productsStudio Tour

Studio Tour: The Summer House India

by Rohini Wahi

I stumbled across The Summer House a few years ago — a modern lifestyle brand with an emphasis on handicraft and responsible techniques. I was mesmerized by their tropical, Kinfolk-y aesthetic and felt a sense of nostalgia in their imagery, but I could not put my finger on why — until I discovered that they were based in Bangalore, the garden city of India. Their collection of homeware dotted with simple mango wood vessels, cool marble platters and feather-light garments with slick, modern silhouettes embody the essence of stillness and natural bounty of everyday life in India.

Founded by Shivangini Parihar and Rekha Datlav, The Summer House was born from the duo’s nostalgia for the simplicity and celebration of everyday life that they found lacking in big-city living, which had become a blur of activities. “From missing the purity in our food and the comfort in our clothes and the sturdiness in the wares we bought is when we started noticing that there are more people like us who crave for these little joys of simplicity and functionality,” Shivangini shares.

When the pair met, Shivangini had already quit advertising to fulfill her dream of starting a brand that believes in design that is beautiful, functional and sustainable. She had also been traveling across the country for over a year with her then-nine-month-old daughter, spending time with craftsmen and studying responsible making techniques. She even started supplying designs to companies like FabIndia and Toast, and online retailers like Jaypore. Rekha, at the time, had already set up a beautifully curated boutique store.

By pure chance, the duo met in 2014 for an unrelated project. But, as they say, some things are meant to be. They instantly trusted each other and became partners in work.

Neither of the pair claim to have a design background, but the way they grew up had a huge influence on their aesthetics. Rekha’s mother, an architect, had an exceptional eye for landscaping, so she grew up surrounded by the lovely family garden her mother nourished with creativity and talent. Shivangini spent her childhood in a boarding school in the hills and spent her holidays in her grandmother’s home by a lake or on family farms in the village. Both women grew up surrounded by nature, enjoying its bounty and purity.

Their studio in Jayanagar, an old residential area of Bangalore, is surrounded by old houses and lush, treelined streets, making a perfect creative spot for clearing their heads. Walking distance from Rekha’s home, the studio makes it possible to be close to her children while having an environment in which to work. Shivangini commutes between Bombay and Bangalore.

For these two, The Summer House is both a memory of how things were and a plan for how they want life to be. —Rohini

Rekha and Shivangini, the founders of The Summer House, at the far end of the studio in Bangalore where they stock their fabric and paper rolls.
Initially wanting to convert the whole studio into a greenhouse, Rekha and Shivangini soon learned it was not practical. But plants are still central to the decor. The studio keeps getting new plants every month, ensuring there is plenty of green in every corner.
The Summer House's hand-crafted drop platter made with mango wood is sourced from sustained plantations.
Chancing upon a factory that was shutting down, many industrial stools and benches were gathered for the studio at a throwaway price, and come in handy during studio pop-ups and shoots. Old trunks and boxes are used to stock samples and supplies.
The studio was manually making patterns until just this month. Since neither of them have a design background, it meant that they were taking a really long time to get the little details of each piece just right. They are now adopting a digital software that will allow the brand to make and test patterns much faster while reducing fabric and paper waste.
Originally the duo wanted to set up their studio in an old vintage bungalow with plenty of character. Since budgets didn't allow for this, they looked for the next best thing: A space with a lot of light and potential. In fact, the space is so well lit with natural sunshine that they had to screen the windows on one side of the studio as the tailors require a gentler light. The studio has a small team of three tailors and one pattern master.
The brand's lush imagery is shot in locations which were the inspiration for The Summer House's collections. Their collection Homeward Bound is shot in Rekha's mother's home.
The duo had invested a tiny sum in really good tailoring machines, cutting rollers, cutting tables and ironing machines -- so much so they had a very small (almost zero) budget for anything else. All the furniture items in the studio are old, unwanted pieces from various family members. They refurbished them with good quality (yet cheap) fabric from the Okhlipuram market in Bangalore, which is a treasure trove of export surplus fabrics.
The inspiration grills provide an interesting way to pin ideas. Shivangini and Rekha's kids keep adding sketches of dresses they think The Summer House should make, like the princess frocks clipped on right now!
"The Alternative" is shot at a beautiful horse farm in the lost interiors of Goa.
This is where vendors, friends and customers who drop by are met. The sofa set is really old and belonged to Rekha’s mother. It was reupholstered with cheap fabric so that they can keep changing the look every couple of years.
The studio is always furnished minimally as the pair doesn't want to alter the calming energy of the space. Key pieces include vintage cabinets and tin trunks to put things away. This vintage study table is now used as a cabinet to keep samples of zips, threads, buttons and tags.
Being organized with a small budget was a challenge. The pair bought gardening trays, pickle jars and empty tool kits from a yard sale to store everyday things required in the studio. At the end of the day, it all gets hidden under the curtain table.
Indian Rosewood Butterknives, sold by The Summer House.
A homey spot to work and relax, the studio is spacious, so it is always tempting for the duo to fit one more thing in. But they make an effort to consciously keep it minimal and clutter-free, adding things only when they need them. This sofa right at the entrance of the studio is Rekha’s favorite place to work.

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  • I have seen the work first hand and I love it. I have been looking for wooden spatulas that don’t have varnish on them. No one understood it why and when i saw Shivangini’s work I was like, how could she know what I and perhaps most aware human beings would want in their kitchens. I simply want unadulterated stuff and thats what the Summer House is! All the best, girls. Keep at it and please start delivering in the USA! We need the good stuff here.

    • What a lovely review of their products Rama – I am yet to see their collection in real life and so happy to hear from someone who has. I have my eye on the wooden butter dish!

  • It is so great to see the Summer House girls here on Design Sponge. I love their sensibilities and aesthetics and absolutely love their clothes-so comfy and made for India’s hot summers :)

  • Congratulations guys. I am looking forward to owning a piece in the near future- already placed an order for their marble cheese platter and many more!