When he first heard that he would receive the Outstanding Contribution Award at the 2015 inaugural Asia Hotel Design Awards in Singapore in March, Jaya Pratomo Ibrahim had said: “Why me?”
Such was the Indonesian designer’s humility, despite being listed by Architectural Digest as one of the “100 best designers in the world” and referred to as “Indonesian Design Guru” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
Jaya, 67, died suddenly on May 5 after suffering from internal bleeding in the brain following a fall from the second floor of his home in Cipayung, east Jakarta.
With projects spread worldwide, Jaya was renowned for stamping each of his projects with his unmistakable trademark: timeless designs that emphasised the local cultural and geographical context.
I had the chance to meet the soft-spoken designer at the aforementioned awards ceremony. I’d been told by people in the industry that Jaya preferred to keep a low profile; after the event, many people came up to congratulate Jaya and take pictures with him, and the man was indeed obviously uncomfortable with all the attention, though he graciously allowed photos to be taken.
Born in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Jaya was the son of a Sumatran diplomat and a Javanese princess. His childhood was spent travelling with his parents and living in the Yogyakarta house of his maternal grandmother, absorbing the Javanese culture.
He lived and studied in places like Singapore and London. Armed with a degree in economics and sociology from York University in Britain, he spent a short stint as an accountant in London before deciding to pursue what he was really interested in: design.
Through a friend, Jaya got a job at Blakes, a luxury London boutique hotel designed by actress-turned-designer Anouska Hempel, starting by washing dishes in the kitchen.
After immersing himself in the design and architecture industry under Hempel and her colleagues for 10 years, Jaya saw an opportunity to branch out on his own.
At that time, in the early 1990s, Bali was being developed as a tourist destination but most hotels there were being designed by foreigners. Jaya felt strongly that, being Indonesian, he should be contributing to the design world back home.
He returned to Indonesia and established a design studio and with one of his first projects, The Legian Bali resort, created waves that gained him his first foothold on the path to international recognition and success.
In 2005, Jaya met businessman Bruce Goldstein with whom he founded, in 2010, Jaya International Design (JID), an international boutique interior design and architecture consultancy.
Headquartered in Singapore, JID has offices in major cities such as New York, Jakarta, Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur.
Hotel and resort projects Jaya and his studio were involved in include The Patina, Capitol, and the Capella in Singapore; the Dharmawangsa in Jakarta; the Nam Hai in Hoi An, Vietnam; the Amanfayun in Hangzhou, China; the Aman at the Summer Palace in Beijing, China; and the Setai in South Beach Miami, United States.
In Malaysia, The Datai Langkawi, Carcosa Seri Negara Kuala Lumpur, and The Club at the Saujana hotel all bear his signature designs.
Even while accumulating award-winning projects, Jaya was always steadfast about his one guiding principle: to find the beauty in each project – rather than a definitive expression of a period or style – by putting emphasis on, and drawing inspiration from, the cultural and ecological context of each project.
In 2013, the Jaya Classics Furniture Collection was launched in October. In the pipeline were plans to launch a Jaya-branded boutique hotel, branded residences, destination spas, and various bespoke luxury lifestyle goods.
The world of design bids adieu to a gentle, modest and iconic designer. May he rest in peace.
A memorial service will be held for Jaya Pratomo Ibrahim in Singapore on May 13, at 10.30am, at The Capella Singapore, Sentosa Island. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to non-profit organisation WholeTree Foundation, JAYA IBRAHIM, c/o Capella Singapore, No. 1, The Knolls, #J817, Sentosa, Singapore 098297 (Attn: Rivka Goldstein).