Pooja Pawaskar’s hand-whittled creations highlight the wonders of imperfection.
While some makers strive for flawlessness in their designs, Pooja Pawaskar chooses to embrace the blemishes in her works. The Ottawa, Ontario–based carpenter behind Whirl & Whittle crafts sumptuous wooden creations that celebrate the inherent beauty in each object’s idiosyncrasies. “I like to think of things as unique rather than imperfect,” she says. “Uniqueness is inspiring.”
Growing up in a multigenerational home in Mumbai, India, Pawaskar was introduced to furniture design at a young age by her grandfather, a formally trained carpenter. “I would always come home to him building something new: bed frames, tables, even handcarved doors,” she recalls. “I’ve been captivated by woodwork ever since.”
A fascination with design prompted her to study architecture at Mumbai University, which led to internships and eventually a job at an architectural firm. “I was traveling all over the world designing interiors and bespoke furniture pieces [when] I realized I found the most joy in building relationships with materials,” she says. Inspired to switch gears, she applied for the master’s program in furniture design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and in 2014, she was off to Georgia. “It was a culture shock, but also the most fun I’ve ever had,” she says. “I was surrounded by fellow makers and was introduced to so much avant-garde technology and all sorts of materials I’d never had the opportunity to work with before.”
After graduating, Pawaskar landed a job at Stylex Seating in New Jersey and spent her weekends honing her carpentry skills at community workshops in New York. However, it wasn’t until her husband accepted a job in Ontario that she had a real creative aha moment. “I kept looking for jobs that would provide me with the time and resources to create on the side, but wasn’t finding anything,” she says. “I decided it was time to just go for it and open a studio.”
In 2019, she launched Whirl & Whittle, a one-woman woodworking studio she operates out of the basement of her home. For her first collection, Your Scars Are Beautiful, Pawaskar hand-turned pieces of wood blemished by burls, cracks and spalting into a series of shapely vessels that highlight rather than disguise the flaws. “Atypical woods are usually sought out for their shortcomings—a reminder that imperfections can be just as beautiful,” she explains.
The woodworker says her designs draw heavily from personal experiences and the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi, which favors imbalance and impermanence over perfection. Along with a line of disproportionately shaped vessels called Ode to Her Body, she released the Not Whole capsule collection, an assortment of bowls and vases inspired by the kintsugi joinery method (where a repair is not only visible but highlighted in gold leaf). “Every piece starts with a story about something that’s happening to me or around me,” she says. “I use wood to help me tell that story.”
Pawaskar sells a mix of ready-to-ship and made-to-order accessories on her website, and she also crafts custom commissions. Recently, she was tasked with whittling a bowl to celebrate a client’s journey with breast cancer. “I chose a piece of yew wood with a hollowed section that had naturally darkened around the edges,” she says. “The bowl itself was simple—it was the irregularity in the wood that made it extraordinary.”
In November, she introduced her first furniture designs—called the Not Whole, but Complete collection—including three mirrors with handcarved frames and a two-toned coffee table with a rippled tabletop imprint that doubles as a catchall tray. “The pieces are undoubtedly sculptural, without sacrificing functionality,” says Pawaskar. “Sometimes as designers we put pressure on ourselves to be innovators, but the simplicity is what felt most authentic to me.”
Homepage photography: Pooja Pawaskar with pieces from her recent Not Whole, but Complete series. | Kait Labbate