THIS ELEGANT, lissome princess with her trademark pixie-cut hairstyle is enjoying motherhood these days within the compound of her white-walled Lutyens’ Delhi residence. Princess Mriganka Singh of Kashmir, five months with child, poses in her favourite summer outfit — a pastel kaftan, accessorised with diamond and emerald earrings, bracelet, rings and a Cartier watch.

Not a moment goes without her ever watchful eye on two-year-old daughter Amaya (she married Nirvan Singh Sandhu, grandson of Captain Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab and Maharaja of Patiala, a few years ago).

The 20-something granddaughter of Karan Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir, politician and son of the legendary Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu & Kashmir, the last ruler of the princely state, is following her own trajectory as a furniture designer in the national capital. The first step was studying Communication Design at Lasalle College of Arts in Singapore. “When I returned, I began to help my parents renovate their home in Srinagar and started appreciating interiors and furniture, especially Art Deco dining tables and chairs, antique Victorian dressing tables and British colonial display cabinets,” she says. “I customised a bar cabinet for their living room and that’s how I started my made-to-order furniture company BAHA Living (‘Baha’ means splendour and glory in Persian and Arabic).”

Calling her parents’ Srinagar estate a simple ‘home’ would be an understatement. Built a century ago by Maharaja Hari Singh as an English-style villa, it became the residence of his son, Karan Singh, a decade later, and then his son Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh of Kashmir and his wife Yuvrani Chitrangada Raje, Princess of Gwalior. Today, the home has become a boutique hotel, Karan Mahal, after a decade of renovations that began in 2011 and culminated in a royal residence combined with five guest rooms and three luxurious suites for visitors. “When my parents were re-doing their house, they wanted customised furniture, so we (my mother-in-law and I) made some pieces for them,” says Mriganka. “I thought, why not do this for more people?”

Mriganka’s mother-in-law, Princess Jayender Kaur of Patiala, had always wanted to start a furniture line. “They’ve had carpenters and karigars in the family who’ve done their furniture,” says Mriganka.

Mriganka traces the root of her creativity to her paternal grandmother, Maharani Yasho Raje Lakshmi, Princess of Nepal, who designed cane furniture. “Her favourite was an Art Deco dressing table with a full-length mirror in the centre flanked by tall rounded lights, a cabinet that extended on both sides, with a cupboard and drawers.”

For those like Maharani Yasho Devi who grew up in the 1950s, Art Deco design, jewellery and furniture was the ultimate luxury. “It uses geometric shapes and clean lines such as triangles, zigzags and chevrons in repetition. It looks futuristic even today,” says Mriganka. “Modern interiors are a streamlined version of Art Deco where emphasis is on form rather than ornament.” She adds elements of classic, contemporary, even Victorian, in her pieces today. “Since my furniture is made to order, it’s more about understanding clients and their needs and taste,” says Mriganka. “Everyone is particular about their personal living space nowadays. The way you fill up a room reflects your personality.” She enjoys mixing it up with upholstery of different prints, solids and materials like velvet and leather.

The home in Srinagar has become a boutique hotel, Karan Mahal, after a decade of renovations that began in 2011 and culminated in a royal residence combined with five guest rooms and three luxurious suites for visitors.
The home in Srinagar has become a boutique hotel, Karan Mahal, after a decade of renovations that began in 2011 and culminated in a royal residence combined with five guest rooms and three luxurious suites for visitors.

And that’s how Mriganka designed spaces at the yellow-façade Karan Mahal, with her mother by her side, poring over Ethan Allen (a U.S. furniture brand) books. “They have such a lovely mix of clean lines, curves, modern designs but with a touch of vintage,” says Mriganka. The duo chose the upholstery (floral, modern and colourful) and worked on the room’s layouts. “The home already had antique Kashmiri carpets and a large wooden Art Deco dining table,” says Mriganka. There’s a humorous story about the dining table. Growing up in Karan Mahal, Karan Singh and his parents would entertain other royals, including Captain Amarinder Singh’s father, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala (“Our families have known each other for four generations!”) and the likes of Lord Mountbatten. “Lord Mountbatten was so tall that while sitting for dinner, if he lifted his knees, they would hit a bell under the dining table–which was the cue for the band to start playing music,” says Mriganka. “The band would start playing while everyone was at dinner, even though they weren’t supposed to”

Today, Mriganka spends her time between Delhi and Srinagar. Her own favourite pieces from her line are the Buckingham bar cabinet and the Varley console cabinet. “The Buckingham bar cabinet is a modern Victorian design rooted in functionality with clean lines,” she says. “The Varley console cabinet is a vintage French display cabinet ideal for showcasing your favourite pieces.” With her newly formed company in full gear, she’s also taking online design classes to polish her skills. And if she’s stumped for ideas, she knows she can turn to both her mother-in-law and her mother. “They both have excellent taste!” says Mriganka.

On the personal front, for casual wear, Mriganka prefers flowy, pastel kaftans for hot summer months, and cotton pyjamas and kurtis from Anokhi. For formal occasions, she dons a chiffon from a 100-sari collection (much of it from her wedding trousseau), paired with watch, earrings and bracelet. “I love wearing saris,” says Mriganka. “They look glamorous. I’ve always seen my nani, dadi wearing saris for formal and semi-formal occasions.” Mriganka shops at boutiques in Delhi, Rajasthan and Chandigarh and picks up her preferred pieces — shaded chiffons with Lucknowi work — at exhibitions. She loves jewellery and was brand ambassador for a New Delhi-based jewellery brand until recently. She is not too fond of bags, but has a sizeable shoe collection and loves her Christian Louboutins, her Tod’s and Guccis.

Fit and lean (she used to play polo like her father Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh), she walks a lot, and has taken to kayaking in Srinagar. “Karan Mahal is walking distance from Dal Lake, so I get into my kayak at sunset — it’s so tranquil to find yourself in the middle of the lake when the sun sets over the mountains.”

Besides her work for BAHA, she’s handling social media for Karan Mahal, and her mother’s school for underprivileged children (her training as a graphic designer is coming in handy as she works on the website and social media handles).

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