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Artifacts From Distant Lands Fill the Studio of Designer Jonathan Rachman

The industrial Dogpatch address of the 5,000-square-foot warehouse-cum-atelier of interior designer Jonathan Rachman has little bearing on the world within this space. The studio doubles as a scrapbook for the Sumatran-born designer, brimming, as it is, with a rotating collection of treasures brought back from annual pilgrimages to Europe and, of course, his native Indonesia.

Rachman’s wanderlust stems from a childhood spent traveling with his parents, plantation owners in Indonesia’s Lampung Province, who grew coffee and exotic spices for export. “My father would take me out of school just to travel,” says Rachman, recalling a time when the elder Rachman smuggled the family into mainland China in order to visit their ancestral lands (political tension between Indonesia and China made visits difficult). As a way to stay connected to the nomadic life without going broke, Rachman “dabbled” in hotel management for 10 years before reality intruded. “I soon realized that I’d rather be a guest than working,” says the designer, who moved to San Francisco in 1989 and opened a floral design company before transitioning to interiors. This career is a natural fit for a man who, for decades, has been prowling Parisian flea markets and Javanese workshops in search of extraordinary items.

“Everywhere I go, I find something I can’t live without,” says Rachman, 43. The result of this feverish collecting is an eclectic wonder emporium, in which each object cues a childhood memory. The Chinese daybed purchased in Java recalls the one on which Rachman would while away sweltering afternoons with his grandmother. Stacks of eyeglasses, unearthed in London antiques stores and tucked into bespoke tortoiseshell and shagreen cases, remind him of an uncle fitting him for his first pair of spectacles. And a wooden abacus summons the rhythmic clicking of his father adding up his business accounts.

Currently at work on a private 35-acre hotel villa in the mountains of North Bali (as well as a couple of boutique inns closer to home—the Steinhart Hotel and Hotel Union Square), Rachman logs plenty of time overseas. His itinerant lifestyle has recently prompted him to self-publish a lifestyle magazine, Di Sini Di Sana (“Here and There” in 
Indonesian), which will soon be found in United Airlines first-class lounges worldwide. “Some people go to school all their lives to continue their education,” says Rachman. “I travel.” 

This article was published in 7x7's May 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.