Indonesian furniture reflects the rich history of the archipelago. Trade brought people and ideas from China, India, Portugal, Holland and Islam to the islands. These cultures influenced the indigenous styles. Village furniture is simple: decorated household storage chests, stools and low work tables.
The wealthy elites, both local and expatriate, created a market for more elaborate furniture suited to the damp heat of the tropics. Similar cultural influences, colonial European, Chinese and Islamic, combined in the New World in Spanish Colonial furniture. Some of the painted chests and cupboards from East Java and Madura strongly resemble the chests and trasteros from Spanish Mexico and New Mexico.
Craftsmanship ranges from simple farmer's stools carved from a single piece of wood, to finely finished, marble-topped cupboards produced by master cabinetmakers. Workshops associated with the royal courts and the major trading cities of the Dutch East India Company on Java produced furniture that combined curvilinear Javanese tastes with the simplicity of eighteenth century European classicism as well as Chinese and Indian influences. This hybrid style may have in turn influenced nineteenth century European Art Nouveau.
The furniture includes marble top tables, elegant chairs with woven rattan seats, carved benches for the waiting rooms outside business and government offices, massive desks, smaller, inlaid writing desks, elaborately carved and painted ceremonial wedding beds with secret compartments for valuables.
From family workshops in the smaller towns and villages of East Java and Madura Island come small chests (peti kecils), cupboards (lemaris) and large storage chests (gereboks) on wheels that make them easy to move. These pieces are for people who love to live with the bold colors of village art and the creative charm of small imperfections.
Woods are local tropical hardwoods. Joints are dovetailed. All the detail carving is done by hand. Colors are bright blues, greens, reds and yellows with white for accent. Islam discourages the use of human and animal form. This has encouraged the creation of bold, interlocking floral and geometric designs. Sometimes a pair of traditional lucky Indonesian dragons, roosters or small figures will be included, especially on the peaked tops of the Madura dowry chests (jodangs).
It is rare now to find older examples of the more popular types of furniture in Indonesia itself. The workshops are hand-crafting reproductions based on traditional styles. All these newer pieces are still made by hand with the customary Indonesian attention to decorative detail.
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