Take an idle glance over three of the different pieces produced by Loco Design – an exquisite leather armchair, a stylish Snakes and Ladders board, and a textured surface covering made from rare veneers – and it’s not easy to discern precisely what they have in common. But look more carefully and you will notice that they share a delight in craftsmanship, innovative design and beautiful materials artfully deployed. Each piece is produced by a different brand – Madheke, Taamaa and Pintark – which flourish beneath their parent company Loco Design, a design house founded in 1997 in India by Parminder Pal Singh.
“We wanted to do something unique from the very beginning, particularly for the Indian market as the craft tradition here was being completely destroyed,” says Parminder. “It was becoming like a traders’ commodity, making things cheaper and cheaper with no thought about finish or design. India went from a place that was rich in craft to a manufacturing hub of cheap products. It was frustrating and disturbing because there was such a high level of skill in the country.”
Parminder – who still happily answers to the childhood nickname of “Bubbles” – is a craftsman himself. Although he came from a trucking family, he was fascinated by the art of making things by hand and went to college to study jewellery design. He believes this training helped him develop his eye for the sort of fine detail that elevates Loco products. “I was always fond of drawing with very fine detail, really going into the intricacies of what I was drawing, and I think jewellery focused that attitude,” he says. “I also learnt about ergonomics and the use of technology and how to develop a precise skill. All those things came together in my training and now I am able to look at a product in the minutest detail.”
Loco draws on Indian traditions of craftsmanship but uses material from around the world to create products that are made in its factory outside Delhi but which have an international appeal. Much time is spent on finding a balance between the local and the international, and that can also be seen in the names of the brands. Madheke, which makes all kinds of furniture and accessories from small boxes to large cabinets, is named after Parminder’s home village; Pintark, which makes adaptable and innovative tiles for walls and furniture, uses Pinta, the Finnish word for “surface”; and Taamaa, which concentrates on innovative, quirky design products such as tablet cases and board games, takes its name from the Japanese word for soul. “The idea is that they all complement one another across a single house,” says Parminder, “so you can get that consistency of feel.”
If there are three characteristics that connect Loco’s brands they are craft, creativity and heritage. At its factory, Loco trains craftspeople from all over India, teaching ancient skills but finding modern applications. “We want to elevate their skill sets,” says Parminder. “We are not looking to substitute craft with innovation, but we are adding value to their skill sets. One example is that when we are looking for a good wood craftsman we don’t necessarily care how well they cut the wood, it’s what they do with it afterwards, it’s how patient they are with joinery and the detail. So instead of making them cut wood with their hands, we use a machine for that aspect and then let them use their skills afterwards. We work with some very traditional materials like wood and leather, but we also work with carbon fibre and other modern materials to bring a freshness to what we do. We are very fortunate to be in a country with so much skill and so much potential.”
While Loco products can enhance a domestic home, office or apartment, the company increasingly takes on large projects, working with international architects, hoteliers, restaurateurs and retailers. As an example, Parminder describes a project it undertook in India. “It was a retail project for an Indian men’s apparel company that wanted to completely change its outlook,” he says. “They have more than 100,000 stores of every imaginable space, so the challenge was to address that entire range and transform every one of those spaces. So many clothes shops look the same whatever the brand, and we wanted people to know exactly what store they were in. We wanted a feel of understated style and it was very fulfilling to get that right, to create that sense of lifestyle.”
Of the three brands, Parminder singles out Pintark as the one the company always introduces first into a new territory. Pintark essentially consists of small tiles that can be made from a variety of materials including leather, beads, veneers and metals, but are often three-dimensional or patterned. These can be used on walls, room dividers, screens, cabinets, headboards, wardrobe doors and ceilings to create backdrops that are as simple or complicated as the client desires. Pintark can be used to provide an eye-catching mural or installation, it can be used to liven up a living area or it can be used to give a shop or restaurant the requisite atmosphere.
“Sometimes the requirements are very basic, such as a headboard, or a simple square or rectangle covering for a wall, and in that case all we do is help select the correct material,” says Parminder. “In other cases, it might be more complicated. We might be working at a fish restaurant, where we might develop a tile that has a texture like fish scales but is suggestive, so it doesn’t necessarily scream seafood.”
For larger Pintark projects, Parminder cites an award-winning display that Loco created for a company in the US. “This was an installation we called City Lights, which featured hexagons at four different levels,” he recalls. “We worked with a fabric client in Michigan, who wanted to introduce 19 fabrics in a more exciting fashion than simply hanging swatches. So we created a graphic installation that was a complete skyline of the city, and each of the components was made of a different fabric. People were drawn in by this huge installation and then when they got closer they saw it was made of fabric. It was something they would never forget. And it began with a simple treatment, which we could turn into something bigger.” As a metaphor for Loco itself, it couldn’t be more appropriate.