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A hard head for soft options
Saifur Rahman

A Bangladeshi architect-designer unveiled her rich home furnishing collection in Dubai.
In the natural sunlight they shine. Even in the artificial light of a 60-watt bulb they glow, like most golden ornaments. The golden lining of a typical red or maroon katan or Benarasi saree has always been one of the most prized possessions of a South Asian bride.
However, the same golden lining can now be seen in a decorated bed cover, pillow cover and other soft home furnishings - something that was beyond anyone's dream - and most importantly, without losing its appeal.
These golden, or royal collection of home furnishings were unveiled to Dubai's residents this month. These traditional but very ethnic and prized possessions and motifs are presented in a modern-day design concept by Arshia Butul or Arshi, a Bangladeshi professional.
Most people devote their lives to a single profession. Arshi adopted four - art, architecture, interiors and home furnishings - that also half way through her life.
Home furnishings have become her latest passion, from which Arshinagar, her signature collection, evolved. 'Arshi' in Bengali means a glass or mirror, and 'nagar' stands for a city. Arshinagar thus means a city of glass. Creations under the Arshinagar brand reflect Arshi's imagination.
"I like to blend ethnic and traditional motifs and present them in modern-day design concepts - something that is missing here in Dubai," Arshi says.
"Such a cosmopolitan city like Dubai lacks these. Things here are more artificial and need the touch of nature. That's why I think I've offered something new, different, that will blend modernity with tradition."
Arshi collects her design samples from remote locations in the countryside, where ethnic communities still value their heritage that reflects their rich past. However, those objects also lack the modern touch.
"All these are hand-made by small-time craftsmen spread across Bangladesh. By offering my designs, I'm trying to utilise their talents in the best possible way while offering them better earnings," she said.
Her home furnishing collections are a blend of modern concepts utilising ethnic and traditional artefacts and motifs. In other words, she presents ethnic motifs in a modern concept - creating a fusion of colours and designs producing a work of art and at the same time, science.
Arshi's work evolves around three themes - Nakshikantha from Bangladesh, Katan (Benaras) and stained glass designs using natural silk from Bangladesh.
"Katan saree is a traditional outfit for Bangladeshi ladies for festive occasions, especially occasions like weddings. Every girl in Bangladesh dreams of having the best Katan Saree for her wedding," she says.
These sarees are also called Benarasi sarees. The basic raw material for the katan saree is silk. The ladies prepare the thread separated into small spools which are later used for weaving. These sarees are woven by men by hand.
" The design motif includes mainly flowers, leaves, geometrical forms, domes of mosques etc. These sarees normally take 15-20 man-days to weave, and can go up to two months to complete a particularly gorgeous saree," Arshi says.
Arshi uses katan sarees to design materials like bed covers, cushion covers, etc. She also uses a combination of katan with pure silk to create the variety.
Though the first two concepts are typically Bengali-inspired designs, stained glass is more of a Turkish Ottoman concept, something she learned and adopted while living in Turkey.
Home décor is an art and also a science at the same time. What distinguishes Arshi's work is its delicate balance between the two - a perfect combination of art and science - that is real and at the same time appears to be surreal.
Arshi started her carrier as an architect in Bangladesh with a reputed firm in 1991 after graduating from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology - then the country's sole engineering university.
Then she moved into interior decoration while at the same time practising painting at home. Her hobby. Home furnishing probably evolved as a mixture of the last two.
After about three years, Arshi set up her own architectural firm, Pattern. With Pattern, she designed and implemented a number of official, residential and commercial projects in Bangladesh.
In 1999 Arshi moved to Ukraine which gave her exposure to classical European architecture. Arshi also became very interested in painting and photography and joined Kiev Art School.
She completed her Interior Design Diploma from London Metropolitan University in 2004. She returned to her old profession of interior design in Dubai and worked initially with a local interior design company.
A background of architecture and interior design gives her the ability to look at a home from a different perspective - the ability to think out of the box - and get the complete picture, something missing in contemporary home décor.
Like most creative persons, Arshi doesn't talk much. Instead, she lets her work do the talking. And it really talks, or makes the viewers talk.
"I am currently collecting these talented craftsmen and set up my own industry which will constantly create new designs and develop new concept designs to suit every taste," she said.
With the issuance of the new property law, her products come at an appropriate time, when Dubai's new homeowners are looking for a variation in home furnishings for their homes.
More than 13,000 resident families moved to their new freehold homes in the last three years. A further 7,000 families will follow the suit and migrate to their apartments and villas within a year.
For many it's a migration to a new life, new lifestyle altogether. All of them are in need of one thing, among many others, the perfect home furnishing products that match their tastes.
Where? More importantly, in an imperfect world, is there a perfect choice? No. However, Arshinagar, Arshi's own label, offers a choice that's worth looking at.

The writer is Business News Editor of the Gulf News