PASSAGE TO PONDICHERRY

Furniture As Art

vintage-indianFootloose, fancy free and twenty-six, Thierry Betancourt set out on an adventure… to Pondicherry of all places!

After post grad at Oxford studying history of art and four years specializing in eighteenth century French furniture at Sotheby’s on Bond Street and New York, Thierry wanted a change in direction.  India beckoned.  To be more precise, Pondicherry beckoned.

Braver than most, Thierry packed his bags and headed to Mumbai, carrying with him his most valuable credential, his knowledge of furniture.  He had been to India for the first time for a friend’s wedding earlier that year, so when the credit crunch hit he thought, “The next few years at Sotheby’s look bleak and now is as good a time as ever to seek my fortune on the other side of the world.”

India was booming with a new rich class with plenty of buying power, but without the expertise or the knowledge which Thierry could offer.  He saw the chance and had the nerve to take the plunge and decided to start making…of all things… furniture…. in of all places…. Pondicherry, the mini union territory within the larger state of Tamil Nadu, three hours south of Madras on the Bay of Bengal.

Not many people are acquainted with Pondicherry, but it could be described as a petit Nice in the south of India. Pastels and intensely colourful facades adorn the colonial mansions which dot the leafy boulevards.  Brightly painted stucco walls are laden with bougainvillea, making you think you could even be in Provence.  Pondicherry is surprisingly elegant due mainly to its colonial past, which is reflected in the stately tree lined boulevards. It’s only the occasional wandering sacred cow and coconut vendor that remind you that you’re in Southern India.

Pondicherry was one of four comptoires comprising the former French colony (circa 1742) during the peak period of the French regime, which continued to rule the area until 1954.  It still retains the flavour of a French colony, with street names in French and the ever present blue enamelled plaques.  There is still the French quarter called the Ville Blanche. A remnant of the French influence, this region of India has the cheapest alcohol, and the easiest to find.  There is a  beautiful French Consulate, a Lycée and the L’Institut Français.  By sheer coincidence Thierry had an ancestor who died in Pondicherry in the early days of the colony.

Thierry was inspired by the craftsman of Pondicherry with idea of creating exquisite furniture, unique in design, using recycled local woods and organic fabrics.  The excellent quality of the materials on offer results in the finest creations.  He designs chairs, tables, bed side tables that are “one-off pieces,” that blur the line between furniture and sculpture.  Everything is made from his own designs. They are drawn out life size in excellent line drawings leaving nothing to chance in the execution and finish.  He has introduced and trained the craftsmen in the finer aspects of French classical finishes.  He has taught his artisans country white washes, ceruse finishes, French polish and other traditional and innovative trends from the salons of Paris.

One of Thierry’s designs which he likes to call the guillotine has a Danish feel, chucky and robust, with verdigris chain handles, hand buffed to a variety of finishes. The verdigris supports, although Roman in design, look like they came out of Star Wars.  You won’t see another like it.  His Ledoux, another remarkable piece with legs carved to look exactly like drapery, could easily be taken for a work of haut relief in an Italian nymphaeum. This revival of classical workmanship has humour as well as style.

Thierry travels to London and Paris several times a year selling his furniture, but basically he has settled into the bohemian Bombay lifestyle and enjoys of the craziness of this metropolis of close to 20,000,000 souls.  He can be seen sipping chai at the nearby Irani bakery with the Chor Bazaar antique furniture dealers.  “As long as you understand that everyone is trying to cheat you, you’ll survive.  Every day is a mini adventure and never fails to surprise and bewilder, even New York and Paris pale by comparison.  Aside from the struggles of starting anew in a billion strong continent, there is no greater satisfaction than making it on your own and being your own sahib in a surprisingly welcoming and exotic environment.”

Thierry’s 2014 collection can be seen on his website along with highlights of other years.  Enjoy!

— Mrs M

Thierry Betancourt
Furniture Designs
www.thierrybetancourt.com

Tel.:

+91 98 33 92 38 66 India
+33 6 71 73 35 30 France

 

 

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  • Thierry Betancourt