The showrooms of Trading Boundaries, at a Georgian manor house in Sheffield Green, are an Aladdin’s cave of magnificent furnishing. The vibrant collection of rare painted doors, pitara chests, mirrors, gazebos and fabrics is testament to founder Tracy Thomson’s life-long love affair with India.
“Our buying trips are always fascinating and even after all the years I’ve been travelling to India to source items, I still get excited about what I’m going to discover,” explains Thomson.
Thomson was introduced to India when she ran a property development company with business partner Michael Clifford. He was already familiar with the country; his mother was born there.
“We became aware of this amazing furniture in unusual materials in boutique stores in London,” says Thomson. “Soon we decided to try to source the furniture ourselves. We’ve been buying ever since.”
Over the years Thomson’s contacts have increased tenfold – as has her knowledge of Indian furniture. She speaks passionately about the textiles, jewellery and objets d’art she has brought back to Sussex. By 1998 Trading Boundaries had grown to become one of the largest UK companies specializing in Indian products. It’s now a shopping destination, a café, a live music venue and a gallery set in an 18th-century former coaching inn. What is it about India that so inspires Thomson?
“It’s unique and huge. There are so many different cultures. It’s one of the most wonderful places; everybody is so friendly. A tremendous amount of haggling is required, but it’s a lovely place to do business.”
Thomson says that it’s impossible not to be entranced by the landscapes, which enrich the appearance of the objects she finds.
“The light there is beautiful. It has an exceptional quality, so the colours are tremendously vibrant. This means that it’s easy to get carried away when you stumble across something.”
But, Thomson adds, India is not without its challenges: getting around can be difficult and you have to be sensible as a woman travelling alone. The rewards, however, make it all worthwhile. What are some of the most memorable pieces that Thomson has brought back to Sussex?
“Years ago I found the most amazing coffee table. It’s known as a Thakat table. They’re not used as coffee tables in India, but for a variety of other things. You may find them in tribal huts with water pots standing on there, or very large ones may have been used as beds in the past.
“This particular example was very unusual in that it had drawers and little money slots on top. The only time you see that kind of thing is in temples, to receive donations, so I think it must have been used in a money exchange. It also had beautiful hanging carvings in deep reds and blacks. Something like this makes a stunning accent piece in a home.”
One of Thomson’s favourite places is the North-Eastern state of Nagaland. She has often found huge pieces of teak that have been carved from the trunks of trees.
“You might get a beautiful bench and although it is extremely basic it’s stunning because it has been carved out of a single piece of wood. Typically for that area local families have their own status symbols – emblems – which have been carved into the pieces. They sit very well in traditional Sussex mediaeval or Tudor homes.
“What we look for is detail, quirkiness, odd patterns. I’ve found a lot of tribal pieces over the years with sweet hidden compartments, which are literally where people keep their treasures.”
Tracy Thomson, of the hugely successful Trading Boundaries, talks to us about her passion for the stunning furniture and textiles she has been importing from India for 19 years