Aziz Kachwalla’s studio store ‘At-Tin’ (pronounced at-teen) was born three months ago in January 2013. The name means ‘fig tree’ in Arabic and there is little coincidence with it being located in Mazagaon’s Old Anjirwadi.
For anyone not familiar with the area, the name is certainly deceiving. I am not naïvely expecting a fig orchard but when all I see is a string of businesses offering electroplating, glass trading and their semi-industrial brethren, I lose all hope of finding even one. What I am expecting now is a fancy (perhaps well done) signage that reads At-Tin. There is none. At the end of a row of such establishments, I see Aziz Kachwalla waiting outside for me and even before I step in, the magical door in metal and polycarbonate tells me I’ve found something special indeed.
At-Tin’s roots run deep. For decades, it was an automobile garage run by Kachwalla’s father. Kachwalla junior inherited not only the place but also his father’s affinity for tempering metal. An IIT education in civil engineering followed by NID, Ahmedabad’s exposure shaped Kachwalla’s skills differently and with time the grit and grease garage transformed into a groundswell for ‘design and create’ experiments.
Years since, Kachwalla maintains it is vital to work by hand and to be informed of the ‘making’ processes. He topples a truck tyre wrapped in lovely textiles (I don’t know it’s a tyre under the textile until he tells me so) and teases me to find a single joint on an alleged eight-piece metal stand below. I do my best and still can’t, only to have Kachwalla quickly explain how it is done. You can tell that he is particularly proud of the simple technique.
“I have scouted for several metal craftsmen over the years and can safely say that the one I work with in the neighbouring compound are among the handful few left with exceptional skills. Their workshops don’t have any of the high-end machines but what their hands can do with metal is nothing less than wizardry.” I look back at the stand and still can’t see the joints!
As I glance at other products on exhibit, I realize that At-Tin’s material palette goes beyond metal and comprises plywood, glass, polycarbonate, textiles – all of which are displayed in a space that is steadily (but tastefully) filling up.
Every material receives special attention in the workshop and ‘craft’ is the heart of all creations. Of the things I touch, Kachwalla is omnipresent to comment: “That’s anodized. That one’s electroplated. This is just brushed. Oh, those are tubes from an old Fiat tyre. This one’s been tweaked from its market form slightly. That piece…it’s not for sale but I bought it from Goa for a hundred bucks, unbelievable, isn’t it?” Kachwalla is a synthesizer, an alchemist – someone who taps the essence of each ingredient and blends it into an amazing whole that is greater-than-sum-of-its-parts. He insists that ideas come slowly, only after mulling over them and by prototyping and when I see At-Tin’s oeuvre of creations, this is easily agreed to.
So today, if he were to create a piece of furniture in plywood, he’d pick the best ply in the market, sand it first, then adorn it with stippling, and finally lacquer it lightly. No veneer, laminate or any of their obnoxious cousins. The resulting plywood looks more seductive than teak and with some retro styling, chances are you wouldn’t want to go back to teak.
Take polycarbonate next: it too would be brushed with sand paper, attain a grainy texture to further diffuse light and become more elegant. The moment you’ve seen something like this, you don’t buy that material on square feet basis. It’s a piece of design in itself and when this is put together with punched-in or twisted metal with an electroplated matte finish, you are sold.
Speaking of selling: At-Tin works on a profit sharing model for products featured by other designers which means that profits made on sales of their products are directly shared with them as against gaining a commission.
Kachwalla is also doing his bit for sustainability. As he takes me through Kaushik Ramanathan’s humble laptop bag made from recycled tyre tube, Kachwalla is quick to add that it isn’t as simple to cut rubber tubes to make the bag and rubber warps abnormally if you snip without knowing how.
Also on display are lovely handmade garments by textile designer Padmaja Krishnan of Transit Design – one of the few places where one can buy her works. Kachwalla says: “When I started this place, I had a sense of the kind of people who would like to be featured here. I am happy to showcase works by artists who are sensitive and doing some very unique work. And we mutually agreed to not have over-the-moon prices.” I second that.
Kachwalla admits to not having any design heroes but retains keen interest in architecture. Japanese minimalist master Tadao Ando and the fantastical Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi are two of his favourites. Just the spectrum of work between these two gives you a sense of Kachwalla’s interests and At-Tin’s showcase is just that. Like his favourites, Kachwalla also believes that experience is the best teacher and that one must engage in ‘making’ in order to discover and create something original.
A once a popular, fashionable trading outfit of Bombay, Mazagaon today is changing rapidly and therefore finding At-Tin there is like truly finding the only fig tree left in its Old Anjirwadi. And for a three month old, this one’s quite the kicker.
Text By Aftab Jalia
Photos By Gopal MS
Old Anjirwadi, Off Mount Road,
Near Mazagaon Post Office
Mazagaon, Mumbai 400010
Mob: +91 9820454948