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Old Wood Inspires New Designs

“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing beautifully.”
—words of a Balinese carver as told to Made Wijaya, author of Architecture of Bali (2002).

Reclaimed teak furniture is constructed of wood salvaged from the demolition of old homes, railroads, docks, boats, cattle markets and furniture in Indonesia. Craftsmen in Indonesia then strip and clean the wood and fashion it into contemporary shapes for the Western consumer. “Most of our pieces come from the joglo, or family home. The whole house is built out of wood—columns, support beams. They’re up on stilts, because they’re in paddy fields, and the wood rots out beneath them.”

The teak furniture pieces at Arawak Interiors do not attempt to reproduce Balinese designs. “They build for the Western world at our specifications,” Roy Keegan says about the carvers and craftsmen he works with in Indonesia. Arawak Interiors mainly sells two types of reclaimed teak furniture—carved and uncarved.

The uncarved pieces have crisp and contemporary lines that showcase the history of the wood from which they’re made. They’re more subtle than the highly carved pieces, and their beauty lies in the discovery of the story behind each plank of teak. A dining table features a limewash finish that highlights the wood’s grain and gives the piece a rustic look that fits perfectly with Caribbean interiors. Unlike the young, immature teak wood that caused controversy in the nineties, the reclaimed teak comes from old houses and old trees. Some of the structures from which the wood was obtained are hundreds of years old. The wood is solid, thick and sturdy, beautiful and full of character from its age, and, since it’s teak, it’s naturally weather-resistant. Additionally, no living trees die for the manufacture of the furniture.

 

The carved, Balinese-inspired pieces display the beauty of the reclaimed wood along with the talent of Balinese carvers past and present. Roy tells me that his process in Bali usually involves finding a highly carved panel that he likes—perhaps from the back of an otherwise dilapidated bench or mantelpiece—then uses that panel as inspiration for the rest of the piece. “The carved panels are usually original, and if they are damaged, they usually carve a new panel in the same old traditional way from an old piece of wood, so it is very hard to distinguish which is original and which is new. Every supplier has a hidden treasure area at the back of each work shop where I usually find these pieces.”

He points to a dresser in his shop. “For a wedding, the village would get together and carve a large ceremonial marriage bed for the couple,” Roy says. “This leg was from one of those marriage beds,” he indicates the right leg of the dresser. “Then they make the other leg to match using the old teak and carve it in the old tradition.” I can’t tell the difference between the new leg and the old one—both are beautifully carved and minor imperfections in the old wood show its age.

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“Each village or area would have a set carving motif, and that carving would be passed down for generations. In the twelve years I’ve been going there, I recognize carvings, and I recognize each village that they come from.” Bali Style (1995) by Rio Helmi and Barbara Walker confirms Roy’s observations: “Motifs are specific in combinations of vines, flowers and symbols; however, there are always variations from one district to another or according to the whim of the artist.” Motifs in the Arawak showroom are mostly sunny-side-up flowers and scrolling vines.

Roy leaves for Bali this week, to find more treasures and to synthesize the vision of ancient Balinese carvers with his own vision and the vision of his clients.  

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