Ayesha Sowani speaks to Coralie Whittall about redefining antiques in a modern world.
Starting the morning by meeting Ayesha Sowani for an energising cup of tea instantly makes the day feel brighter and full of promise. With a remarkably diverse set of skills, including upholstery, graphic design and car body-working she creates bespoke pieces of furniture and design which are truly inspiring. "Growing up surrounded by antiques from across the world, I feel a real empathy with them. But I also believe that they can be more youthful", she tells me. "Each piece can be reinvented."
Ayesha's brightly coloured and re-upholstered furniture is certainly youthful and vibrant. Coming from an Indian and British family, and living as far and wide as Bangkok, Hong Kong and Winchester, her multicultural upbringing has led to an ability to create unique and striking pieces which "have the power to speak out in a room". She handpicks items for their unique qualities. They are then refinished and the colour is changed using the same technique and paints used in the automotive trade.
Setting up 'Roads 2 Joya', her design consultancy, just over three years ago was an organic process for Ayesha. "After working in the media for some time I realised how much I missed using my hands. I wanted to bring together my passions for bright colours, interesting forms and antique furniture and to use my creativity in a more hands-on way" she explains. Now, she is a member of the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers, an accolade which she feels is vital to her business. "Being a good craftsperson is at the core of being a good designer", she declares.
Inspiration for her designs comes to Ayesha through a variety of everyday sources, whether browsing an antiques market in the suburbs or taking a stroll through the Museum of Curiosity in Soho. "Anthropology and science have greatly influenced me. Knowing where something has come from and the origins of its shape and form gives a fascinating insight into how society has developed."
"Individuality is increasingly celebrated in modern society and I try to reflect that in my designs." Ayesha's vision has become an important part of her collaboration with cutting-edge interior designer Shalini Misra, working with her to give a new lease of life to a client's best-loved pieces. Ayesha feels interiors should be comfortable, functional and should speak to the person living in them. "I strive to make bespoke pieces, which have a handmade feel, but most importantly fit with my clients' personalities" she says.
Across her projects, there is a fundamental sympathy with the initial interior or piece of furniture she is overhauling. "Having a respect for the original work means that you will create something with credibility and longevity," she explains. One such project was the re-design of a pair of Philippe Starck chairs, which were in a terrible condition when she first received them. "It was an incredible opportunity to be given free reign on furniture created by a designer I respect so much," she says.
Now, Ayesha is working to integrate her graphic design experience further into her work. As well as using antique textiles from India and Uzbekistan, which she juxtaposes with more modern frames, she is designing her own fabrics to use with antique furniture.
For someone with such eclectic influences, she is clearly focused on the aesthetic she wants to create and the care needed to effectively combine antiques with contemporary design. Ayesha explains that "balance is the most important element when putting old with new. Combining the two can be extremely effective, but only if you get the balance right."
Browsing the catalogue, Ayesha is drawn to lot 105, an unusual George III later cream and parcel gilt sofa in two parts, which has a flexibility of function. "It has a contemporary feel and reupholstered, would look very striking". She is also attracted to lot 81, a George III secrétaire bookcase, which she would "use as the focal point of a room and to create a museum-style cupboard of wonders" and lot 113, a 19th century English needlepoint carpet, which she feels "would add a sharp contrast to crisp-lined furniture."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com