Subcontinent Furniture’s beautiful antiques grace Frere Hall in Karachi

Subcontinent antique furniture at Frere Hall
Subcontinent’s antiques at Frere Hall

Subcontinent Furniture’s recent exhibition of antique furniture impressed Karachi’s active community of art lovers and antique enthusiasts. Held in the beautiful and fitting surroundings of Frere Hall, the exhibition displayed a wide selection of lovingly restored and artfully enhanced pieces. From dowry chests to jhoolas (swings), the exhibition displayed a remarkable range of 19th and early 20th Century furniture.

Blue leather antique settee with tile relief by Subcontinent furniture
The skyblue leather on this settee offsets the tiles in relief giving this beautiful piece a contemporary touch

Antique furniture is hard to find commercially in Karachi. Too many beautiful old pieces were thrown away or left to decay by owners who had no appreciation or idea of their worth. Antique aficionado’s, who scour bazaars and second-hand dealerships, eagerly snap up whatever is available. They make trips into interior Sindh and farther afield in pursuit of their passion. Subcontinent owner Sonia Rehman Qureshi is one such enthusiast. The actress and former TV host has been collecting antiques since she was twelve. A graduate of the National College of Arts and passionate about authenticity, she displayed a unique collection that took roughly six years to put together.

Sonia Rehman of Subcontinent furniture paints antiques
Sonia Rehman of Subcontinent Furniture at work on one of her exquisite pieces

Subcontinent’s pieces are unique in that they are more than just exquisitely restored antiques. Sonia Rehman has used her eye for design and her considerable artistic talent to carefully enhance pieces with miniature-like paintings, cow-hide seats and other eclectic touches.

Voyage chair by subcontinent furniture
Voyage chair crafted from an old suitcase

Some purists may argue that this amounts to little for than vandalism of valuable antiques. Sonia is keen to refute any such idea: “I am passionate about authenticity and have always been very careful about restoring antiques. I am well aware that restoration and tinkering can affect the value and legitimacy of antiques. One of the reasons this exhibition took six years to put together was that I scouted for pieces that were as undamaged as possible. For the few items that were broken I was careful to match the wood and type of glue in the restoration process. Nevertheless there were some pieces that needed more than simple restoration.” The collection also included many practically untouched pieces such as a rosewood and camphor chest and a Guldasta chest.


Antique chests by subcontinent furniture
Antiques chests

Sonia’s artistic eye was telling her that she could do so much with some of the pieces but such was her fear of damaging the antiques that it took her two years to pluck up the courage to pick up a paintbrush. The results are breathtaking. Sonia is a talented artist and her depictions of miniature-like paintings on antique chests, chairs and desks are inspired. She’s used stains that won’t damage the furniture and muted colours that complement the time-worn pieces. These aren’t simply restored pieces of antique furniture; they are works of art.

Painted antique chest by subcontinent furniture
The gorgeous muted colours of the painting complement and enhance this chest

Sonia did not paint all of the artistic pieces herself. She commissioned a couple of young artists from Indus whose work has a completely different feel such as a red desk painted with a telephone. Sonia’s work received an enthusiastic response from the varied visitors to the exhibition. These heirloom pieces are in excellent condition and retain all their original features, including the original brass. The quirkier pieces, such as Voyage chairs made out of old suitcases also had plenty of fans. However, the undoubted hits of the exhibition were the pieces that Sonia had herself painted [pictured]. The gorgeous muted colours, the sensitivity to the provenance of the piece and her sheer love of antiques shone through in the diverse pieces.

Cylinder bureau with Ortelius map by Subcontinent furniture
This ‘before and after’ picture shows the stunning transformation Sonia accomplishes

A particular favourite was a cylinder bureau that had been painted with Ortelius’ first modern map of the world, dating from 1570. Sonia described how she painstakingly traced and then hand-stained the map onto the teak and Bombay sheesham desk. The map has raised an already beautiful item to the realms of the extraordinary.

Padshanama chest by subcontinent furniture
Padshanama Chest

Another standout piece was the Padshanama chest, an armory chest painted with scenes from the Padshanama. A 7-foot bottle bar that has been in a Parsi family for four generations before they emigrated to Canada also attracted a great deal of attention. Sonia had chosen to embellish this with Moghul type scenes of elephants and soldiers, completely transforming a rather kitsch piece into a classic.

Edwardian revolving bookstand and chair in Burma teak

Subcontinent Furniture was careful to display the provenance and history of each piece. Features such as the type of wood and period of each item were meticulously recorded. There was plenty for traditional antique lovers as well Sonia’s beautiful artistic pieces, which are undoubtedly destined to become heirlooms in their own right. Subcontinent is a welcome addition to the furniture scene in Karachi.

Published in the Daily Times Sunday Magazine on Sunday 22nd Septmeber

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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  1. I am interested in antique / vintage writing instruments. And I have collected a lot of vintage pens, albeit with enormous difficulty, from Karachi while sitting in Islamabad. I have read your lovely piece on antique hunting in karachi but, to be honest, was disappointed you did not make any mention of vintage pens. Is there any chance you would cover the subject anytime in future?


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