AN Interior in conversation with DeMuro Das

Craft Culture

DeMuro Das is an international design firm based in New Delhi and New York. Founded in 2002 by Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, the brand draws from India’s rich culture of craft to produce bespoke and collectible furnishings. Over the last 20 years, DeMuro Das has centralized its manufacturing under one roof. Working from a factory with over 300 employees in New Delhi, the company integrates modern manufacturing technologies with the ancient arts of stone marquetry, stitching, carpentry, metal working, and more. The company also offers a suite of design and architectural services in India. In 2018, DeMuro and Das brought on Brooklyn-based Amy Lee to head up the company’s expansion into the U.S. market, a continuing success despite the dramatic shipping delays brought on by the pandemic.

This week AN Interior sat down with Brian, Puru, and Amy to learn more about this international operation and Demi and Gem, the brand’s latest collections.

The Gem Cabinet and Mirror compliment the Demi Coffee and Side Tables. (Courtesy DeMuro Das)

Sophie Aliece Hollis: Brian and Puru, you two were originally based in New York. What was the impetus for starting the business in India?

Puru Das: I am originally from India. I had been working in New York when I met Brian, but all my family was still in New Delhi. When we would visit them, we noticed that the market for furniture was incredibly undeveloped. Back then, if you wanted a quality piece of furniture in India, you’d rip a page out of a catalog and take it to a local carpenter. They would come over, sit in your driveway, and put the piece together. We identified that this probably wasn’t the best way to operate and had been looking to start a business of our own. Although we were both working in very different fields at the time, we had always loved interiors and design, so we began there, trying to fill this gap. That was 20 years ago.

At first, we attempted to import the high-end furnishings that were missing from the market, but duties were incredibly high at that time. Whenever were able to get things into the country at a reasonable price, our clients would always ask for customizations. So that’s when we started to tap into New Delhi’s incredible network of local craftsmen: highly skilled laborers whose families have been practicing these techniques for generations, even centuries. Organically, we began to draw on this tremendous knowledge base, and that’s really what brought us to where we are today.

Brian DeMuro: When we moved to India, I never thought we would be running a factory with 300 employees. But we just kept growing by bringing together these ancient skills and introducing them to new technology, machinery, and materials.

SAH: How has working in this context influenced your design aesthetic?

PD: Our style has always been modern. Simple, sleek, pared down. And we both share an interest in Brutalist design. India, like a lot of newly independent countries in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, had this optimistic boom of development that led to a burst of modern and Brutalist architecture. But beyond that, I think one of the biggest challenges in design, especially in a market as saturated as New York, is to go beyond your surroundings and tap into global influences. Working in India has allowed us to do that—to marry the country’s incredible history of craft and technique with the modern forms that we’ve always loved.

Advances in stone marquetry allowed the designers to apply rich and rare semi-precious stones to curved surfaces. (Courtesy DeMuro Das)

SAH: I can definitely see that confluence in the Gem and Demi collections, which you released at the end of last year. Could you talk a bit about the materials and manufacturing techniques used to develop these new pieces?

PD: Jaipur is a center for jewelry production, so we have this amazing market nearby for precious and semi-precious stones.  A couple of years ago, we moved our entire stoneworking arm in-house and have since been in the thick of experimenting with the material: sourcing different stones, developing our marquetry technique, introducing new machinery, and playing with new forms. The five new pieces from Demi and Gem are a manifestation of what we’ve learned.

BD: We’re obsessed with stone right now. The curved forms are really exciting. Using AutoCAD, we create stone maps to divide slices of flat stone that can be then pieced back together and applied with resin to a form of our design.

SAH: Like a 3D puzzle?

BD: Exactly. There’s a lot of buffing and polishing afterward to create a smooth surface, but the result is beautiful and takes advantage of stones that don’t exist in these large, carvable sizes.

The DeMuro Das showroom in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood. (David Mitchell)

SAH: I was fortunate to see the collection in person at your New York showroom before the holidays. What was it like when you opened that space five years ago? What prompted the expansion and what challenges did you face coming into the U.S. market?

Amy Lee: It was challenging at first because, in India, Brian and Puru have built a network of established, returning clients which blossomed through personal relationships. In the U.S., we had to essentially start from scratch to establish the brand identity—our voice, our story, our design aesthetic—and get the word out to the market. We also had to adjust from an operational standpoint. In the U.S., a designer will specify one, maybe two pieces from us, and overall they’ll tap dozens of manufacturers for one project. In India, the brand was used to fulfilling large orders or at times outfitting entire homes.

SAH: You were still in the process of adapting to this new market when the pandemic hit. I imagine it was incredibly difficult to navigate your U.S. business when all your products were halfway across the world. What was that time like for you?

AL: Honestly, I was astonished at the continuing demand from the U.S. market. I had people placing orders even when the factory was completely shut down and there was no way to promise a delivery date. We benefitted from all the time people were spending in their homes, finally getting around to redecorating and renovating. Obviously, it was extraordinarily painful dealing with all the logistical ends, as every firm experienced. But, since we have centralized all manufacturing to one factory, we were able to pick right back up on production as soon as the lockdowns were lifted.

BD: Even during the lockdowns, which were much longer in India than in the U.S., we were able to take a much-needed pause to reflect on all the growth of the business and focus on the direction we wanted to go.

SAH: Aside from stone marquetry, what other crafts are practiced in the DeMuro Das factory?

BD: We have metal casting, carpentry, wood carving, stitching, upholstery, and finishing. There are many different modes of production, and each have even more niche specializations within them. What’s also interesting is that many of our employees are related: The craft has been passed down to them from earlier generations. I’d say that within each specialty, up to 60 percent of the teams are related in some way. It is fun, but sometimes an entire production line will pause when a group celebrates a family wedding.

A duplex in Mumbai demonstrates DeMuro Das' interior design services. (Courtesy DeMuro Das)

SAH: Aside from producing furniture, you also offer interior design services. When did that start and how does it operate?

PD: About seven or eight years ago, when, again, we were working with a rather immature market, clients would buy furniture and then ask for assistance on where to place it or request bespoke designs tailored to their homes. There was a sudden hop, skip, and a jump, and we found ourselves designing electrical plans and offering almost full interior architecture services. We now have four architects on staff who manage this side of the business. These interior projects are like science experiments: We learn firsthand how our products are performing in spaces and, oftentimes, our bespoke designs make their way into the permanent collections.

SAH: Do you have any plans to bring these services to the U.S.?

PD: We’ve discussed it, but we like to devote 110 percent to everything we do. The furniture business has grown so much in the last couple of years that our primary focus now is growing our collection using innovative manufacturing while preserving the levels of craft and thoughtful design that have gotten us to where we are today.