Upon returning back to Indonesia in 2009, Eva Natasa took a one-year sabbatical in which she stopped designing entirely. It was an uncharacteristic act, considering her previous prolific work as an industrial designer in Milan, Italy.
“I thought the world was so saturated with products that I didn’t want to be a designer anymore,” she recounts. “I really loved design, but I thought the way to contribute to society and to the design world was by stop designing.”
Relocating to Bali with her husband at the time provided her with a tranquil backdrop against which she could stop designing. Yet, after a year her itch to get back to the drawing board resurfaced.
“I felt dead if I didn’t design. I also realized that the world was still the same, so maybe another way to do this is by showing people how design can be done differently,” says Eva, who owns and manages her eponymous furniture brand from Ubud.
Around that time, Eva was looking for furniture to fill her newly rented house, but she was disappointed with what was available to buy. She wanted to have simple and comfortable locally made pieces. But, she says: “The choice was either a copy of a famous design furniture made in China, export leftovers or uncomfortable and not sustainable furniture."
Displaying her characteristic drive for perfection, Eva decided to design her own furniture and not buy any pieces for her own house. She spent 11 months living in her house sans furniture, while focusing on her design process, a period that she describes as “fun, hard, crazy and painful to the back.”
A minimalist wooden stool design was eventually prototyped, and it took her around one-and-a-half years before coming up with her debut collection called LULA. “After that, many people requested to buy my furniture, so I finally launched the brand in 2013,” she says.
Eva applies the philosophy of “slow design” — a term that has lately gained attention among designers — for her brand. This means she will never start production until a products design is fully completed — a process that requires her to spend many hours inside her Bali-based studio.
She works together with local craftsmen on Bali to realize her vision. “I’m a perfectionist, so I drive people in production crazy. I need to make sure that the end result meets my standard,” she notes.
Her current collection includes an array of understated yet elegant stools, benches and tables. All of them are produced with solid teak wood top combined with solid mahogany legs and brass detailing. Almost every design features different color options, ranging from cool sky-blue shade to dark green hue inspired by volcanic stones found along the rivers of East Java.
The brand only uses certified teak wood from government-owned forestry company in Cepu, Central Java, to ensure its quality. This particular wood is chosen due to its durability and natural oils, which make it possible to do finishing each product without chemical-laden varnish. The unique wood grain gives each piece its distinct personality.
This pared-down and humble aesthetic applied to the furniture is testament to Eva’s desire to create functional furniture that can blend in with its surrounding environment. “Most people buy my products because they look for a high-quality furniture with good design,” she says of her customers. “After that, they start to understand and appreciate our slower approach to design.”
Eva’s significant interest in furniture design can perhaps be traced back to her early experience studying interior design as an undergraduate student at Kent Institute of Art and Design in the UK. Nonetheless, she admits that the discipline did not suit her sensibility.
“It was too big. I am more interested in details and smaller objects that are more intimate and closer to the body,” she says. “So I decided to take my master’s degree in industrial design in Milan.”
Not long after graduating from Istituto Europeo di Design, she joined Design Group Italia. It was at the Milan-based design firm that she became involved in large-scale design projects for international clients, ranging from 3M to Post-it.
Eva once led a project to design a food product for Hormel Foods Corporation. “I had a lot of pressure as I was designing something that will go inside other people’s bodies. In industrial design, we are not talking about hundreds of pieces being produced — it’s millions, which will affect many people. That was a very big responsibility,” she says.
In addition, she owns a US design patent granted for a cleaning tool that she designed for Scotch during her time at the company.
After resigning from the company, Eva continued working as an independent designer and takes on freelance projects from time to time. A notable one was a commission by the famous notebook brand Moleskine. “I took photographs in my spare time, and people from Moleskine liked it and wanted me to shoot some of their notebooks,” she says.
Reflecting on her life in Bali, Eva says that everything is slow and relaxed, a setting that deeply affects her design process. “By slowing down, you see things more clearly and in a detailed way. You can really feel the whole process,” she says. “You are also more connected to the nature, which I think is a very fundamental aspect in my life and my design process.”
Currently, Eva is working on her upcoming furniture collection, which will debut next year and exploring the possibilities of using more varieties of locally sourced woods and materials.
In the meantime, she has a mission to build design awareness among Indonesians. “Design culture and history are very important because they drive this awareness,” she explains, noting that in Europe, for instance, design has been entrenched in society for many years.
“I am optimistic that it will improve here. I have seen a lot of good initiatives, such as the back-to-the-village movement by Singgih Kartono and the Self Made movement by Leonard Theosabratas."
Eva says the design identity of Indonesia is yet to be shaped, but she is more than ready to contribute.
“I would like to have more dialogue with the public and collaborate with people who have similar vision to bring Indonesian design forward,” she says.