Many hotel chains embrace a rather generic style — beige fittings, demure interiors and the same nonspecific paintings hanging on the walls.
But tucked high above the bustling Sudirman business district, Hotel Le Meridien Jakarta has been striving to move away from this international style and establish a distinct personality. The most obvious example of this is Meridien’s penthouse, which features a handcrafted house from Kudus, Central Java.
“The owner of the hotel [who asked not to be named] came across this old house during his travels to Kudus,” said Meidy Naomi Kesek, the hotel’s marketing communications officer.
Built entirely of teak, the house was in very good condition. The hotel owner dismantled the walls, pillars and roof and transported them back to his private residence in Jakarta.
For a couple of years, the Kudus house stayed on the family property.
“Until, one day, he decided that the public should also have access to this regal masterpiece of Javanese architecture,” Meidy said.
Thus, in 1995, the old house was again dismantled and moved into Le Meridien Jakarta, which was in the process of building a tower to provide more guest rooms. Piece by piece, the house was hoisted by cranes to the 21st floor and carefully reassembled.
To protect the old house from Jakarta’s polluted air, walls were built around it.
The penthouse was officially opened to the public in September 2002.
Today, the 240-square-meter penthouse comprises a sitting room, two bedrooms, a bar, a dining room, a work area and a lesehan (Javanese-style dining room with floor seating).
The heavily carved doors of penthouse number 2115 open onto the Kudus house, which has eight-meter-high beamed ceilings.
Perched on the structure is a carved-wood garuda (a mythical bird in Hindu and Buddhist mythology) and two carved-wood serpentine dragons.
The five steps leading up to the Kudus house symbolize the five pillars of Islam.
The front part of the structure, or jogo satru , traditionally functioned as a sitting area to welcome house guests, as well as a standpoint for guards at night.
The central pillar, called the soko geder pillar, also has special significance.
“In Javanese culture, the pillar is a symbol of the owner’s status,” Meidy said.
The more carvings it has, the higher the status of the homeowner. The pillar, which also resembles the letter “Alif” in the Arabic alphabet, traditionally served as a reminder for guests to worship God.
The intricately carved teak panels, known as gebyok , have various plant and floral motifs, such as banana leaves, pineapples and telasih flowers.
“Bananas symbolize a useful life,” Meidy said. “All parts of this plant can be used in daily life. The trunk functions as a stand for the Javanese shadow puppets, the leaves can be used to wrap food and the fruit is good for eating.
“Pineapple, which is sweet and savory, also symbolizes a good life,” Meidy said.
However, to enjoy the fruit, one has to peel off its hard and spiky skin. “The logic is, if a person wants to enjoy a good life, he has to work hard for it,” she added.
The floral pattern of the telasih (Cinnamomum parthenoxylon Meissn) is a symbol of love and connection between the living and the dead. In the past, in Kudus and its surrounding areas, these flowers were often scattered at the tombs of family members.
The ceilings of the house represent the homeowner’s religious beliefs. Carved in the intricate tumpang sari patterns, which consist of cascading layers of teakwood blocks, the ceiling symbolizes Asmaul Husna (the name of God), as well as nine of his disciples ( Wali Songo ) who spread Islam in Indonesia.
Life-sized loro blonyo (a pair of statues depicting a traditional Javanese couple) sit cross-legged in front of the door leading to the next room. The presence of the loro blonyo — which literally means “two together” — was believed to enhance the harmonious balance within the house.
The next room, gedongan , used to be a sacred place for the homeowner and his family. This main area is supported by four massive pillars that describe the four passions that have to be balanced to achieve a good life. These passions are amarah (anger), aluamah (greed or gluttony), sufiah (sex) and mutmainah (goodwill). The area is now used as an anteroom that also features a work space, a bar and pantry.
Last but not least is the lesehan area, an inner court where family members used to dine together. For the comfort of modern hotel guests, this room features a low table and soft-padded floor chairs. Surrounded by intricately carved walls, teakwood and dim yellow lights that cast charming long shadows, Javanese history and royal traditions come to life, as the metropolis and its tumult recedes far into the background.
“Our penthouse is so unique and different,” Meidy said. “Within an international five-star hotel, it features original Javanese traditional heritage with its strong philosophical values and beliefs. I’m so proud of it.”
Le Meridien Jakarta
Jl. Jenderal Sudirman
Kav. 18 – 20
Tel. 021 251 3131