Stuart Membery, former Sydney fashion designer turned furniture designer, has a distictive style much influenced and inspired by the decorating skills of Neville, his athletic, golf-loving mother. Membery is known for his furniture and home furnishings with their recurring themes of colonial sugar plantations and industrial nautical.
“We always had beach houses and mum was a bit of a decorator. I remember we had things like this in our house in the 50s and 60s,” Membery says pointing to small, wooden elephants, during a tour of his showroom, one of the two white cottages within the compound. ”If you look around it’s all quite strong and sporty looking. There’s nothing dainty. She didn’t have anything frivolous in the house, everything was over-scaled and quite masculine.” Membery and I chatted over Italian coffee sitting at one of his designs, an outdoor table, in his beautiful garden, filled with tropical and imported plants, including a mass of gardenia bushes.
When he left Sydney (just before the Bali bombings 10 years ago), he did not foresee running a furniture and architectural design business, Stuart Membery Furniture and Home Collection, from Bali. Multi-talented, the former NIDA acting student had had a sell-out exhibition of his paintings and had planned to retire and paint. But in helping out a friend in Jogjakarta with his craft export business, Membery was drawn back to design and more specifically, architectural designs of houses and hotels, first in Bali and then internationally.
While Bali has changed enormously in the decade he has been here (“they’re digging it up and laying more cement”), the place was on the cusp of sophistication when he arrived. “People were telling me stories of how they had to bring their own toilet rolls and suddenly I arrive and there was a Harrods Food Hall… cut throat real estate, white collars and cuffs and cufflinks. All the ‘drawstring pants with no undies’ brigade fled back up to Ubud and left us with a Paddington crowd down here in Seminyak.”
There is not much in the way of tracditional Indonesian furniture and design, so when people say to me they want a traditional Balinese house with a grass roof I say, ‘Mate, that only started in the 70’s’. Out of that came a need for the furniture,” he explains, pointing out that the outdoor table, like much of his furniture, was made from rattan in one of his Javanese factories. The use of local rattan and mahogany is also practical. Indonesia’s huge import taxes make it uneconomical to source materials and fabrics from elsewhere.
Membery says he loves that you can jump in a car and be in the countryside, experiencing a totally new “personality” in a short time. While he has a large expat circle of friends and is now a member of the families of his Balinese employees, he’s not into parties or clubbing, preferring to entertain at home. “There’s My Bali and I think everyone’s got their own Bali here. There’s the Oberoi Hotel with all its grass roofs, but that was the first domestic residence ever with a grass roof on it.
“My fascination with blue is because it’s the most readily available colour in Indonesia because of the Chinese connection with Surabaya, the trading routes and Chinese ceramics. Indigo is a natural dye. It’s the only colour around naturally, apart from brown, and I don’t do brown.” Describing what he does as not really “feeling like work”, Membery designs and sells, through international distributors and his website, everything from cutlery to cushions and a new range of upholstered sofas.
Check out more of Stuarts Latest Designs: