The Hayat’s tradition in the world of furniture goes back five generations when its founder, Mohammad Hayat, set up a small furniture enterprise with great hardship and fortitude. He was only ten when his father, Mohammad Sharif, passed away. The eldest of five brothers and a sister, he became the sole breadwinner at this tender age. He started making wooden toys for local festivals in Gujrat, the town his father had chosen to settle in after moving from Qandhar in Afghanistan.
One day, Mohammad Hayat came upon a benefactor in the form of a famous Saint of Gujrat, Karam Elahi (Sain Kanwa Wala). The holy man was impressed with his work ethic and provided the young craftsman enough wood to set up a furniture business. Mohammad Hayatbegan crafting chairs and stools, with the kind Saint’s continued support.
In 1890, Mohammad Hayat displayed his work at the exhibition of local production help in Gujrat. The British Governor of the Punjab visited the exhibition and, impressed by his crafts, endorsed him for pioneering furniture manufacturing in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Orders began flowing in – the first consignment of Mohammad Hayat’s furniture to Bannu was dispatched in 1893, with Saint Kanwa Wala accompanying him. A satisfied English officer at the time was so taken in by his work that he presented him with three bags of silver.
By 1909, Mohammad Hayat’s firm was so well established that M/s M. Hayat & Brother was “appointed as furniture makers to General Sir O’ Moore Creagh, the Commander-in-Chief in India.” The firm continued to flourish and Mohammad Hayat’s reputation for quality and excellence began to spread all over the sub-continent. By 1911 he was honoured with the order to furnish King George V’s coronation in India. This was the turning point – showrooms opened up initially in Lahore in 1914, then Delhi, Nagpur, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Quetta.
The purchase of the Jhelum Saw Mills in 1920-27 was a giant leap forward. The plant was extensive and enabled production to rise to mass scale. Timber was logged in a fortress up-river in Kashmir and floated down the Jhelum River to the mills. A railway line carried the logs to the factories for consumption – these mills were later acquired by the British Government in 1939 for the war effort.
A major setback in 1927 was a fire which gutted the showrooms and building on Hall Road, in Lahore. Considerable money was, however, donated for the reconstruction of the premises by the rajas of various states including Nabha, Patiala and Jindh, all of whom had become, by then, major customers of Hayat Bros. The building at 36-Mall was then built in 1927 just after the fire.
Additional famous contracts at the time include the furnishings of the Assembly Hall in Lahore, High Courts & Government residences.
Mohammad Hayat passed away in 1937. His youngest child, M. Iqbal Hayat, who was to follow in his father’s footsteps, was born in 1917 and sent to Philander Smith College, Naini Tal for his education in 1928. He returned to his family business in Lahore at the age of twenty when his father passed away in 1937.
In 1940, foreseeing the partition-based turmoil in the subcontinent, M. Iqbal Hayat exchanged the property at Cannought Place (Delhi) with the building 36-Mall Lahore, owned by a Hindu, P.C. Malhotra who had purchased it from the bank, since the building had been mortgaged. The partition killings formed the back-drop for all of this. He later bought over the goodwills of M. HAYAT & BROS. and M.HAYAT & SONS, from his brother in 1948.
M. I. Hayat was a talented artist continuing his father’s work with similar diligence and dedication, but with his own remarkable talent. In times when there were no epidiascopes, enlargers or computers, he had the ability by way of free hand sketch to reproduce any furniture style, be it French provincial, Italian, or English reproduction, to perfection. He thus specialized in reproduction furniture by creating many masterpieces which can be found today in some well known Pakistani homes.
During World War II, a camp for prisoners was set up in YUL (India). M. I. Hayat undertook all the furnishing supplies for the massive YUL camp. Between 1955-56 he supplied the Kharian Cantonments’ hundreds of bungalows with furniture & fixtures. In 1965 an arts and crafts show was held where M. I. Hayat was awarded the first prize for furniture. Hayat was also commissioned to provide high end furniture pieces for the Shah of Iran’s 2500 year’s celebration of the Persian Empire, which occurred in Persepolis in October 1971.
First Lady of the USA, Jacqueline Kennedy, came on an official visit to Pakistan in 1961. President Ayub thought that the best gift for the White House would be a Hayat rocking chair – one that was specially manufactured for and presented to her. It remained a favorite with President John F. Kennedy, and sat in his study throughout his years in the White House. This chair was sold at an auction of Kennedy Memorabilia, at a winning bid of US $89,600.
Mohammad Iqbal Hayat passed away in 1966, leaving behind a rich tradition of craftsmanship, aesthetic excellence, and high end quality. In 1975, Furqan Hayat joined the family business. In the 1980s, he furnished the Turkish and Moroccan embassies. During this decade, the government of Pakistan appointed Sir Lord David Hicks (a British interior designer) under whose supervision, Hayat’s received the opportunity to furnish the presidency.
In 1994, Furqan Hayat furnished the Prime Minister House in Islamabad, and the Governor House in Murree. In 1995, he furnished The Punjab House in Islamabad, and in 1996, the PM Secretariat during the Madam Benazir Bhutto era. Some of Furqan Hayat’s other works included, the Chief Minister House (Lahore), the Presidency (2008 and 2012) and the list goes on…