Waris Ahluwalia in his teahouse House of Waris Botanicals.
Photo: Steve Freihon

The Story Behind Waris Ahluwalia’s Original Walton Ford Illustration

The jeweler, actor, and now teahouse proprietor shares the many personal connections he shares with the colorful work he commissioned

The only thing I ever say about my career is I’m an explorer and I make things. I never create a parameter for myself, and I like to think of all my work—whether that’s film, jewelry, cashmere, or tea—as transporting. I’ve always immersed myself in everything I do with unnecessary detail, but it’s those details I enjoy.

I just felt that a teahouse is what the world needed now. House of Waris Botanicals is a physical manifestation of the idea that we need to take a pause every day. Although it’s a tiny little teahouse in Chelsea, it has a lot of power if you let it. My other passion lies in conservation—I travel to Asia and Africa, meeting with organizations like Elephant Family and Lion Guardians that protect endangered species and their habitats.

Waris Ahluwalia commissioned this Walton Ford lion illustration for his new teahouse in New York. Photo: Steve Freihon

I had seen Walton Ford’s animal paintings in books, but I really discovered them during a show at Kasmin Gallery. I met Walton there, and we started a friendship. I’m extremely fond of Walton’s work—there’s a whimsy and a playfulness, and there is a dark beauty to it. So, I asked him to make a lion for the teahouse. I had recently spent time with the Maasai in Amboseli, Kenya, to understand their role protecting lions. Also, my middle name is Singh, which translates to lion. Walton does a lot of research when he’s telling a story with a painting, and for me he made an Asiatic lion, set in rural Punjab, India, in the north, where I was born.

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When I got the illustration, I was smiling all day. There’s a glow that comes from it and a warmth that it lends to the space. It speaks to the things that matter to me as a human being, and that are of value. It’s nice to be able to share that with people that come in.

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2020 Spring issue in the section In Focus. Subscribe to the magazine.

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