming out of that process are different products and that’s how you create different families of things. It’s like I have a design library with me, it’s very much part of everything I do. There are magazines from all around the world and design books I’ve acquired over time. I won’t buy clothes and things for myself, I’d rather buy books! I don’t think it’s possible for me to create anything without understanding the greater context behind it. Every single prototype that I make at the studio is part of that research, everything is a step towards the final product, but the final thing is such a small part in comparison to everything that went on behind that. In a way, it’s more about the actual process than the product itself.
Lastly, what does Indian design mean to you?
I think design anywhere and everywhere is in the end essentially the same thing. It’s got to be responsive to your surroundings and it’s got to come from a rooted place. In its essence, Indian design is just beautiful and one of the most evolved. Our civilisation is so old, yet design, craft and art are still carried on. It’s amazing to see that it's still alive today.
Image credits: Shed