Sabah Bardhan is no stranger to art. The first thing she ever painted at the tender age of five was a sunflower at a summer camp art class. Her father is an artist who taught her finer techniques as a child. Together, they painted random objects around the house, determining how to get the proportions, lighting, and colours right. Today, her skills extend to restoring pieces of furniture by adorning them with colourful, hand-painted designs. Based in Dubai, Sabah spoke to Ruums to tell us all about her incredible enterprise, JustRestore.
Who is Sabah Bardhan?
Sabah has never actually been to art school. When she had to decide between Art or Accounting as optional subjects, she chose Art, even though she was the only student in the class. That was the only formal art education she received. She experimented with different subjects, paint mediums, canvas, and paper through the years. She also held a successful exhibition of her work, which was a very rewarding experience. A couple of years ago, she decided she wanted to try something new.
“I had a lack of focus and direction career-wise,” Sabah admitted. “but I knew that if there was one thing I was passionate about, it was art and painting. I wanted to change my canvas to something more challenging.”
Sabah found some wooden stools lying around at home. They were screaming for a makeover, so she decided to paint them. She then posted them on social media with no actual intention of selling them—and they sold within days! “That was a eureka moment for me.” she smiled. “I started painting all the old tables and chairs around my home. After a lot of trial and error, I knew what worked and what didn’t in terms of products, techniques, and durability. Only then was I confident enough to take up commissions. That was how JustRestore was born on the 17th of January, 2019.”
Sabah works with furniture made from any material.
There is no material she will turn down when it comes to furniture, be it solid wood, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), glass, metal, or laminate. “Most of my work is commission-based,” Sabah told us. “My clients ask me to up-cycle furniture they’re attached to. Other pieces have significant functional value to them, but they just look outdated.
“At times, I deal with furniture straight from the showroom! My clients prefer to buy the furniture item that fits in terms of size or shape, and then have me revamp it to suit the décor. I also restore a number of beautiful vintage pieces. Some of these are almost 150 years old and have been handed down for generations. Being trusted to work on these pieces is meaningful, considering the many memories attached.”
“When I do get some time to work on my own ideas, I source suitable pieces from second-hand furniture platforms or just look around my home for furniture that can make the cut!”
So where does Sabah get her inspiration?
For her personal projects, Sabah seeks ideas from her travel experiences when she worked as a flight attendant. Reviewing her photos of places, scenery, and restaurants—among others—help immensely with colour combinations, textures, and so on. Sometimes, just a walk in the park with her kids leads to the discovery of a beautiful feather that lends inspiration. Other times, random ideas crop up in her mind, and she then quickly sketches them to see if they make any sense.
Her clients also contribute. Often, they send her a photo of something they’ve seen, which they wish her to recreate on their furniture with her personal twist. Other clients merely hand over their furniture and ask her to go crazy with it! “Such fun!” Sabah smiled.
“What almost always happens,” she continued, “is that I will ask my client to send me a photo or video of their décor, so I can familiarise myself with their tastes and suggest colour schemes. We then reach common ground based on what they like and what I consider suitable for the type of furniture I am restoring.”
“It is such a rewarding process,” Sabah reflected, “starting from discussing the idea, to seeing the furniture in its ‘before’ state, and then watching it transform slowly right under my nose.
Of course, client satisfaction is the biggest compliment. And what tops that is when they come back to me months later with more furniture to revamp!”Sabah’s work contributes to the reduction in the number of items going to landfills.
She feels there is a sudden shift in people’s thinking when it comes to furniture restoration in the U.A.E. There was a time when people did not hesitate to buy new furniture. However, people are now much more aware of the options available. Some of Sabah’s clients have furniture that is made out of good-quality, strong, solid wood—a rarity nowadays. Such furniture is passed down from generation to generation or even moves with the family from home to home.
Sabah described the paint she uses. “Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is free from VOCs (volatile organic compounds), odour-free, and produces no fumes. It is suitable for children’s toys too! It is water-based so that makes it eco-friendly as well.”
“I’m aware and thrilled that, in a small way, I am part of the sustainability movement.”
“I have painted approximately 200 pieces of furniture. It is extremely satisfying to know that, out of these, at least 60% would have ended up in landfills. I never hesitate to convince my clients when they are in two minds about restoration versus buying a new piece. And when they opt for the former, I go all out to ensure they don’t regret that decision.”
We asked Sabah to describe some of her favourite pieces and the process of restoring them.
Her enthusiasm was infectious. “Every piece of furniture teaches me something new. I do get attached to a lot of the pieces I work on, especially when I’ve spent hours with them, painting intricate artwork. It’s hard to see them go back home on the day of delivery, but I still feel immense satisfaction.”
“A couple of the pieces I have painted will always hold a special place in my heart. One was a buffet which I was asked to restore into a replica of fibreglass, a factory-manufactured piece, with hundreds of vertical, multi-coloured lines. This makeover took me almost six to seven weeks to complete, clocking up to eight hours a day. I remember having sleepless nights, hoping it would work out. Some mornings, I would wake up with a start and go fix a line that bothered me because it wasn’t perfect. I called this my Striped Masterpiece.
“It was very well received from people all around the world. I used to wake up to lovely messages from art lovers appreciating my work. I was also a finalist in the Zibra Golden Brush Awards with this same piece. I painted it early on in my career as a furniture artist, which is why it will always be a favourite. It crushed all the self-doubt I felt when I was starting out.”
Sabah went on to describe other cherished items. “I am attached to the ones on which I painted Japanese cranes—they are such graceful and beautiful birds. I also painted a buffet with Koi fish for an interior design firm. The concept was to have a sepia tone, with a corner painted in a way as if ink had dripped into the water. The colourful Koi swim out of it and turn monochrome. It was almost surreal to bring this to life, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. It was a story unfolding with every brush stroke.
Sabah had some sound advice for personal restoration projects.
“Furniture makeovers are the most fun and rewarding DIY projects you can take up. You will turn your décor around in a matter of a few hours—and it doesn’t cost a kidney either!”
“A lot of times I receive messages from people, saying they are not confident enough to start work on a piece. I say, you’ll never know till you do it! The best way to start, in my opinion, is to choose a small piece of furniture. Be it a small side table or an old chair—or it could even be your flower pots! Try looking into your store room or grab a piece that is not very important to you.”
“Most paints available today don’t need any prep work.” Sabah continued. “A brush and a pot of paint are all you need to get started. If you’re feeling adventurous and creative, grab hold of some tiny brushes and create patterns, or use Frog Tape to make geometric designs. The possibilities are endless. And oh—don’t forget to seal all your hard work with lacquer or clear furniture wax for durability. Best of luck!”
View more of Sabah Bardhan’s astounding work on her Instagram page, JustRestore.