an HONEST MATERIAL
“Rattan furniture has always been considered cheap and of low quality, but that’s not always true,” declares Abie Abdillah, founder and Principal Designer of Studio Hiji. “It concerns me that even though we have the craftsmanship in Indonesia to make beautiful pieces with it, rattan does not receive the acknowledgement it deserves.”
Abdillah, aged 31, has made it his life mission to support a traditional Indonesian industry by using rattan to create edgy contemporary furniture. “Rattan is an honest material,” he declares. “It takes any desired shape. There are just so many things you can do with it. It’s also highly sustainable. It grows faster than other trees.”
It was while studying Industrial Design at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) that Abdillah discovered his interest in furniture – and rattan. “I discovered that Indonesia provides roughly 80 percent of the world’s rattan supply,” he recalls. At the same time, he noticed a lack of high-quality furniture made of rattan that went
back for decades. In spite of its neglect, he saw rattan’s possibilities as an opportunity to use his design skills to “tell stories about Indonesia”.
After graduating in 2009, Abdillah worked for furniture manufacturer Chamdani for a year and a half. Next, he joined Zylia Design Studio, where he worked for Joshua Simandjuntak, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London who works with carvers from Jepara in Central Java to preserve century-old techniques. Abdillah established Studio Hiji in 2014. He partners with Singapore’s For The Common Goods, whose “desire is to bring furniture that is thoughtfully designed and sustainably produced closer to the common folk, enabling a better appreciation of good product design and craftsmanship”.
Before opening his own studio, Abdillah had already garnered attention in the design community. His Pretzel Chair was given an honourable mention at the Singapore Furniture Design Awards in 2011 and was named “Most Inspiring Furniture Design” in the Annual Design Awards of Skala+ magazine. “This was a stepping stone for me. It made me believe I was on the right track,” says the designer.
Abdillah’s rattan designs continued to gain international recognition, which gave Studio Hiji a huge exposure at the design scene. Another of his designs, the Lukis Chair, was selected by Cappellini, a top Italian brand, as part of its furniture collection for 2016. This has put the designer in good company. Cappellini’s worldclass talents include Alessandro Mendini, Piero Lissoni and Tom Dixon.
“Lukis armchair signed by Indonesian Abie Abdillah is an encounter between the centuries-old tradition of rattan processing and contemporary design,” says Cappellini on its website. “A new perspective on the handicraft culture from Southeast Asia that is showing signs of a renewed environmental awareness. As a matter of fact, rattan can be harvested in a sustainable manner due to its rapid growth, all its parts can be utilised and the steam-bending process makes production environmentally friendly.”
Says Abdillah of his collaboration with Cappellini: “This is one of the most important achievements of my career. Indonesian rattan is now regarded as a world-class material.” His Doeloe Lounge Chair, meanwhile, was selected for La Triennale di Milano. Abdillah was the only Southeast Asian designer to be featured at the exhibition.
This year, Abdillah was invited for the second time to showcase some of his work at Salone del Mobile Milano, as part of the Indonesian Pavilion. “We showcased three pieces for different brands,” says the designer. “It was interesting because even though the team and I worked with three different materials and styles, we were still able to achieve the desired quality. The successful designs were the Loop Lounge Chair from Studio Hiji’s own collection; the Benoa Chair, created in collaboration with Karsa; and the Cielo Arm Chair, designed in partnership with Vivere.
Going forward, Abdillah is confident that rattan will become much more than one of Indonesia’s hidden treasures. “We aim to bring a positive impact to the industry and the workers, and to preserve rattan for the revitalisation of the country’s forests,” says the designer. “In addition, we hope to involve ourselves in rattan plantations as well. It’s all baby steps at this stage, but we are optimistic about the path we are on.”
“Rattan is an honest material. It takes any desired shape. There’s just so many things you could do with it”
clockwise from above: LOOP LOUNGE CHAIR; ABIE ABDILLAH; DANO TRIPOD STOOL