Benny Gautama: A Taste for Design
, , / 1 September 2013

Sub-Cult was lucky enough to get a moment out of Benny Gautama’s time for a chat, and believe us when we say he’s a hard man to get a sit-down interview with. So we were more than excited when he brought us to the location of his new residential in Bandung (a secret of course). We drove towards a quieter area of Bandung with nothing but greeneries and the occasional local’s houses around us before driving off a dirt road that seems to go on, until finally the road just stops.

Just ahead of us was the building of his soon-to-be-home, and we weren’t that surprised that it looks great. What else do you expect from the man who created Stevie 6 hotel? Even half-done this place already looked awesome; heated swimming pool, plans of an outdoor bathtub for the master bedroom, also a private spa at home. SUB was even luckier when Benny offered to do the interview in the location of his master bedroom. The view was amazing; vast acres of lush green trees of hills in front of us in the wall-less room. Benny turns out to be a warm and down-to-earth guy, and he didn’t have to offer us twice before one of us starts making rounds to take pictures, and one of us to talk to him.


What started with talks about his hotel leads to other topics such as oil being his main business, also his huge interest in zoos (and the dream to someday build a decent zoo in one of his acres of lands) for the school kids to get to learn more about animals, and many other interesting topics.

Hi Benny, thanks for taking the time to see us. I suppose without further ado; what’s the story behind Stevie 6? How did the idea start?
(At the beginning) It was just an anomaly project. People get bored of the same kinds of hotel, the conservative hotel. On the other hand, there had been demands about people wanting a new kind of hotel, so we made one. There are four urban interior designers behind Stevie 6.

I think that lots of 20 to 30 year olds have great ideas, but if they ask their parents for money (to create a hotel) then the parents are just going to build another ‘old fashioned’ hotel. I’m here to create a bridge for that, so that the creative ideas of talented locals aren’t gone to waste.

Will there be others (hotels or restaurants) similar to this?
There’s an upcoming plan of creating an even bigger hotel than Stevie 6. There will be one main lobby and three towers of hotel where each tower is going to have different themes. So one tower will be totally different than the others and each will have different names.

It’s cool what you’re doing. You’re giving the public something new and at the same time giving young people opportunities of new jobs
I recently got back from a trip from New York. I took the young designers (I hired to design the new hotel) around US to see some hotels. These people need to have knowledge, and it’s just not enough if you see things through the screen of your computer where you can’t see the details of a hotel or building. You actually have to be out there to experience new things.

You took all of them?
There are three teams, three architects for three hotels. So each three are free to decide who the leader of the project is. We went to New York, San Francisco. .

East Coast – West Coast huh. .
There’s this hotel in New York around the SoHo area called Ace Hotel, I think their target market are 25 to 45 year olds. Upon entering the lobby is a bar with a DJ booth, and during the opening ceremony, people came dressed wearing mostly polo shirt. .so you can really imagine what kind of crowds go there. Very casual. Philip Stark created it, he used to be a product designer and now he does interior.


photo courtesy of Ace Hotel New York

So for these upcoming hotels you’re aiming for the young adults?
It’s for new families, families with one kid. One of the towers will have sub-themes from a song. For example The Beatles; John Lennon’s Imagine, so the job of the designers is to translate what John Lennon is thinking or feeling when creating that song, into the interior design of the hotel.

Does SUB have a section dedicated for architecture and interior designs?

Um. . .no.
You should, people are interested in designs nowadays. In my opinion, times have changed. During the presidential era of Soeharto, the people who have the capability of creating new buildings are the same handful of people. Today, you have so many new up-comers with a totally different taste in designs.

I read in some magazine that 80% of Indonesia’s richest people today are new faces. They’re also younger people whose businesses have gone global. So these people no longer rely on the government, maybe some of these people no longer want to get funding from local banks. Well, some may use local banks but still, they will have foreign banks as backups. They are also creating businesses in the lifestyle area.

But the lifestyle and entertainment business is more appreciated today though, as opposed to back then when people still have conservative ideas on how to make a living
That’s because the people with money has a different platform of beliefs nowadays. For example, if Felly (Imransyah – friend and business partner) is the number two richest person in Indonesia, could you imagine how much strange and out-of-the-ordinary business opportunities there would be in Indonesia right now? *laughs* There would also be eccentric looking buildings.

Well, more or less it’s pretty much like that. . If businesses today are still run by the same old people with an old mindset, like the father and the kid story, ideas might’ve never happen

Why do you think people today need a different this kind of business now?
Because people are getting tired of the same old same old you know? Take (the people behind) Fairgrounds for example, if there weren’t any creative people with quality around, ideas wouldn’t have been made into reality. You can see the different breed of people that hangs out there compared to the ones 7 years ago. That’s just a small example; if an idea is packaged by a different kind of mind then it will also turn out differently.

It’s funny how one place sets the standards for everything else, by that I meant Rocket. I mean these (creative) people always existed, we just didn’t know where they are
Yeah, it’s like a breaking point for the people in my circle, my friends. Wherever they work, there was a moment at some point where everyone would gather at Rocket after work. We even did a lot of our business talks there. Cause sometimes when you work in a skyscraper with the same kind of people dressing the same way. . .it just gets tired you know? Sometimes when you talk about business too seriously, it results just ordinarily. That’s why (in Rocket) people feel like they get more projects, more jobs.

Same like the young architects in Bandung, they have lots of great visions but no money to fulfill it. If we don’t give them an opportunity, then they will be just . . .that.

What are the key things to successful business?
Formal school is still very important, managerial, and original ideas. Owners shouldn’t interact with the business; they should hire professionals to do that. So I don’t deal with the hotel’s internal problems.


What’s one of the challenges of business owning in Bandung?
It’s quite difficult to find a professional GM specializing in hospitality here, and in order to do that I must pull in people from Jakarta to move to Bandung. The problem with that is it’s not easy; on the contrary, it’s a lot easier to do the opposite. There are just a lot of handicaps. That’s why not a lot of people are interested diving into Bandung’s business scene.

Even when you say that, you did prove that it can be successful
Well, it’s no quantum leap. . You’ll make profit; it’s just going to take time. Not as fast as Jakarta obviously. In Jakarta, a year is considered good enough to turn a profit whereas in Bandung you need longer time than that. I mean, you take three shooters in a bar in Jakarta and take three in Bandung and compare the price *laughs*

How can we not spend double here in Bandung? Everything is so cheap!
I’m more interested in the hotel business compared to the restaurant business; it’s easier to see the profit loss upfront. It’s so much easier to minimize foul play amongst your employee. Everything is systematize in a hotel, people come in to eat or sleep using a programmed key. However in a bar, the potential loss is a lot more. Speaking of restaurants, I’m creating a swim club in the three upcoming hotels

Swim club?
Yes a swim club. So the restaurant’s main concentration is around the warm-water pool, so the bar and common area is the pool. It’s so hard to get people from Bandung to get into pools, they’re so timid. I have a feeling the people who are going to jump into the pool are Jakartans.

You can tell. You go to a restaurant here and notice that everyone speaks quietly, in Jakarta people talks really loudly. Shout if they have too. Even when people from Jakarta come to Bandung, they will talk louder than the locals here.

What else do you have in plans?
I’m creating something close to Maja House, the theme is going to be picnic and swim club. The area will use different of kind grass and there will be a giant screen outdoor so people can watch movies projected onto the screen, and guests sit on picnic blankets, while all the amenities comes in a picnic basket. People can sit and eat while watching movies outdoors.

That sounds cool! We’re sure that place is gonna be flooded with people, also the weather in Bandung makes all of this doable
Our only enemy is the rain, but in Jakarta you simply can’t do this.

What’s the most impressive hotel that you’ve seen so far?
I’m fond of the Aman Group. When it comes to resorts, I think Aman is still the number one. For modern hotels I like the Ace Hotel group, they’re available in Los Angeles, Miami, Portland, and New York amongst others. Too bad the Ace brand isn’t worldwide yet.

We’re certainly looking forward to more of your unique ideas!

Interview by Vita Aviandhono

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