Sharp-witted and business-savvy, Made Wijaya intends to establish a chain of Conran-style “Tropical Shops” across the region.
When it comes to designing and building THE dream house in Malaysia, owners and developers usually pay scant attention to the crowning glory of a well-designed property – the garden. And if the façade of a property tells on the wealth and taste of the owner, then the garden – or the lack of one – surely eflects on his intellect.
In previous centuries, formal gardens in England, France, China and Japan not only showed the wealth and power of the elite class but also the intellectual capacity to appreciate the beauty of nature. A trait that no amount of money can help nurture if one doesn’t have it. On the other hand, property owners who have always dreamed of creating the perfect garden or retreat can now turn to international landscape designers, whose works can literally take your breath away, among other things. But don’t expect to pay a paltry sum even if a garden is basically turd, grass, shrubs, trees, rocks and perhaps, flowering plants “artfully” placed together that somehow look natural.
And to help the rich and famous in Southeast Asia and beyond, achieve memorable and enjoyable gardens is celebrated landscape designer and author Made Wijaya. Originally from Sydney, Australia – and now based in Bali for the past 20 years – Made, who is also known as Michael White, has made a name for himself in popularizing the concept of the tropical garden, specifically, the Balinese model.
Nowadays, Made (pronounced “Ma-day”) hardly has time to sit still in his famous Villa Bebek headquarters in Sanur. With a reputation that precedes him everywhere he goes – especially where the elite trods – Made has been commissioned by toptier property owners, especially in tropical locales to replicate the same kind of design magic that he is known for. Since 1978, Made and his associate have undertaken numerous design projects which either include landscaping, architectural or interior works for resorts, diplomats’ residences and private homes spanning.
Bali, Jakarta, Java, Singapore, Mustique, Perth, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Hawaii and lately, Kuala Lumpur. His design projects in Bali itself include such luxurious hotels and resorts as the Bali Hyatt, The Oberoi, Saba Bay Resort, Amandari Hotel Ubud, Four Seasons Resort Jimbaran, and, of course, his own Taman Bebek Villas.
When asked whether it would be fitting to call him “gardener to the rich and famous”, Made cringed at the sound of the label, although his work portfolio does include David Bowie’s house in Mustique in the West Indies. Although his book lists a certain “Mahathir House” in KL, it doesn’t refer to the Malaysian Prime Minister, but to one of his sons.
Characteristically, Made quips that all he does, really, is to bring a “machete” to the jungle to crave out a garden in the tropical jungle. At time self-deprecating and at other instances, fiercely proud of his achievements, Made comes across as a figure that is larger than life. He speaks with alarming frankness and hardly minces his words. Formerly a writer with the Sunday Bali Post from 1972-1981, Made still writes and is in fact the managing editor-cum-writer of The Poleng, a quixotic guite to Bali. He is also a contributing writer to Hello Bali, a free magazine for visitors to that fable island. With a keen eye for details, textures and faces, Made snaps many of his own photographs that provide as much information as his wickedly witty remards. He credits his writing influences to names like Evelyn Waugh, Miguel Covarrubius (author of Island of Bali, 1937), Robert Hughes the Australian art critic for Time magazine and Auberon Waugh, diary columnist for the London Private Eye. Also, in his own words: “Barry Humphries’ Treasury of Australia Kitsch and an essay, Gems of Modern Belgian Architecture by E.M. Forster were also graven images on my altar of literary gods.”
In the forward to Made’s book Stranger in Paradise – The diary of an expatriate in Bali 1979-80 (Wijaya words, 1995) – a compilation of Sunday Bali Post articles largely documenting the cultural life of Bali – Scott Roberts, a friend and long-time resident in Bali, described the author as thus: “Having known Made since before he first came to Bali, I have watched with great interest the changes to man and place. It has changed him, and in return he has paid it the highest compliment. In the superlative landscaping work he has done over the past decade he has changed it too –but in his own image. Here is one stranger who came to paradise, loved it, and made it better.”
Well, when “The Stranger” set foot in Kuala Lumpur recently and made a stop-over in Petaling Jaya, his largely unheralded presence at a book signing session at a shop still attracted a fair number of Press people. Barely tolerating hackneyed questions of media representative, the jet-lagged author was still as sharp as a razor. He confessed to having done “hundreds of interviews.” In between interviews and autographing copies of his enormously influential book Tropical Garden Design (Archipelago Press & Wijaya Words, 1999) for admirers, Made posed for photographs amidst garden lamps and accessories marketed by his company, Wijaya Classics. With his headquarters in Bali and with an office in Singapore, Made maintains a team of some “400 people” to run his landscape and spin-off businesses.
He voluneteered a little information on his background, saying that he studied architecture at Sydney University in Australia and was into his third year when he went on a fateful trip to a hippy festival in Nimbin in New South Wales. In 1973, cugh up in the Hippy euphoria, Made proceeded to Bali where he “jumped ship and swum ashore in the rainstorm.”
Tired of retelling his background, which he stressed, can be found in his books and company web sites, he veered off onto different topics. Apparently, he is currently making greater in-roads into the Malaysian landscape, figuratively and literally. Already having completed over “100 projects” in Singapore since 1988, Made declared that he would be focusing more attention on Malaysia.
The Wijaya Classics range of garden accessories include carved Balinese soapstone panels and the pedestal fountain
Made added that it was only natural for him to take a renewed interest in Malaysia as he has been “skirting around” the peninsula’s periphery for the past 20 years. “Until recently, nobody took any real notice of my work until Dr Tan Loke Mun showed interest in marketing my lamps and garden accessories under the Wijaya Clasics range.” The “Dr Tan” referred to is his Malaysian business partner, who is an architect, and who operates an architectural and landscape design firm in Subang Jaya, as well as the TeakTree shop in Petaling Jaya, selling Indonesian Teak furniture and Garden accessories.
However, Made was quick to distance himself from the kind of crude colonial-style Javanese furniture that is being imported from Indonesia and being sold everywhere in the Klang Valley. He said: “Bali Style is getting a bad name due to too much of this sort of furniture coming out of Indonesia.” And in an article entitle Bali Style goes Ballistic for The Poleng (Edition No.8, May 2001), Made wrote:… Bali Style is getting a bad name, like Japanese gardens in the 60’s (which ended up under the stairs in bank foyers). For many people a “Bali style” tropical garden means a mallscape i.e. two Cocus palms, a Bali lamp, and three veg.
As a landscape designer, Made is also wary of what he called the Tamansari-style or the English Regency style, which borrowed heavily from Greek and Roman classical ornamentation as well as ancient Egyptian motifs.
“You know, the style that favours heavy herbaceous borders, excessive decorations with neoclassical statues, when too much is not enough. Or, the filleted Zen variety, “he explained.
In townscaping, Made stressed that he was in favour of “artful naturalism” rather than what he deemed as the “Dutch Pension Style” as evident in Sumatra. A style which has its equivalent in India – characterized by “millions of pots in a row.” In short, Made favoured what he described as a “more wholesome, indigenous style”.
He elaborated: “ Malaysia has a rich indigenous style. However, in towns, people have made it too fussy. The 60s have a better design concept with some handsome buildings still evident.”
As for the current design trend in the region, Made quipped that the situation was akin to an “Outback Aunty vs. New Asia” kind of spirit of reform in the landscape industry. For him, the term “New Asia” connotes an awkward phase in Southeast Asia where design practitioners forsake the past in favour of concrete, steel and glass structures of the western world.
When talking to Made, one can never be sure whether he is serious or merely being flippant in response to questions about his work and ideas. Darting from subject to subject encompassing anything and everything from social anthropology to design aesthetics spanning the European classical period to the great civilizations of Southeast Asia, he expects his interviewers to grasp everything that he mentions. Otherwise, he gets bored easily with uninformed journalists.
Adapting from traditional alinese garden concept, Made Characteristically features a collection of antiquated statues placed near or under a Plumeria tree juxtaposed against the backdrop of brick-wall.
For instance, when asked what continues to inspire him and what he was currently engaged in, he remarked that he had just done a Moghul wedding concept in India for the offspring of the owner of a leading newspaper group.
“and like the fashion couturiers who have their ‘collections’, this year the look is Moghul whereas last year was Moorish,”he said half in jest and also in reference to a recent project in Morocco.
According to his close friend, photographer-writer Tim Street-Porter in his book Tropical House (Clarkson Potter/Publisher NY, 2000), Made is an authority on Balinese architecture and he speaks the three Balinese languages fluently beside Kawi, the language of the high priests. Tropical Housses is a lavishly-illustrated coffeetable book on exemplary houses in Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Java, Bali, Mexico and Belize.
Despite being currently one of the hottest names in the business of landscaping and design in Southeast Asia and beyond, Made never fails to pay tribute to other designers, such as Ed Tuttle, Pter Muller and Jaya Ibrahim, who have done “seminal” work in Bali. However, there’s no love lost between him and another well-known designer in Bali, Kerry Hill, better known to Malaysians as the architect who did the Datai in Langkawi. His other design inspirations come from the “great traditions” laid down by the colonial architects in the region whose greatest achievement was the Malay Straits style. It was a tropical style that was derived from British India and which was linked to the architectural heritage of Australia.
Anyway, once stripped of his hardball demeanour and task-master image, Made eventually comes across as a conscientious designer who knows intuitively what works for a space and what doesn’t. He is sensitive to the Southeast Asian design heritage and can adapt his style to suit a client’s needs as well as idiosyncracies, within limits, ofcourse.
However, he flippantly remarked to the editor of a home décor magazine that when he is hired for a project, he just send in his team of mobile Balinese gardeners whom he refers to as his “commando squad” to the site.and when the garden is planted, he just comes in and there and the work is done. “On the contrary,” said a long-time Malaysian friend,”Made is quite meticulous about his work. He puts in a lot of effort and for instance, he is very fussy about the type of plants to be used.”
When it came to describing himself, Made explained his fondness for Bali and its traditions as the “passion of the convert” and that” “I’m a card-carrying Hindu.” And does he maintain his Australian roots? “I travel three or four times a year to Sydney and to Brisbane, where I have an outlet there. Now, that’s a good region.”
As for his attitude towards work and life, he said: “I’m always excited by design. I’m careful not to get intu a rut. So you trave, try to be ahead of the cutting edge. I don’t find that stressful; in fact, it’s invigorating.”
His business plans include a chain of “Tropical Shops” akin to Conran style retail outlets that offer home and garden accessories.” We are trying to do something more sophisticated than what’s available in the market. At the moment, what you have is merely the faddish,.” And Finally, among the design projects in Malaysia that Made admires, he singled out The Aryani Resort in Terengganu as an outstanding example of Malaysian design. “I just love Raja Bahrin’s resort. I stayed in one of the old heritage buildings he did and it was wonderful.”