Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Obin's House: Keeping true to tradition

Maria Endah Hulupi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Situated in the shady Teluk Betung area of Central Jakarta, cloth designer Josephine W. Komara's boutique and house, the Bin House, is a reflection of the typical Menteng houses of the 1930s.

The cars of clients and guests are neatly parked in front of the gate. The front garden is filled with leafy plants that shade the terrace and also provide a natural barrier from prying eyes looking in from the street.

Guests enter the house through a glass door that is embellished with several long garlands of dried jasmine. Inside there are beautiful pieces of cloth and garments, created by the designer, who is popularly known as Obin.

"I didn't design this house. It wasn't designed, it just gradually became the way it is now," said Obin while looking around her artistic boutique.

When her family and staff moved into the house in November 1993, they decided to preserve the old structure.

"We wanted to preserve everything in it, and we tried to bring back the original elements of the house," her assistant, Budi Suryadi, explained.

For this purpose, a renovation project was undertaken, which included removing the modern ceramic tiles to reveal the house's old terra-cotta tiles.

"When we moved in here, Obin didn't like the tiles. We told the workers to dig up the floor, which exposed the house's old tiles. We found them more interesting and we decided to use them," Budi said.

He said it was a time-consuming project that required the careful removal of the ceramic tiles one by one so as not to damage the old tiles lying beneath them.

"It was worth the effort and it was also in harmony with our initial plan, which was to preserve a typical Menteng house of the 1930s," he added.

Some other renovations were made, including knocking down walls to join adjacent rooms, creating a spacious and more open display room, stretching to the middle part of the house, which used to be a guestroom, a living room and a bedroom.

The public area goes back to the fitting room, which is connected to the back part of the house -- consisting of a kitchen, dinning room and store room -- through a door.

A modern touch was added to the house by renovating the old high ceiling, which also allowed in more light to highlight the cloth being sold.

Obin furnished her display room with her collection of old wooden furniture. Among the pieces are a traditional bale-bale (divan), several round tables made from rare Ambon sutra wood, carved chests and a table and chairs in the peranakan (mixed Chinese-Malay) style.

There large mirrors create a more spacious effect and, of course, enable guests to get a look at themselves in the garments they try on.

Obin's wide range of cloths, which include wall hangings and sofa covers, are also used as aesthetic accents on the walls, as well as for the interior in general.

She has also decorated her house with interesting plants, including the zingiber zerumbet and tapeinochilos ananassae. Also displayed are dried paddy, as a symbol of prosperity, along with her nature-inspired, leaf-shaped wooden containers.

There are several bowls filled with scented flowers like sedap malam, rose petals, jasmine and kenanga, put in different locations in the display room. Their fragrance fills the air and further enhances the atmosphere.

For Obin, beautiful flower arrangements are not only there to add decorative touches to her display room.

"I love to feel this leaf," she said, caressing the upper part of a large and thick leaf that has a velvety texture. "But don't ask me the name of the plant."

She went to another round table and rubbed the tip of a fennel branch in a large vase.

"Give me your hand and put this in your mouth," she said as she did the same. The aromatic fennel seed released a sweet and minty flavor. "It helps soothe a sore throat."

"I like to eat them (fennel seeds) even when I'm talking with friends. I guess they don't understand why I eat my own ornaments. But that's OK, I like it even when it means ruining the arrangement," she laughs.

And she took a branch from an ornamental plant in a nearby arrangement and gave it to a client leaving the boutique. Maybe this was just Obin's way of saying, "See you again".