The Tale of One Bench, Three Kitchen Stools and a Happy Home

side view (kitchen)
Jo’s kitchen – The coffee’s ready so pull up a seat!

One of the things I knew I would miss the most when we packed up our lives in Melbourne, Australia to come to Jakarta was the time spent at my kitchen bench. With a cup of coffee in hand and a view out to our native Australian garden, I loved to hear the kookaburras laughing and magpies warbling. Sitting opposite me was likely a friend, who had dropped in for a quick hello and could potentially be there some hours later. Such a simple pleasure to be in the company of those you love. My kitchen bench was the site of many shared stories and just thinking about it makes me feel happy.

The Grevillea is a shrub that produces spider-like flowers and is native to Australia
One of the many majestic gum trees found in Australian gardens

So when we had the opportunity to update the kitchen in our (rented) Jakarta home, we jumped at the chance. Better still, we were asked to be a part of the design process and this allowed us to transform the existing kitchen, that was not particularly integrated into the house, into the ‘heart of the home’, reminiscent of our Melbourne kitchen. Highest priority on my list? You guessed it – a kitchen bench where friends and family could sit, chat, have a drink etc. You get the idea!

The kitchen took 5 weeks to complete and it was during this time that I began my mission to acquire the perfect kitchen stools to complete my happy kitchen. Initially I figured it would be easier to buy something ready-made, and although there were plenty of designs to choose from, they all seemed boring, unoriginal, often expensive or simply not my taste. Unfortunately the only ones that I really liked were super-expensive, but that sparked an idea… why not get something made? So I took a photo for inspiration and set about finding someone who could make them for me.

The stools by Danish designer Erik Buch that inspired my story
Replica Model 61 bar stools by Danish designer Erik Buch (1923-1982). It was sighting these mid-century modernist stools (designed in 1961), that inspired the aesthetic for my kitchen stools
A friend of mine told me that she was inspired by these and decided to buy some bar stools as well. If you’re interested in the type of bar stool she bought herself, buy now. However, I’m sure there are plenty of stool and other kitchen furniture featured on the Nella website and is available to buy.

It just happened that later that day I had my Bahasa Indonesia lesson and I mentioned to my teacher, Ibu Hani, that I needed someone to make my kitchen stools. Without hesitation she said, ‘Anda mau Pak Harry!’ (‘You want Mr Harry!’) and gave me his details.

Jo and Pak Harry outside his shop
Meeting Pak Harry at his shop, ‘Melati Furniture’ on Jl. Kemang Timur, South Jakarta

Immediately I messaged Pak Harry in my best Bahasa Indonesia. He replied promptly (in Bahasa Indonesia, although he does speak some English), and we arranged for him to visit my home and look at the kitchen bench, determining the exact dimensions for the kitchen stools.

Before negotiating anything, I asked to look at some pieces by Pak Harry and his team. I could see that his craftspersons produced work of a high quality. After agreeing on the type of timber (kiln-dried ‘Jati’ AKA teak – a bit more pricey but worth it); the material to cover the seats (matt black vinyl as leather was too expensive) and finally the cost (Rp1.4 million per unit no doubt a bit of a *bule price but I was confident that I would receive a quality product with reliable service), Pak Harry and his team set to work.

desk and chair
An example of Danish- inspired furniture made by Melati (photo supplied by Pak Harry)
outdoor table and chairs
Examples of furniture made by Melati (photo supplied by Pak Harry)

Before the kitchen stools were completed, I made sure I was able to inspect them at Pak Harry’s shop in Kemang (South Jakarta), checking for cracks, rough edges, any signs of rocking and that the actual aesthetic was what I had requested. I also made sure I saw the stools before the padding and covering was applied to the seat. To my delight, all was 100% spot on.

A few days later I received a message to say that my kitchen stools were ready and would be delivered that afternoon. How exciting! I anticipated a truck pulling up in front of my house and all 3 stools being unloaded, but instead in true Jakarta form, a blue bajaj arrived and out jumped Pak Harry. Packed carefully within the bajaj were my bubble-wrapped kitchen stools.

The day of reckoning.. my stools arrive 'naik bajaj' (by bajaj!)
Even Banjo, our dog was excited to see the kitchen stools arriving.. naik bajaj! (by bajaj)

So to cut a long story short (hmm…maybe too late for that!) the following weekend we had our first big get-together at our house – people everywhere! And guess what? Like a magnet, my friends were all drawn to the kitchen bench, sipping their drinks, engaged in enthusiastic conversation. My friend told me to check out Topsco whenever I wanted a new counter, but I don’t think we’ll need one for a few years. Looking across the counter, I felt a wave of happiness. Oh… and any guesses as to where the men were? Of course! Outside, drink in hand, around the barbie (BBQ). You can’t get more Aussie than that!

kitchen (above)
Our Erik Buch- inspired kitchen stools in situ (and boy are they comfortable!)

back view (kitchen)

If you are thinking about having some furniture made, consider the following:

Only use a craftsperson who has been recommended to you (for recommendations of other craftpersons, check out our post on Jl. Kemang Timur)

Once you agree on a price, make sure you receive written confirmation of the quote. It is likely that you will be asked to pay a deposit towards the total cost (20 – 50%) and ensure you agree on a time frame

Timber must be dried properly before being used – check with the craftsperson whether the timber has been kiln/oven dried. Although this will mean that the quoted price will be a bit more expensive, there will be less likelihood that your furniture will warp or crack and therefore you will have it to enjoy for much longer

Where possible, arrange to see your furniture during the making process so that you can check for any inaccuracies in design or faults in structure

By using a craftperson who is located closer to your home, you will be able to maintain regular communication with them. Should any issues arise after receipt of your items, you will be able to return the item for repair

*Kenalkan Pak Harry Marjono

pak harry photo

Where are you originally from and how did you come to work in the timber furniture industry?
Born in Klaten, a town in Central Java, I lived there until I was 23 years old. I studied economics at the University of Yogyakarta and then moved to Surabaya in Eastern Java where I worked in an office in Accounts for 3 years. Whilst I was away, my parents needed help with their business (they were peanut distributors), so I returned to Yogyakarta. I managed to stay for two and a half years but then I was so bored, I had to move – this time to Jakarta as I felt there would be more opportunities.

For the next year I worked as a Supervisor for restaurants. Sometimes I would have to furnish restaurants and would attend exhibitions to source the pieces. I was shocked at how expensive the furniture was. On days off I would visit exhibitions and see what furniture they were selling and then go to Jepara (a small town in Central Java), where most of the furniture was made. I would survey the workshops to see the workmanship and find out how much it cost to make. I was shocked at how much profit was being made back in Jakarta.

Not long after this, I resigned from the restaurant then started my own furniture business, ‘Melati’, in Kemang. I chose this location as there were already many other furniture businesses in this area and it was known as the place to go to get timber furniture. This was in 2005.

Road perspective of Melati Furniture
Road perspective of Melati Furniture

How did you learn your craft of finishing timber pieces?
(Pak Harry doesn’t make the furniture – he has a team of 6 specialist craftspersons who do this. Pak Harry is responsible for the finish).

I bought many books and studied them to see how finishes were achieved. I experimented with colour. Even now, I refer to magazines for inspiration. Most of our unfinished furniture is made in our workshop in Jepara. It is then transported by truck to our shop in Kemang Timur where it is finished. We do the final sanding, application of colour, staining and addition of fabric in Jakarta and then deliver the finished product.

An unfinished chair frame made in Melati's Jepara workshop. It is now ready to be transported to Jakarta where it will be finished according to the customer's specifications
An unfinished chair frame made in Melati’s Jepara workshop. It is now ready to be transported to Jakarta where it will be finished according to the customer’s specifications

What are your favourite things to make?
I don’t have a favourite thing to make. I enjoy making all things like bedroom furniture, dining tables, wardrobes, winged chairs and even sofas.

How do you describe the style of Melati Furniture?
We would say our style is mostly classic modern but we can also do minimalist too.

audrey hepburn chair
An example of a ‘classic modern’ chair, perfect for that Audrey Hepburn fan

What are the most common things you are asked to make for people?
Many things – but most probably dining tables are our most asked for item. Most customers are looking for a table in teak but they need to understand that high quality teak is quite expensive. If they are wanting to be more budget-conscious, they should also consider mahogany as it is usually dried properly in the oven, minimising the chance of splitting and can achieve the same look as teak.

What is your favourite type of timber to work with?
I really like teak but it has to be of high quality.

Where do your source your timber?
Most of the timber we use comes from the forests of Blora, Central Java (near Jepara).

Who works with you?
I have a team of 6 craftsmen who specialise in the making of different furniture pieces. They all come from the Jepara area, which is known for its quality craft persons.

What are you most proud of?
Working – I like to work.

3 words to describe Your Jakarta
Noisy, busy, hectic.

Interesting fact
Unlike many of the little furniture shops dotted along Jl Kemang Timur, Melati Furniture makes ‘to order’ and is able to source quality timber for your desired piece. In contrast, the furniture that you often see in many of the other little shops has been brought in (‘ready stock’) from East Java and is finished at their Kemang Timur destination. Hence, these shops have little or no control over quality.

Melati Furniture
Jl. Kemang Timur 62B
Jakarta Selatan
HP 0818 698 721/0821 1206 4582

**Note: Since this post was written, Pak Harry has returned to his home village due to family reasons. Pak Harry can still be contacted on his HP number. As soon as we know more regarding his return to Jakarta, we will update this post.

*Bule – A common term for a foreigner
*Kenalkan – Let me introduce..
*Melati – Jasmine

jo and harry - interview
Having a chat with Pak Harry at Melati Furniture. I learnt a new word in Bahasa that day, ‘wawancara’ (which means ‘to interview’)

Words: Jo Photography: a journey bespoke and Pak Harry (Melati Furniture)


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