Tiling it since 1922—A peek into the 100 years of Bharat Floorings and Tiles and a word with Firdaus Variava

JUN 19, 2022 | By Twinkle Tolani
A painting depicting the old Uran Bharat Factory Photo from the 1920s; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles
The docks at Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ first set up in the fishing village of Uran in Mumbai; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles
3D tiles at a farmhouse in Kamshet done by Design Office in 2015; Photographs by Studio Kunal Bhatia
Being an all-rounder in the design field, this playful Ottomi - Breeze wallpaper is designed by Maulshree Somani, Mapayah; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles
Taru carpets with swanky detailings are designed by Shibani Shetty for Bharat Floorings & Tiles; Photographs by Abner Fernandes
Dining Table made Bharat Floorings & Tiles for a private residence in Pune for StudioHAUS; Photographs by Ritesh Ramaiah
Yet another striking wallpaper called Weave - Dark designed by Maulshree Somani, Mapayah for Bharat Floorings & Tiles; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles
Bharat Floorings & Tiles conceived their designs in-situ using precious stones at the private residence in Pune for StudioHAUS; Photographs by Ritesh Ramaiah

As old as the Art Deco movement but still in style, Bharat Floorings & Tiles has completed 100 years since its genesis and is on the path to hundreds more.

Following the lull of World Art Deco Day, celebrated on 28th April, one cannot help but notice the international movement’s footprint in India, especially in Mumbai and the company’s role in its propagation. The iconic Art Deco floors, which still line cinema houses and art deco buildings of Marine Drive, Oval, Malabar Hill, Bharat Floorings and Tiles, were pioneered by the giant.

Since its inception in the pre-independence era in 1922, the company has assisted India’s progress. Perhaps, its rigour is owing to the Swadeshi movement, a period when the spirits were high enough for a young lawyer named Pherozeshah Sidhwa to abandon his articleship and kickstart Bharat Floorings and Tiles with his nephew Rustom Sidhwa in the sheds of Uran, a fishing village in Mumbai.

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Rustom Sidhwa; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles


Pherozeshah Sidhwa and his wife Tehmi Sidhwa also played an equally important role in Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ beginnings; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles

The business took off, and before the countrymen could see the dawn of independence, they witnessed Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ reverence as the largest tile manufacturing unit in the country.

The residences of the royal families of Gwalior, Bikaner and Hyderabad and homes of emerging industrialists like the Mafatlals and Birlas in Mumbai strictly employed flooring from the company.

Formerly known as Anderson Hall, the Bombay Mutual Building, Mumbai is under LIC since 1935, when Bharat Floorings & Tiles laid their staircase; Photographs by Pulkit Sehgal

Even public buildings built by the Public Works Department, like railway stations and hospitals, turned to Bharat for their top-notch quality.

Like every success story, Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ trajectory is not without hurdles. Due to cement supplies being diverted to the war effort during World War II in 1940. The company had to shut down momentarily. But Bharat rode out tumultuous waves triumphantly.

The original terrazzo dado and lobby of the Laxmi Insurance Building, Mumbai, is going strong ever since it was first laid in 1938; Photographs by Pulkit Sehgal

By experimenting and launching several supplementary products like floor disinfectant, polish and soap, the Sidhwas kept the tile eco-system running. On the other hand, they invested in factories making grinding wheels, Grindwell Abrasives and a printing unit, Bharat Metal Printers, which made metal packaging boxes for the biggest brands in the country.

An advertisement of Stilan Tiles from Bharat Floorings & Tiles in Times of India newspaper dated 25th March 1998; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles


Sunnu Dotiwalla’s residence was built in the 1920s and flaunts Heritage tiles from Bharat Floorings & Tiles; Photographs by Pulkit Sehgal

Once normalcy was restored, Bharat was back at the top in no time. A new range of premium terrazzo tiles fixed in the 23-floor Air India headquarters and a heavy-duty tile called Stilan, installed for city attractions like CST and Flora Fountain, re-established their dominance. Even so, the best was yet to come.

On the brink of the 20th century, the company rediscovered its original moulds and catalogues from its founding years. Bharat’s Heritage range was re-introduced in 1999 at the first Kalaghoda festival and received crackling feedback.

J.N.Petit Library, Mumbai, completed in the 1930s, has also retained flooring from the company to date; Photographs by Pulkit Sehgal

If you’ve ever visited the Salar Jung Museum or the Umaid Bhawan Palace, it might be interesting to know that you had the legacy of Bharat under your feet!

UNESCO awarded buildings such as the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, architect Vikas Dilawari’s Yacht Club in Mumbai, and EDIDA 2013 winner, the Library House by Khosla Associates in Bangalore also flaunt flooring by Bharat.

Chevron tiles at a private residence in Pune, conceived in 2020 by VDGA; Photographs by Fabien Charuau and Hemant Patil

It all boils down to one question, what made Bharat Floorings & Tiles not only survive but thrive for an entire century? In conversation with the now-owner Firdaus Variava, it all came to light.

Upon being asked what he enjoyed more, the business and commerce or the designs of the tiles, Firdaus said, “I absolutely hate the nitty-gritty of business and commerce. If I enjoyed it more, the company would have grown by three or four times more. I enjoy the creative process that goes into designing beautiful things.”

Designed by Studio Osmosis, a restaurant in Bandhani pattern from Bharat Floorings & Tiles’ Made In India Range; Photograph courtesy Bharat Floorings & Tiles

It seems like Firdaus inherited more than just the company from his forefathers—he inherited an innate sense of what runs a business—he inherited the passion. If the tale of Bharat Floorings and Tiles is not that of passion, then what is it? 

Even after launching the wildly successful Heritage collection, Bharat Floorings & Tiles refuses to stop. The company has dabbled into trades-of-the-hour like 3D and micro-topping, and come up with BFT+ Range and Made in India to satisfy customers from all walks of life. Evident in Firdaus’ excitement in reminiscing about his work, these collections are not born of duty but of design patronage.

The floor in Origamettes pattern from BFT+ collection in blue lagoon and silver grey in the interiors of this Ahmedabad home by SAK Designs; Photographs by Fabien Charuau


Usine Studio used Namisen tiles in Zen Terrace in House of the Heart at Vadodara; Photographs by Ishita Sitwala

“I found the collection by Sian (Japanese Line) to be memorable, as the designer took me through the design process, and we also spent time at the factory where she made some of the tiles and worked on the colourways.

I also really enjoyed the Dash Dash Dot collection because it was such a refreshing way of looking at our tile designs. Our in-house collections, such as Made in India and The International range, were also great because they involved our company team members working with graphic designers in a free-for-all competition to decide whose designs would make it to the collection. And of course, working with The Busride Design Studio on their collection was also a blast because Ayaz makes me laugh a lot.”

Soft Brutalism wall cladding in Grey designed by Ashwin Mallya; Photographs by Mehi Shah


Soft Brutalism Wall cladding in Jade Green designed by Ashwin Mallya; Photographs by Mehi Shah

Firdaus’ enthusiasm is infectious and makes one wonder how Bharat Floorings and Tiles can represent the country worldwide. So far, India’s absence in the cement tile exporting arena is enough proof of the company’s competency.

In a country where luxury means nothing less than the best world over, the designer’s opting to go local is evidence of Bharat’s will to experiment with design and go the extra mile. 

The company also dabbles in other fields such as decor items. Here is a Mint Green Vase from the Soft Brutalism range, designed by Ashwin Mallya; Photographs by Mehi Shah

However, while Firdaus certainly sees expanding internationally in the future, he is in no rush. “We have always been a niche player and will continue to do so when we expand internationally. We will always reach out to those designers and outlets that understand our brand ethos, which is to provide long-lasting, well-designed materials. We have started our venture into Dubai. Hopefully, over the next few years, we will be able to identify more international locations where they have the confluence of taste and the ability to pay a fair price for our products,” he concludes. 

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