After two decades as one of Asia's most celebrated interior designers, Anouska Hempel's former protégé Jaya Ibrahim is ready to unveil his first collection of furniture, named Jaya Classics.
But first, there is the matter of repositioning every single display piece in his new timber-lined show space at Space Asia Hub. “I like spontaneity. But my guys sometimes get exasperated with me,” he says, eyes sweeping across the room, satisfied that “more depth” has been created by moving an Asri dining table to the back and his platform Smara bed to the front. Fresh-cut orchids, in an array of dazzling hues, now also perfume the room.
Able to lean back comfortably in one of his Shiatzy dining chairs (so named because it's based on his early furniture for the boutiques of Taiwanese couturier Shiatzy Chen) for the moment, he explains: “It is this last-minute energy, this last 20 percent of the endeavour that gives warmth to a space.”
It is also this same zealous attention to detail that made us all fall in love with The Legian Bali, Aman at Summer Palace Beijing Hotel, The Chedi Muscat and Capella Singapore — all high-profile luxury resorts decorated by the UK-educated Javanese-Indonesian.
Of the initial 36-piece-strong Jaya Classics furniture collection, he says: “Before we started this venture, I sat down and looked backed on what we had achieved and how that can be translated for today. So you'll see that a number of the pieces are quite similar to the ones we previously did for our hotel projects.
“But because these are now for individuals, I'm able to infuse more character into each piece of furniture, whereas normally for hotel projects, I exercise more restraint to appeal to varying tastes.”
Emblematic of his signature pedigreed aesthetic, each item from the Jaya Classics collection has a limited run of just 36 pieces. Like the Asri dining table, most feature makassar ebony or sonokeling — two rare hardwoods from his native Indonesia. (Sonokeling is traditionally used by Javanese nobility in the elaborate hilts of their keris, or ceremonial weapons, while makassar ebony, which costs five times more than teak, was the wood of choice for art deco period designers.) In addition to sofas, tables and cabinets, the range also includes obelisks in samarinda wood, bronze and copper lamps, as well as hand-dyed silk and wool rugs.
For the first time, not only can the house proudly purchase an Ibrahim-design, the collection also marks the start of Ibrahim's and business partner Bruce Goldstein's larger 10-year plan to grow the Jaya name into a luxury brand that includes Jaya hotels, destination spas, residences and lifestyle products.
“It is taking what we have learned over the past 20 years designing for Aman, GHM, Park Hyatt, Capella and others, and translating that design sensibility into luxury products and venues with international appeal,” elaborates Goldstein when he slips in to join us. Co-founder and principal of Jaya International Design, Goldstein was formerly a successful Florida-based real estate developer. It was he who pursued a meeting with Ibrahim — which ultimately led to today's partnership — after being impressed by the designer's work at The Setai Hotel in Miami in 2004, which he describes as “the first time somebody really brought Asia to the US in an authentic, honest way down to its core DNA”.
Son of a Javanese princess and diplomat-banker father, Ibrahim was always destined to be an interior designer, except the profession wasn't one that his parents had desired for him. “As a child, I loved arranging [furniture]. I loved everything neat and tidy, and would iron my sheets myself, right up to today, so I really wanted to go into design, but my parents said no. They said: ‘Be a doctor',” he recalls.
Ibrahim, instead, majored in Economics and Sociology at university and, for a short while, became an accountant. “Which didn't suit me at all,” he says. Thinking he'd take a break, he worked in the kitchen of London's Blakes Hotel, where he was discovered by its influential hotelier-cum-interior designer owner Anouska Hempel (Lady Weinberg). As her assistant in the 1980s, it was his job to translate her ideas into reality.
“Anouska is self-taught — from experience and from having common sense. And that's the same with me. I admired her lateral thinking, which back then I didn't realise was the way I functioned as well. [Working on ideas] we'd go forward, then we'd look sideways, make a change on a tangent and take a different direction,” he says fondly.
London's economic woes, coupled with his father's death, convinced Ibrahim to return Indonesia in the property boom of the early 1990s. “Asia was becoming the must-visit destination for Europeans and Americans, and hotels had to show that they could accommodate Western tastes while still being Asian. Funnily enough, the first run of designers was European designers who tried to be Asian. I was probably one of the rare Asians who did hotels here in Asia on an international level,” shares Ibrahim.
Two decades later and now with his own Jaya-branded furniture displayed among the biggest names in Italian and Scandinavian designs, one can't help but observe that Ibrahim is still a rare find.
The Jaya Classics collection is exclusively available at Space Asia Hub, 77 Bencoolen Street.