Heart Of Lightness
Tom Beer -- Interior Design, 10/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Visitors to the John Hardy jewelry showroom in the village of Mambal, Bali, are advised not to wear high heels. And for good reason. The building, designed by architect Cheong Yew Kuan, with an interior by John Hardy special-projects designer Aldo Landwehr, sits in the middle of a rice paddy. A bamboo walkway provides the only access.
Hardy is an unorthodox visionary who left Canada for Indonesia in 1975 and never looked back. His organic precious and semiprecious jewelry—luxurious enough to be carried by Neiman Marcus—is handcrafted at an environmentally sustainable workshop. For his showroom, called Kapal Bambu, the jeweler and Cheong looked to sustainable natural materials, especially bamboo, which is plentiful and widely used in Bali.
"Bamboo is long, it's slender, and it has a characteristic curve," Cheong says. "We maximized the shape of the bamboo, not just its structural qualities." The resulting silhouette—likened to the soaring prow of a ship by many observers—was also inspired by a concrete clamshell structure that the architect had played on in the coastal Malaysian town where he lived as a child.
Thatched with alang-alang grass, the two walls of the 470-square-foot building ascend 42 feet but do not meet at the top; an opening draped with translucent cotton forms a skylight running along the spine. Nor do the walls extend all the way to the ground; they're supported by tree stumps. With rice plants plainly visible through the opening, the showroom seems even more like a kind of natural shelter.
Flooring on much of the ground level is bamboo poles lashed together with sugar-palm twine. The 86-foot poles were so long that they had to be transported to the site at night, when the roads were empty.
Still more massive, three sculptural pieces of wood are actually the roots of a dungun tree from Borneo, burned and left to rot after loggers had worked a forest. Hardy shipped the roots to the showroom, where one serves as seating, another as a jewelry display.
A third is suspended from the ceiling above a table where customers examine necklaces, earrings, and cuffs. "We were moving the root across the room, when I said, 'Stop!' because it looked kind of wild right there," Cheong explains. "Arching over the table, it creates this little cocoon."
Like the building, the furniture is all-natural. Landwehr fashioned small round tables from suar, a tropical hardwood. He used merbau for the long, low table where John and Cynthia Hardy host candlelit dinners for special guests—seated on orange floor cushions. Hanging pod chairs are laminated bamboo, their interiors also upholstered in orange, a ubiquitous color in Bali.
A pedestal table and drum stools are—believe it or not—solid cast beeswax. "The beeswax has an amazing texture and smell, somehow soothing and nostalgic," Landwehr says. The aroma absolutely fills the underground offices, thanks to additional cast furniture and a beeswax finish on the mud walls.
"John's mind is so unfettered. He messes around with things, and he wants you to play, too," Cheong says. "It's always an interesting journey." For John Hardy jewelry customers, the journey through Kapal Bambu is every bit as memorable.