Not so long ago setting up a house was stressful experience. Choices were limited, so you took what you got, settling for sturdy and practical over design and aesthetics. Today the sheer breadth of options for furniture, furnishings and pretty foibles available in Nepal makes it not only possible to get exactly what you want, but also have it at prices that won't break the bank.
What you pay for is not always what you get, which is why those who can afford it are ordering custom made furniture and furnishing. 'Custom made' is not a new concept in Nepal. In the days before showrooms and interior design fairs, even the discerning were at the mercy of their local sikarmi. Craftsmen from south of the border could be hired for a few days to refluff the quilts, upholster the sofa and run up a few curtains for good measure.
Of course there would be unfortunate 'accidents'-one leg shorter than the other, the print of the brocade would be tacked on in the wrong direction. Now custom made is minus the mishaps. Customers can get exactly what they ask for: "Size, colour and material is all your choice," stresses Sangita Hamal of Better Homes.
The trends running riot range from iron and wood to moulded plastics. You can buy entire furniture ranges (two side tables, one sofa, two armchairs) made in Italy, made in Nepal for Italy or available in prefabricated, ready-to-assemble sets (screwdrivers not included). Designs range from Victorian dark wood to the latest trends in wrought iron furniture. The key to the whole exercise of interior decoration is to be true to oneself. And keep an eye on your budget, unless you plan to replace your furniture every year. Like the Hong Kong Chinese, always invest in the best quality you can afford.
Wrought iron used to be regarded exclusively as garden and patio furniture but are increasingly finding their way into people's living, dining and bedrooms. "People are going gaga over our furniture," says Sabita Dhungana of Aakarshan, a pioneer manufacturer of custom-made wrought iron furniture in Nepal. They are so popular with the expatriate community that several Akarshan pieces have been exported to Europe. "You can experiment with colour and design, and wrought iron is cheap here in Nepal compared to prices abroad," explains Sabita. Akarshan has begun to make collapsible furniture so those who have to move often can easily cart them along. Furniture that can be disassembled and transported easily is popularly known in the business as knockdown furniture. "Their convenience is one reason why they are becoming so popular," says Birendra Deo of Furniture 2000, a company that specialises in office tables.
Wrought iron is even making an appearance in non-traditional areas like the kitchen. The folks at Better Homes at Thapathali claim wrought iron is ideally suited to high-use areas like kitchens because it is long wearing. The wall and base cabinets in their showroom could convert even a sceptic into a believer, especially if it comes with custom fitting. "If clients want modifications, we can get it done for them," says Sangita. All this doesn't come cheap. Aimed at the high and upper-middle Nepali bracket, Sangita is aware that her creations don't have a very democratically priced tag.
Wood, however, caters to every budget and taste. With the plastic emulsions and metal polish paints available in the market you could even have wood furniture that imitates wrought iron! "There is no doubt that wooden furniture still tops the demand list," says Sushil Thapaliya of Padmashree, a company that has carved out a niche for itself in the wooden furniture manufacturing and retail business. His stiffest competition comes from cheap pieces imported from Malaysia, China and other Southeast Asian countries. "Nepali furniture is much stronger but some customers are swayed by the better finish on imported goods," he says.
Designing interiors is still a fledgling business says Siddarth Gopalan, a young interior designer whose clients include Sipradi, the Australian Embassy, Himalmedia , the Roadhouse Caf? in Thamel and recently the Khetan Group's corporate headquarters. Siddharth treads the fine line between kitsch and classic as he juggles interiors for the nouveau riche and the Scandinavian-leaning minimalists. Kathmandu is a melting pot of different concepts and for those who can't afford his services, here is Siddharth's hint to do-it-yourself designers: "You can use a lot of glitter and make a place look tacky, or you can use a little mud and have a classy place."