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Meet the young genius behind shape-shifting furniture

Made of just one cubic piece of wood, Apeejay alumnus Madhur Sharma’s multi-purpose furniture, which can assume 14 avatars, is a god-send for those staying in small living spaces



Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP) graduate Madhur Sharma’s multi-purpose furniture is making waves for its versatility and utility in small urban living spaces. In an interview, he describes the genesis of the idea of shape-shifting furniture, the lessons he learnt in architecture school and how sustainability is an imperative for any form of design. Excerpts:

Please tell us about your innovative multi-purpose furniture that is drawing acclaim within and outside the country.

The need for a versatile piece of furniture was necessitated by the lack of open spaces, particularly in the small apartments in our metropolises. Made of just one cubic piece of wood, this multi-purpose piece of furniture is a shape-shifter that can assume 14 different shapes, including a coffee table, a centre table, side table, a bench, a Z-shaped chair, a conventional chair, a settee for a single person, low-floor seating for one person, low floor seating for two people, a plant enclosure for a single pot, a plant enclosure for two pots, a partition to separate two workplaces, a table with book storage and even a TV unit.
The best part is that since it uses only a one-cubic foot space, if one block of furniture gets damaged, users can replace that one block instead of disposing of the entire piece. Also, being foldable, it is easy to dismantle and transport whenever you shift home.

The furniture unit has three joints that can be bolted together by nuts in order for the furniture to assume a new shape or form. Every time we demonstrate the product and it shifts its function from a table to a chair, the audience goes ‘wow.’

Did you always want to be in the field of furniture design when you were young?

When I was growing up I wanted to be a mechanical engineer like my father. My elder brother and twin brother are also pursuing a career in engineering. But unfortunately, since Physics and Math were not my strongest suit, as a family we decided I won’t pursue engineering. Academically, I was not the strongest during my school years, but I was good at drawing and creating things for Science experiments and exhibitions. So, I gradually gravitated towards architecture.

Please tell us about your memories of studying architecture at AITSAP?

I joined architecture school in 2016 and graduated in 2021. Most students who join architecture school generally want to be architects and design buildings. Thanks to Apeejay, I got an opportunity to think in an unconventional direction. One of its unique initiatives is the series of seminars hosted by the Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP) by in-house faculty as well as external experts. In one of these seminars, we were asked to make the drawing of a chair inspired by iconic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Although the task was meant to be for Second Year students, I was the only one from First Year to complete the assignment successfully. Seeing this, Professor Vivek Sabherwal encouraged me by sharing books and further reading material with me. This set me on a journey of exploring the world of design. Professor Sabherwal inspired me to be part of the minority 20 per cent who think differently than follow the herd mentality of 80% architecture graduates who would complete their course and join architecture firms and follow a set career path. Apart from him the other faculty members who guided me include Richa Goel Ma’am, Smita Rashmi Ma’am, Anand Khatri Sir and Anurag Verma Sir.

How did you ensure that your work stood out from other students?

From my first year itself, I tried to push the envelope by creating a wax sculpture, a gazebo in college premises and a structure for the stage for a college event. Also, for our history assignments, I developed paper using Peepal leaf and jute. I tried to think out of the box.   At another time, for the Apeejay Festival of Ideas Ignited Minds, I was requested to come up with an art installation along with a mannequin at short notice. Although I had already spent the day creating the mannequin, inspired by my teachers, I worked through the night to come up with the installation of a Decades Watch. Some of its components comprised an X-ray machine that put together used injection bottles in the form of a fish skeleton filled with blue water behind which were displayed the number of decades it will take marine life to become extinct. The hard work put in the installation worked and we won the first prize in the competition.

What are the life lessons that you picked up in college?
The biggest life lesson I learnt was from Professor Sabherwal. He taught me that regardless of whatever heights we reach in our career or the material riches that we acquire, our feet must be firmly planted on the ground. Even if our head is in the clouds, we must stay rooted. His always polite demeanour is an inspiration for every student to remain down to earth and open to learning.

What are the challenges and opportunities in pursuing a career in design?

First, the design of a multifunctional product needs to be protected. It must be patented so that the design cannot be imitated by copycats. We are in the process of acquiring the patent. The other challenge is making the product that you have designed user-friendly. One must be selective in the audience you retail your product to. It takes one carpenter about three days to create about one piece of customised multi-functional furniture.

What tips would you recommend to come up with a great design for furniture?
To my mind the three tips for great design are as follow:

a) Sustainability: The design must be environment-friendly, inexpensive and social at the same time. Once the product is environmentally sustainable, we need to check whether it is affordable. If it meets that parameter and people begin to adopt it, this implies the product is socially sustainable as well.  

b) Stability: The next step is to stay stable in a platform or the market. A saree, for instance, is a quintessential piece of clothing that has defied fickle fashion fads.

c) Scalability: And once you begin on a small scale, one can ramp up the scale of the product or design or idea.

Please share your future plans with us?
Going forward, I want to establish my company as a synonym for multi-functional furniture the way Xerox is for photocopying or Colgate is for toothpaste. The name I have chosen for the brand is R.Poid, short for ‘responsive anthropoid.’ As a brand we want to be responsive to the needs of human beings or anthropoids. We have devised another seven multi-functional products. We conduct workshops on multi-functional furniture in different parts of the country, such as the one we did for the tribal people of Gujarat.

Why has sustainability become so important in the world of architecture?

When you have a piece of furniture that changes shape and form to serve a number of purposes and uses just 1 cubic feet of wood for it, it becomes sustainable as well as light on the pocket. Sustainability isn’t just another part of design, it is an imperative. Other architects and philosophers may have different definitions , but for me, living minimum is sustainable. The lesser the amount of resources we use in our everyday life, the more sustainable it becomes. 

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74