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A Local Designer Explores India in Search of Fabulous Finds

The Valley is home to a plethora of aesthetic styles and cultural influences, and Phoenix Home & Garden is proud to collaborate with some of the leading locals who continually invigorate our design scene with diverse, unique and beautiful objects from around the world. Follow along with these global ambassadors of southwest style as they embark on their far-flung journeys.

By Meg Van Lith

For the last 20-plus years my mother, Linda Van Lith, and I have been traveling to India on buying trips for our north Scottsdale furniture and design shop, Tierra Del Lagarto. Back in the early ’90s these sojourns started with modest visits where we would nervously buy one or two container loads of goods. Today, we meet with a wide range of dealers twice yearly and pick out enough goods for nearly a dozen 40-foot containers that are delivered right to our door throughout the year.  Our spring trip this year was no different; we lucked out with surprisingly good weather, stayed at two of our favorite hotels in Rajasthan, and found a store full of treasures.

We also travel to Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, and Mexico each year for sourcing – but India has the most astonishing range of vintage, reclaimed wood and antique finds that work so well in our desert climate, that the lion’s share of our handcrafted furniture comes from Rajasthan. Tucked high up beneath the Pakistani border, Rajasthan is India’s north-western state, with wide, arid expanses, rocky hills, cactus and acacia trees, if it weren’t for the camels slowly pulling carts along the rural roads and the Brahma bulls sauntering through traffic, it would look a lot like the Sonoran desert!

“…If it weren’t for the camels slowly pulling carts along the rural roads and the Brahma bulls sauntering through traffic, Rajasthan would look a lot like the Sonoran desert!”

—MEG VAN LITH

1. The front entry of the Samode Haveli hotel in Jaipur. 2. The Johari Bazaar in Jaipur is a fabulous riot of color. 3. Traffic in Jaipur.

Our trips are split between the more tourist-friendly city of Jaipur, where we work with our textile dealers, and Jodhpur, where we have intense days in the heat searching vast furniture warehouses for treasures for our containers.

Jaipur is a favorite among travelers for a lot of fabulous reasons.  A center for amazing jewelry and textile manufacturing – all handcrafted in the most intensely creative ways, it’s a shopper’s dream destination.  The chaotic city streets, the bustle of chai wallahs, rickshaws, and winding market alleyways alive with color and confusion are an intensely wonderful introduction to the splendors of Rajasthan.

1. Thread samples for kantha blankets. 2. Old Banjara mirrorwork patches. 3. Me digging through piles of vintage textiles.

Our Jaipur days are filled with digging through piles of tribal textiles, and designing our own range of handstitched bedding and pillows.  We select embroidered vintage Rabari skirts, sparkling Kutch mirrorwork and rustic Banjara storage bags that our team in India sews into pillows.  Bedding that we design has running stitches called “kantha,” and can be solid in color with contrasting threads, or have a resist-dye pattern made with the dabu process to create a block print effect.  Some pieces we find, such as old saris, Pakistani shawls and vintage Swat Valley embroideries we keep intact.  Tossed over the back of a sofa, included in an eclectic gallery wall, or simply placed on a coffee table as a colorful runner–these pieces can add sparks of color and interest in a one-of-a-kind way.

After days of color saturation with Jaipur textiles, our eyes get a rest on the long, dusty drive through the desert to Jodhpur.  While it is a smaller, simpler town, Jodhpur still has its own amazing sights and village charm.  The old city, anchored by the Ghanta Ghar, a towering, whimsical clock tower, is famous for its blue-hued warren of ancient homes and twisting lanes.  Rising above the city is the imposing Mehrangarh Fort.  Built in the 15th century, this dramatic edifice has massive stone walls that seem to rise directly from the cliffsides.  It now houses a beautiful collection of antique palanquins, armaments, costumes, and miniature paintings, and is a must see.

The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

We love to stay at the serene Raas Haveli tucked into the old city.  The modern louvered screens of the new buildings are juxtaposed beautifully against the 18th century haveli that still houses two of their guest rooms.

Our days in Jodhpur are spent walking through huge warehouses packed with antiques, and designing new furniture made out of architectural salvage sourced from all over India.  We buy old beams to create long sideboards, have old doors cut in half to make four-door buffets, and source carved door surrounds to make towering bookshelves.

“After days of color saturation with Jaipur textiles, our eyes get a rest on the long, dusty drive through the desert to Jodhpur.”

—MEG VAN LITH

1. A door surround that will become a bookshelf. 2. Piles of antique, carved beams that will become sideboards. 3. Bone-inlay teak chairs. 4. Antique iron jail balcony panels.

1. Arched vintage dog gates 2. Old door buffets 3. Brass lotus flowers 4. Treasure hunting in one of our favorite haunts. 

Long days of shopping in the heat make settling back into the calm of our oasis at Raas all the more enjoyable.  Drinks on the rooftop with the fort towering above have become some of our favorite moments of the trip.

We love India, the friendships we have made, the treasures we have found, and the rich history we absorb with each trip.  Finding the calm among the chaos has been the theme of the first couple of decades of exploration for us. Looking forward, we hope to venture further afield and see much more of this amazing country.

 

Check out Meg’s tips for incorporating global decor into your home in our July issue!

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