The curiosity shop

by Gautam Raja

It seems a great idea from a distance. To take on the renovation and furnishing of your house as a project—doing parts of it when you can, using it for a while so you know exactly what you need, and buying nicer things since you can stagger the purchases.

Closer home though, and you start to go crazy, for after a while, all you want to do is be done—anything to be spared the sight of piles of cardboard boxes and clothes piled in open suitcases.

Central to our great home project is curious shop named Qurio City run by a most interesting gentleman we’re calling Mr. R. The actual shopfront is tiny, with a few wooden pieces lying on the pavement, and a couple of rooms filled with cupboards and odds and ends. After hearing so much about it from friends, we were a little disappointed. Then we discovered Mr. R’s sprawling city. He has “warehouses” scattered all over the old Bangalore area that he calls home—beautiful houses down narrow lanes that are filled from floor to ceiling with the most incredible range of vintage and antique objects.

There’s furniture of course—in rosewood and teak, with that deep burnished patina that only old wood can acquire. (How we love old rosewood!) Then there are the 78rpm working gramophone players, the old metal toys, the vintage Chicago-made citrus press, cast iron vessels, records, a field camera, valve radios, porcelain switches… I could fill the page with all the sights of just one room from the Qurio City network. The best part is, Mr. R. knows his stuff. You can talk to him about your lack of interest in art deco, for example, and pretty soon he’ll phone you when something comes in that he thinks you’ll like. And he’s usually right.

It’s not just old furniture. Mr. R. commands a group of master carpenters who create new pieces from old wood. Some parts of his curio city are rooms just piled with timber, old doors and door frames. On our first visit there, we were climbing perilous piles of wood in a tiny upstairs room to peer into another room to look at more stuff within, that could be reached only after moving at least a ton of wood. Mr. R. can really talk, but it’s so hard to listen because everywhere your eyes alight, there’s something interesting to see.

We’ve already ordered or bought three pieces from Mr. R., with more coming. The friends who introduced us, are using him for nearly all the wooden furniture in their new home. I’m not surprised, because the arrival of one of these 60 or 70 year old (or older) pieces into your home is quite an occasion. The beautiful wood, the solid workmanship, the clean lines, and best of all, the knowledge that no extra trees were cut down to hold your clothes make the acquisition of vintage furniture quite the addiction. Perhaps even better, is that if you were to go to a nearby home store, for the same price or more you’d get the same piece of furniture built out of plywood and MDF, held together with cheap hardware—creaky and squeaky and falling apart from the transport and installation alone.

It’s then that the pain of the long-term project diminishes. Sure, you could walk into a Home Something-or-the-other, work out some credit card EMI options and extensions, and furnish your home in one fell swipe, but that—I now know—would be the expensive way to do it cheaply; the hard way to do it easily.

First published in Gulf News, January 22, 2013