The son of a Javanese princess and diplomat father, Indonesian Jaya Ibrahim is one of the world’s most recognised interior designers
Raised in Singapore and educated in the UK — where he cut his teeth assisting world-renowned actress cum interior designer Anouska Hempel — he returned to Asia in the 1990s and set up Jaya & Associates. The company became Jaya International Design in 2010 with business partner Bruce M. Goldstein. Ibrahim’s reputation for designing luxurious tropical Asian-style interiors has continued to flourish over the past two decades, with his portfolio now spanning the globe, from Milan to Oman.
Jaya Ibrahim’s meticulous attention to detail embraces culture, geography and social surroundings. His projects span the region and include The Club at Capella Singapore — one of the city state’s foremost residential resort developments, which features sophisticated, yet subtle interiors that extenuate the tropical surrounds. In Vietnam, the residences at The Nam Hai in Hoi An, decked out in dark wood furniture and slate floors, offer a tasteful take on the classic Vietnamese abode. Meanwhile Ibrahim’s latest venture, Amanfayun at Hangzhou’s Aman Resort, is set on 14 hectares amid lush bamboo groves and tea plantations and, complete with unvarnished elm, rice-paper lanterns and lattice screens, graciously captures the essence of a traditional Chinese village.
What first inspires you to a new design?
Most of the time my inspiration comes from the environment of the project in terms of geography, culture and the social surrounding. There are also times when I draw inspiration from the type of people who will be using the project, which at times can be entirely disconnected from the culture of its surround.
I am an Indonesian brought up as an Indonesian and, like Indonesia, I’m struggling to know what it means to be Indonesian in terms of culture and design.
How far do you feel your international design projects still reflect your Indonesian cultural roots?
I am an Indonesian brought up as an Indonesian and, like Indonesia, I’m struggling to know what it means to be Indonesian in terms of culture and design. This actually created the first conflict based on political leanings in the 1950s. Now it depends on who your friends are and what your social surrounding is. All I know is I am not very Western in my thinking, nor in my creation. I understand Western thinking, but don’t believe I do things according to it. I actually design for comfort – visual comfort, comfortable space, comfortable ceiling height. Colours that excite in one room and soothe in another. Patterns that remind us of something in the past or something discovered accidentally while sketching about nothing. What I know is, I design things that please my eyes and soul. I am an Indonesian who has a lot of Western experience but is also aware of the richness of the art and culture you’d find in the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, some of which are still undiscovered, some half understood and some boringly suffocating!
You are known as a designer who “puts the project first”. How do you achieve this?
Once the concept of the project is determined everything that is going to go into the project must fit that concept and must fit with all the other elements being introduced. I was asked recently to do a hotel project, but was warned that the owner of the project will guide the design as it has to be in line with the brand. This is not a problem at all, as putting together a design is already a complicated process, and not many people can do it. It is especially challenging if it needs to reflect something specific, so what better way than to be guided by the person who has worked out that specific something.
What are the key differences between designing a hotel suite and designing a private residence?
There are two types of hotels, a name driven hotel and a product-driven hotel. The first one has to reflect the brand the second one is defined by the product not the name of the brand. Whilst a private residence is totally about the person who will be living in the residence.
Which would you say are your favourite residential projects and what makes them special?
Dharmawangsa Tower 2 is one of my favourites because it is about space and volume. It is a huge house I designed for a special client who is then prepared to delay the project for two years just so we could get the correct timber for the millwork. I mean this is a project that one would sacrifice anything for – a dream fulfilled. My late mother’s house in Cipicong is another favourite of mine, as it symbolises a last look at disappearing old Java. Naturally, however, each project adds to my experience, especially the mistakes. Strangely enough, I have never felt any compulsion to repeat or copy a successful project. The success only feeds the desire in me to create something I have not done before.
Do you have any destinations you would like to work in and what specifically appeals about them?
Kyoto for the meticulous perfection for which the Japanese are famous. Somewhere in the middle of Myanmar to catch the time before the ravages of modernity. An apartment or office in an old warehouse along the river in Shanghai. A residence project about space and volume only – with as little culture reference as possible!