This tropical Bali dream house, located in Padanggalak, 3 miles north of Sanur, is what my husband Mel and I like to call our 'third child' (we also have 2 boys). Building on our cross-cultural marriage, we chose to blend the open-air feel & tropical materials of Mel's native Indonesia with the exposed wood, open floor plan, & cathedral ceilings of the old barns of my native rural Massachusetts.
Before building, we'd spent years renting houses in Bali, so we were very clear what we did not want. We wanted to avoid the sort of villa you see all over the island that is built to look romantic - open-air, no doors, thatched roofed - but is in fact very impractical. Coming from New England where the winters are so rough, I'd always thought of the tropics as gentle, but those houses taught me that a tropical climate has its own hazards: bugs, dust, mosquitoes, ants, mold, gecko's, smoke from burning fields, & a very fast pace of decay. In the open houses, we couldn't keep nature out because there was no way to close in the space. Mosquitoes were abundant, & the thatch would shed, & the geckos living in the thatch would contribute their own fall-out. We'd essentially spend a good part of each day just sweeping up!
Armed with a concept and a list of things to avoid, we chose Balinese architect Ketut Arthana. Internationally recognized, Ketut has a reputation for optimizing and managing space. He instantly understood what we wanted. He set the ceilings high, like a barn's, but added variety to the roof-line by slightly lowering the kitchen roof and using the typically Balinese cross-hatched exposed rafters. He wasn't afraid to recommend tile over thatch for its strength, quality and ease of maintenance, and we found that by lining the under-side of the tile with basket-colored woven rattan, we were able to achieve the same soft, natural effect from inside as you get with thatch, but without the problems. Ketut placed giant sliding glass doors and windows around the perimeters of the entire house, giving the space light and ventilation during the day and an open-air feel, but with the option of shutting out the bugs, wind, water and dust at night and during storms. Above these doors, Ketut added a ring of slim rectangular windows for ventilation and style.
Once complete, Ketut handed the drawings over and we took charge.Mel oversaw the building process, and I made the interior design decisions. I was never focused on making the house fit into a category (rustic, modern, contemporary…). I just did what I found beautiful. The result is a huge mix of influences, combining primitive and modern, old and new, raw and finished. I brought my love of Mexican color into my paint choices, and my appreciation for Shaker simplicity into my choice of old, strong, and simple wood furniture. I was very relieved when, in the end, it did in fact all come together.
Color is a major theme. The main living space has a soft cream terrazzo floor contrasting with two bold papaya-orange walls and another sailor blue wall. The ventilation windows hold circular coins of colored glass framed in teak, giving a warmth and funky flare to the entire space.The kitchen and bedroom floors are richly colored in traditional Dutch-style cement tiles. More color flows through the deep-set, vertical, and whimsically stained-glass windows along the stairs.
In contrast to the bright colors, raw materials ground the house in the natural and neutral, creating what architect Yew Kwan famously described as 'high-style primitive.' Raw teak trees frame the kitchen space and act as pillars on the terrace; Y-shaped stripped coffee balusters and teak banisters form the railings along the stairs and balcony; marble stones and large plates of slate form a mosaic on the master bathroom wall; and worn gray river stones provide drainage where house meets land.
Outside, the property is ringed with a mustard-yellow fence overflowing with pink, purple and yellow bougainvillea. Verdant gardens border the wallsl, offering the eye a tropical richness. A rice-terraced-shaped pool fills one corner, while lush mango and Frangipani trees create umbrellas against the sun. Ocean breezes blow in from the east, cooling the land and house, even in the hottest season.
And you can see the ocean from the house! That third floor room wasn't in the drawings, but one day, Mel was up on the rafters and he realized that from up there we could see the sea. We learned that it wouldn't cost much to raise up the roof and add an extra room, so we just did it. No permits needed. Nothing. Just like a wave of the hand. You could never do that in the US! That room is a retreat, way up high, for meditation or writing, a place to be alone, or for play for young kids.
In 2006, Mel and I made the decision to move back to the US after living in our house for only several years. We were at a cross-roads professionally, and we wanted our kids to be educated in the US, so it was the time to go. We have been renting the house out since then, but we return every year with our boys for a month to repair and spruce up the house and, of course, to enjoy it ourselves.
'This house has a warmth and grace and artistry to it, but it is also a very livable house, peaceful and soothing, also fabulous for entertaining, and very convenient to Sanur, Denpasar and Ubud, ' says one renter. 'Many happy memories were made in that house,' he continued, 'and we want to return again if we can.'
Keywords: Convenient, close to beach, close to Sanur & Denpasar & Ubud, maid and gardener included, breakfast and one meal cooked daily, wi-fi internet connection, convenient 24-hr taxi service, artistic, soul-filling, spacious, breezy, cool, practical, oasis, fully equipped house, warm, open, kid-friendly, comfortable