Saira Ahsan makes style statements with her designs
By Zonaira Chaudry
henever you think of making a house, furniture selection is on the top of your list. A home is incomplete without these basic building blocks of interior design. They highlight the soul of your place. Designing furniture looks easy on the surface but making it an “objet d’art” is not all that easy. Saira Ahsan is one such individual who has mastered this art and taken it to a new level. In a candid chat with Valuemag, Saira gives us a preview of what it took to get to this point in her career, “determination and sheer hard work,” she says. Being one of the pioneers in custom made furniture, Saira started 13 years ago with designing wrought iron furniture which was very much in vogue in those days.
After a year she shifted to designing and building wood furnishings as timber was back in style. Saira began by making small accessories like for instance candle stands, trolleys, lamps and bookends and now she creates glorious and grand bed sets, dressing tables , chandeliers, cushioned arm chairs and whatever that could be a feature of any habitat. Initially she had two laborers working but now has over a hundred toiling hard in her workshop. Saira is not only a furniture designer but does interiors as well including walls, ceilings, curtains and much more. She has designed a few offices and a couple of salons in Karachi and Islamabad.
Initially, having no personal outlet, she exhibited her work in one room shows at her home. Her fame spread through word of mouth. For nine years she worked from home and then decided to open her own outlet (situated in Gulberg) under her name two years back.
Saira has her own philosophy on life and work, “creativity is not fundamental to design. It’s the will to do something. The dedication and the eagerness to learn and improve is what creates a triumph. Deep down if you know that this is something that you have to do, strength of mind is all that you need to get up every single day, work to perfection and at the end of the day be gratified.”
A mother of three grown up children, Saira is a devoted career woman. Designing was not her passion but a means to earn a living. Times have been difficult for Saira. “There was a time when I was teaching at three schools, giving home tuitions and making furniture just to make both ends meet. If a client purchased some article and inquired from where a gate could be made, I would immediately offer to make them one. I would look up designs from different catalogs and places and make a gate through trial and error. In the end I would come up with an ideal piece instantly pleasing the client. That’s how I started. If you are a begum, and want to do this for fun then regrettably success will be hard to come by,” she declares.
Saira’s creative process starts from the very basics of a room, which may be harmonizing the walls with the fabrics used in the curtains or the sitting area. Then a theme is decided according to the client’s choice or desire. This could be anything from Victorian, modern to desi. The nature of lighting is decided. The rest of the room is furnished according to the chosen theme. Each room takes about four to five days to accessorize, by following the customer’s demand. Saira loves doing interiors and if you purchase your bedroom furniture from her the interior is complimentary. Saira loves coordinating dark colors and earthy tones with pastels. She adores working with fabrics like silks, cottons and velvets. Her personal favorite is the European theme which has the French and Italian feel. “European is far more intricate and elaborate. It’s as if you are in a medieval castle. The look is more dramatic. There is a lot happening on the walls with engravings and classic wood work. Colors are extensively used to bring out the character of a particular space”.
Saira believes that aesthetics depend on income levels. “It heavily depends on the income bracket .Only the elite can afford such a luxury,” she says. Saira has carved a niche clientele mostly from Karachi and
Faisalabad as there aren’t many exclusive designers there. Targeting only the limited, Saira only takes two to three projects in 6 months.
“Use polishes in furniture as they are in fashion this season,” she recommends. “Pick up any space by accessorizing it with attractive pieces of glass and crystal. Fabrics should be used in lower and softer tones.”
“The worst interior disaster is created by bad paint jobs and bad mixing of fabrics so you have to be meticulous when deciding the color schemes. Some bright fabrics look pleasant when seen as samples but they look tacky and shoddy when used on complete sofas, but if that same fabric is used as a cushion on a chair with a white couch adjacent to it; the fabric could complement that chair and the white couch along with the room. So you see it’s not only the exquisiteness and beauty of the fabric that is essential but also how that fabric is used to bring out the narrative of the room.”
Saira personally oversees her craftsman and does not compromise on quality under any circumstances. To make that one piece superlative, there are more than ten pieces made at Saira Ahsan’s to ensure absolute perfection. She doesn’t repeat her designs. Every month about twenty or thirty new designs come out which include everything from wall lights, chandeliers to dressing tables and cabinets. All these creations are handmade.
Her greatest motivation is herself. Her inspiration comes from anything to everything. She modestly defines herself as a hard worker rather than an artist. Anyone with an eye can see that it takes more than hard work to create such striking pieces; she is a true creator of individual ‘style statements.’ She is a heart-felt story teller as her firm belief is “every piece of furniture has a story; the story needs to be completed.”■
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, issue 3 – July 2008