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Indonesian Furniture: Woods and furniture crafts from Indonesia

Indonesia enjoys an established heritage in the manufacture of wooden furniture.

The tropical rainforests of Indonesia are an abundant source of material for the furniture industry and provide both Teak and Mahogany -
the principal woods used in the production of Indonesian furniture and .two of the most desired woods for the construction of high end furniture.

Teak can found most plentifully on the island of Java with the best teak found in central Java. Quality teak is also grown on some of lesser known islands to the east and also Sulawesi. Sumatra has had limited success in producing teak due to lack of the soil characterstics that teak needs to thrive but there are successful pockets of teak growth in south Sumatra.

Mahogany is available throughout Indonesia and with its characteristic red sheen is particularly popular with furniture exporters due to its greater availability and lesser price than teak. Exports of mahogany furniture to the USA have surged in recent years.

Furniture designs

Virtually all indonesian furniture is antique reproduction which you will find in both local and international markets. Many Indonesian websites have downloadable catalogs of their ranges and styles which can include names such as Classic, Colonial, Reclaimed teak, Balinese, French reproduction, Palace and Antique but the more modern trend is to divide ranges into categories such as Indoor Furniture and Outdoor furniture or to categorize furniture by room - Living Room furniture, Dining room furniture etc. and to include mixed design furniture within these categories without using the terms Classic, Colonial etc. Carving styles can also be described in various ways such as Javanese (where the majority of furniture is manufactured) or Balinese (which is often Javanese furniture with Bainese additions). To make it all more confusing some manufacturers give their own names (Cambridge, Oxord, Essex for example) to their selections presumably in an attempt to build brand recognition.

Solid Teak Bed with rattan canopyContemporary style furniture with an Indonesian style is also available

Indonesian Classic Table designExample of Colonial design

Balinesr carved benchExample of Balinese carving

Palace furniture example

Example of palace furniture


Whatever the final quality of the furniture piece the initial stages of manufacture are the the same whether for high end or low end furniture. Logs are taked from the felled trees and sent to a sawmill where they are cut into planks. Plank size will vary depending on the age/diameter of the tree and wider planks will be more expensive since they will come from older trees. After cutting, planks should then be dried in an industrial oven to eliminate excess moisture before being released for furniture manufacture. At this point the high end and low end manufacturing process diverges. Grade 'A' teak, taken from the heart of the tree, will serve the high end market while Grage 'B' taken from the rest of tree will serve the lower end market.

High end

Example of furniture carving styleKiln drying is an essential process to reduce the moisture content of the wood to a level suitable for non-tropical climates to avoid shrinkage and warpage. Some manufacturers prefer to kiln dry before the actual furniture making process starts, others after the furniture pieces have been made. For pieces where there is extensive carving the former method is preferred.

After manufacture, each piece must be examined and checked under quality control procedures, absolutely essential for exports since importers are focused on detail knowing that even small defects will result in these pieces either being rejected by customers at the retail point or having to be heavily discounted.

Lower end

Probably the biggest difference in the manufacturing process is the way the wood is dried. At the lower end the wood is left to dry in the sun instead of a kiln oven. Gas or electric kiln ovens are expensive not only to buy but also to run and the sun is free so costs can be significally reduced and the resultant furniture sold at a lower price.

Carving techniques are often simpler in form and design requiring less skilled craftsmen. A highly skilled and experienced carver can earn an excellent salary in Indonesia.

Manufacturing centers of excellence

Jepara is probably the largest furniture manufacturing area in Indonesia situated in the province of Central Java and home to hundreds of manufacturers. Jepara style furniture is instantly recognizable and can be seen in television settings and the homes of middle and upper class Indonesians. It especially features intricate carving and is the main center for furniture export through the port of Semarang.

Yogyakarta, situated in the center of Java, was once known primarily for its handicraft industries in wood, stone, glass, coconut and many other natural materials. It has evolved since then into a furniture producing center in its own right with modern designs

Jakarta, as the capital city, has little in furniture manufacturing capability but hosts some head offices of manufactuers from other areas. Its main contribuation to the furniture industry is probably as organizer and host of many trade exhibitions in its modern halls.

Bali, known principally as a holiday destination, has also evolved as a furniture producing center although not quite in the same way as Jepara or Yogyakarta. Much, if not most, of the furniture sold as Balinese in fact originates from Jepara and is exported to Bali as half or unfinshed pieces which are then enhanced to a Balinese style with the addition of carvings or ornamental finishes to suit the tastes of the many foreign visitors to the island. There are, however, real centers of true Balinese furniture excellence to be found in Ubud,Tegalalang and Sebatu.

International markets

external door carvingToday's designs reflect the unique development of traditional cultures, the influences imported by foreign traders and visitors and the requirements of international markets which require creative product designs, using materials from licensed and certified sustainable resources and product quality that endures.

The international markets also demand cheap mass produced furniture that was once the undisputed domain of Indonesia, particularly in garden furniture. Increasingly, China has made huge inroads into this market with its cheaper labor force, massive and efficient factories and industrial machinery.

Whilst there are still plenty of Indonesian businesses competing in this market, overall production focus has changed to a higher end market requiring classical designs often incorporating hand carving for which Indonesia is rightly famous. In international furniture exhibitions you won't see cheap mass produced furniture from Indonsia. Instead you will find furniture with unique creative designs to satisfy increasingly discerning customers.

Indonesia has all these essentials to produce the highest quality furniture from its forested Teak and Mahogany.


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