The foreigners who first came to live in Bali leased land and built themselves simple bamboo huts in the rice fields. When the lease was up, the land and property reverted back to the landowner, but that was okay because in those early days materials were cheap, houses were built for dwelling and not for profit, and buildings were not designed to last. Nowadays, with less ‘new’ land available for development, renovation of old buildings is the trend.

“With a renovation you already have an existing structure to work with, but with a lot of buildings it’s the stuff you can’t see that needs to be resolved before you can start,” says interior designer Lesley Campbell, who last year worked on the transformation of an empty old office building into ‘Townhouse’ – Bali’s super sleek, five-floor entertainment venue incorporating a juice bar, photo gallery, bistro, lounge, nightclub and rooftop bar all rolled into one.

“The original foundations always provide inspiration for the direction of the renovation and then the challenge is to create a building that has function over form rather than the other way around,” adds Pablo Fourcard, owner of ‘Watercress’ restaurant in Batubelig.

“It’s all about having an eye,” reveals Phoebe Ashley, “it’s about being able to layer vision over actuality.”

Phoebe is a long term visitor and resident of Bali, who first arrived here in the 1970s as a bohemian traveller. Her grandfather taught her how to build, and when she was 12 years old, she built her first greenhouse. Her grandfather advised her, “Life is about change and if you’re not part of the change, you’re part of the decay. Every environment that you have in your life, you should improve by planting and painting.” This has been Phoebe’s way of thinking ever since. “Even as a traveller, I would paint the rooms I was staying in. When I first came to Bali, I lived in a ‘bedeg’ house with woven bamboo walls, and I started to add things. There was no electricity, no toilet or bathroom and no kitchen, but I was given a little bit of land and I grew vegetables and started to extend my bamboo house.” From then onwards renovations became more and more of a “thing” for Phoebe, she likens it to having “a blank canvas on which I could be creative and yet afford to make mistakes and pull them down and start again.” In the ten years she was in one particular home, she rebuilt it five times, and even built her own solar-heated glass water tank.

As well as being a restaurateur, Pablo Fourcard is a builder and a creator, with oodles of vision and ten renovation projects already under his belt. He maintains, “The fi rst time I walk into a potential space, I either feel it or I don’t. If it has promise, I have the vision about where I can take it.” The building that is now Watercress was formerly a rustic, family-run warung with a woven bamboo ceiling and a basic paved fl oor. “It was a hotchpotch of random extensions; dark, gloomy, messy and mouldy with rising damp, bad water management, and overgrown gardens.” Yet despite all of that, claims Pablo, “it had unmistakable charm.” Using the bones of the original building, Pablo kept some of the pillars and extended the roof at one end, while keeping a section of the original roof line, complete with exposed beams and tiles, “roof insulation is unnecessary in the tropics.” He replaced some of the roof tiles with glass to let in more light, and it made sense to put the kitchen and bathroom on the side where there was a neighbouring building.

Scottish-born Lesley Campbell of ‘HC2 Interior Architecture’ works with a team of 15 in-house designers and drafters, in tandem with mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) specialists, lighting specialists, and architects. “When working on a renovation, the hardest thing is that you don’t know what’s been done in the original building process, so we have to work with structural engineers,” explains Lesley. For the Townhouse project, this was essential as the building needed to be safe for large numbers of people. “It was a collaborative endeavour between us and the owner, Mark Baker, who wanted to bring a New York level of sophistication to a Bali location. Once we had the concept of a New York townhouse with an industrial feel, we had a clear understanding of where we wanted to take it visually.” The team drew up interior architectural plans covering interior lighting, wall and ceiling details, they made use of the external space and the balconies, and then they had to soundproof the building. Lesley continues, “Between the 2nd and 3rd fl oor was a mezzanine level, so we had to close the void area. No one wants to walk up four floors in high heels, so we fi lled the existing lift shaft with a cage elevator to introduce a speakeasy vibe. Creating negative space draws the eye to specific details, while creating an atmosphere presents a sense of theatre.”

Phoebe’s philosophy has always been to lease land in Bali rather than buy it. “Lease it, improve it and eventually give it back,” she says, “I have always looked for rundown places, and it’s okay for others to ultimately profi t out of my ventures. When I see a place, I can visualise how it’s going to work but I can’t draw it. It’s about making a small place look big, using certain tricks and techniques – such as curves rather than hard edges – to keep the eye fl owing through the rooms. I like the juxtaposition of old and new, mixing stuff up so that people can’t label my style. It’s vital to do intense preparation, and to think about things like septic tanks and power-points well in advance, because you can’t work in reverse. Always start with a shell.” Phoebe has improved every house that she has lived in as well as putting in gardens. She even prevented two houses from being demolished. “If you don’t care, and if you don’t improve your own environment to make it beautiful, what hope is there for the world?”

“When it comes to MEP, I always pay extra and get the experts in; for businesses you have to respect the regulations,” continues Pablo, “but once the roof, walls and MEP are done, the true creative spirit can come out. The fun starts with decisions about what materials can be used to give the place character. I love polished cement flooring, exposed brick and soaring roofs. At Watercress, we painted the brick white and then sanded it back to showcase a speck of whitewash. The cement tiles, bricks, doors and windows were all made in Bali. I believe you should use the building materials you love because the renovation is an extension of your personality, which finally becomes a beautiful amalgamation of the original structure yet still retains the character and charm of a secondhand building.” He adds that you can get away with imperfections in a renovation because the fl aws will give the place personality, therefore allowing a tolerance of exposed wiring or a crack in the wall, unlike a brand new build, which has to be perfect. A renovation never really ends; there are always add-ons, tweaks and fixes. Pablo concludes, “The downside from a design perspective, however, is that unless we are prepared to be very daring, we are limited by what we know and what we are comfortable with.”

Lesley has the fi nal word, “Starting a new building process is daunting and there is a perception that a renovation will be cheaper, my view is that this is not always the case. It depends on the structural integrity of the building. People who buy old villas are often surprised by the cost involved because building standards in Bali ten years ago were very different to what they are now. Those are the things that eat up the budget, you could end up with a leak from an old pipe and anything you put in there will be compromised. You need an MEP specialist and a structural specialist because you really need to know what you’re dealing with when it’s an old building, especially when you start knocking down walls. So as an interior designer, it’s not about coming up with a decorative solution, it’s about getting the right professional team to alert you to the issues.”

Rachel Love

Dear Sir,
I am writing in answer to your advertisement for an apprentice chef. I am very good looking and my friends always tell me I’d be great on television. I am interested in cooking and watch all the shows with my Mum. She is my inspiration in the kitchen and I am very good at baking, she tells me. I want to be a celebrity and I think that working as a chef would be a good start. Can you please consider me for the job?
Yours sincerely,
Jason Likes-To-Cook.

Anthony Bourdain has some illuminating advice for the budding cooks who constantly ask for his advice on how to be a chef. In his book Medium Raw he addresses the question of whether or not to go to culinary school on your route to being a successful chef. Despite the fact that he attended what is considered to be the best culinary college in the US, the Culinary Institute of America, his answer is “no”.

He also advises not to bother if you are over 30, or fat, if you want to have a relationship, or spend weekends and holidays with family or friends, or if you want to earn more than minimum wage, work a 40-hour week (or even a 60-hour week), or if you are any kind of normal. There is no shortage of articles on the subject if you browse the internet and you will come across many a chef cataloguing all the reasons you don’t want to be one. And the suggestion of it not being a career for anyone “normal” arises often.

Having said that, kids who have grown up on a steady diet of cooking shows doled up by the rock stars of culinary cleverness, dream not just of turning out the perfect souffl é but also of stardom and riches. If someone like Australia’s Master Chef winner, Julie Goodwin can do it; fat, forty and perfectly suburban, why can’t I?

The reality of it is that even if you graduate from a leading culinary college you will enter the kitchen on the lowest rung. You will spend endless hours cleaning potatoes, peeling artichokes, creating the perfect mise en place for a boss who more than likely won’t know your name for the first two years, and could care less if he did. You’ll stand up for twelve hours plus a day, sweating, filthy and flustered as around you people under enormous pressure shout at you, howl when they burn themselves, cut themselves and worse.

“Male, female, gay, straight, legal, illegal, country of origin—who cares? You can either cook an omelet or you can’t. You can either cook five hundred omelets in three hours—like you said you could, and like the job requires—or you can’t. There’s no lying in the kitchen,” advises Bourdain.

Despite the fact that Bourdain was once a broken down line cook, suffering from the excesses that countless chefs succumb to in their careers – namely drugs, alcohol, too little sleep and no stable home life – he is still held up as a golden icon of the kitchen because he managed to make his way on to our small screens and into our lives. It must be said, however, that it was all by sheer luck and a healthy amount of cynicism – his cooking ability had very little to do with it. The overriding wisdom is don’t become a chef unless you don’t mind giving up any form of a life for years that begin with your role as a “dish pig”.

As a food writer I come across a lot of chefs, and cooks. Some have made the grade and are at the top of their game, others have got the job but not necessarily the goods. Once they gain the title of Executive Chef or go on to own their own restaurants, the ultimate for most chefs, there are but a handful who still have time to cook, or even want to.

Richard Millar, Culinary Director at W Resort in Bali, is one of the chefs who has carved himself his own station in the smaller of the resort’s restaurant because he wants to cook with his team. He doesn’t have stars in his eyes, is more comfortable behind the flames than at the front of house and, while he is sometimes forced to pose for photos, has no great love of it.

I have observed other chefs too who love cooking so much that they will stay into the small hours to finish the administration jobs so they can still spend time in the kitchen. It is however a long hard road to get there and the chance of being picked up by a publisher or a network, to become a celebrity chef, are as likely as winning the lottery.

Chef and blogger, Young and Hungry, has this to say to those considering cooking as a career: take heed Jason Likes to Cook.

You will miss important life occasions.
There is no such thing as sick.
Introduction into alcohol and drug abuse will be very high.
Romantic relationships will be very difficult.
Your hours are mental.
You’re a piece of filth.
That said, you’re never too good, you’re never too old and you’re never too unintelligent to do it if you really want to.

So, the next time you wander into a restaurant and sit down to a meal, ponder all that you have read here and consider what the chef had to go through to get where he is. That is dedication, and without it, all the soufflés in the world would turn to slop if you don’t keep your eye on the stove and forget all you ever saw on TV.

Sarah D.

When buying leasehold land in Indonesia as a foreigner the prospect of not being able to renew that lease can be a disincentive to building too permanent a structure. There is, however, a solution in the form of a portable home, which can later be fl at packed and taken away when the lease is up. Whether one is looking for an open sided dining gazebo, a small wooden building to serve as a standalone offi ce or spa pavilion, a self-contained guest room, or a fully-functional house complete with fabulously carved detailing, it’s possible that a ‘joglo’ building – portable or permanent – could be the answer.

A growing number of locals and foreigners, including French-born, Bali-resident, Alexa Aguila, are buying damaged antique timber houses from Java, and reviving the natural beauty by replacing the missing or decayed wood with recycled wood. Alexa reworks the design and uses the components of more than one old structure to construct each new-yet-historical building, which is then plumbed, wired for electricity and fitted for air-conditioning and all modern conveniences. “Traditional Javanese houses are not practical or comfortable for modern-day living,” explains Alexa. “They are closed-in and dark with tiny windows and little or no ventilation. Light is a modern concept.” At ‘Bali Ethnic Villa,’ Alexa’s three-inone holiday rental property in Umalas, and at her new project in Ubud, Alexa has modifi ed the old structures by installing large glass windows and wide, open-sided verandas. “The structure of a joglo is very special, with a beautiful roof shape, she says. “You can feel the handcrafted energy of the skilled carpenters and carvers, and I love the natural colour of the teakwood – the colour of a lion.”

The traditional 19th century vernacular joglo houses of the Javanese people were wooden frame buildings designed to represent the best of human traits. Originally constructed with precise building standards and specifications, the artisan would fast and meditate before performing specific tasks in the building process. These buildings were crafted from premium teakwood in the historic towns of Kudus and Demak in Central Java – an area where skilled artisans have developed the art of carving wood to the highest degree of refinement – and sophisticatedly constructed using traditional tongue and groove techniques without the application of any metallic nails or bolts. The quality of the wood gave the building a lasting presence. Occasionally, jackfruit ‘nangka’ wood was used, as it was considered to be a special wood with lasting character and great strength.

In the structured Javanese society of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a joglo reflected social status; this type of building was reserved only for palaces, offi cial residences, government estates, and the homes of noblemen. In fact, joglo houses were so highly cherished and highly priced that only wealthy people or noble society could afford to purchase them. A nobleman’s joglo would feature elaborately carved Javanese screen walls and a soaring ceiling displaying layer upon layer of ornate hand-carvings, symbolic of his social status. It would be a place where guests and community could meet.

A traditional joglo consisted of two parts; the pendopo and dalem. The pendopo was the front section of the building – a wide veranda without walls or partitions, featuring a large roofed space supported by columns; this area was used as a reception hall and living space. The dalem was the inner section, the private part of the house, often just one big space or sometimes completed with a wooden screen wall to create a small living area at the front and the main family room behind. Random visitors would be received at the veranda, more important guests would be received in the smaller living room, and good friends or family would use the main room. There were no bathrooms or kitchens inside. Ultimately, the design of the joglo lay in the hands of the owner who would choose carving styles and structural details, along with the quality of the timber. In many cases people would buy the trees while they were still standing, in preparation of building.

Joglos are distinguished by their trapezium shaped roofs, each with a tall and steep central section designed to mimic a mountain. According to Javanese philosophy, to succeed and get the top, you have to start from the bottom. Success is not an overnight thing but a journey through steps and responsible actions. The high part of each roof is supported by four or more main wooden columns called soko guru, completed with the tumpang sari (essential layers) – a series of staggered horizontal beams, usually an uneven number with elaborate carvings – that tie the pillars to one another and support the central portion of the roof. The main entrance doors or gebyok might also be intricately hand-carved, and the sometimes fluted pillars lavishly and exquisitely ornamented with trellis-shaped grooves, perhaps, carved daisy-chains and urns overfl owing with flowers.

Nowadays, traditional joglos in Java are a thing of the past, used as workshops or for housing cows or chickens. Many have been sold for wood to make furniture, but a few still stand in the kampung villages as a reminder of a rich legacy that is slowly fading away.

Rachel Love

For a first-time visitor or for those with only a few days to spare,the historic city of Malacca provides a healthy taste of all that is beautiful and diverse about the history, cuisine and cultures of Malaysia.

Situated two hours south of Kuala Lumpur, the historic city of Malacca was established in 1403 and from the 16th century onwards, it flourished as the region’s foremost maritime centre of trade, due to its strategic location at the choke point of the Straits of Malacca, and the protection its port provided from the monsoon winds. The harbour teemed with the sails and masts of the spice laden vessels of the most lucrative trade in the world making it a destination for Chinese, Arab and Indian traders and immigrants who visited, traded and eventually settled in the city. In 1511, Europe came calling in the grip of a violent spice fever which saw the Portuguese wrest it from the Malays for more than a century before the Dutch took violent control in 1641. This was followed by the British in the 19th century, briefly by the Japanese, and then back to Britain again, until Malaysia gained its independence in 1957.

This long period of to-ing and fro-ing has left an indelible mark upon the city, and it is this that makes it such a fascinating destination. So much so that Malacca is now a UNESCO world heritage site and an intriguing, historical, melting pot of cultures, religions and races, all of which is reflected in the food, its Taoist and Hindu temples, churches and mosques, antique shops and art, Chinese architecture, and reminders of Europe’s colonial powers.

Most notable of these groups are the Peranakan and the Portuguese, whose communities still thrive in and around the city. Malacca is the birthplace of the Peranakan people, descendants of the 15th century Chinese immigrants who settled down and married local Malays. The result is a unique blend of two very diverse cultures and lifestyles, and Peranakan dishes display this in good measure fusing Chinese ingredients with spices and Malay cooking techniques. Consequently, Malaysian and Peranankan restaurants abound, offering spicy seafood and vegetable dishes such as nyonya laksa, a spicy soup of noodles, chilli, prawns and coconut milk.

The Peranekan heritage can be seen in the city’s small but interesting museums, such as the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum (men are known ‘Baba’ and women as ‘Nyonya’), a restored mansion where you can peer through a peephole in a second-storey fl oor that once allowed residents to see visitors knocking on their front door below.

Malacca is compact enough to see by foot or bike, available for rent at hostels and stores throughout Chinatown, and offers enough activities to fill several days. But by far the most fun way to get around is on one of the flamboyant, multi-coloured, and sometimes-loud trishaws, one of the signature features of Malacca. They convene at Dutch Square and cruise around the busy streets giving rides to tourists. You have to credit the drivers for their clever, fl ashy and facetious creativity, as each decorates his bike with bright plastic flowers, flashing lights, fl ags and souvenirs.

Another great activity is to take a river cruise through the heart of Malacca, from where you will see the best bits of the city, such as the traditional Malay village ‘Kampung Morten’ and the beautiful murals alongside Jonker Walk. Jonker Street, the traditional home of middle-class traders and merchants, is packed with shophouses, only small portions of which can be seen from the road. It is also home to a night market where visitors can eat traditional foods to their heart’s content. Dutch Square was the centre of the city during Dutch Colonial rule and the site of the town hall, known as the Stadhuys, Christ Church, market square and school, the striking red 17th-century buildings that were once the offices of the Dutch governors.

The city is dominated by the strategic St Paul‘s Hill, where you can get a panoramic view of the Malacca Straits and the old town centre. You‘ll see the ruins of St Paul‘s Church and note the intricately decorated 17th century Dutch tombstones that line the interior. The adjacent A‘Famosa fortress was built by the Portuguese in the 1500s and is among the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia. After you have done all this, put it into perspective by visiting Menara Taming Sari, a modern rotating tower that offers a panoramic view of the city from 360 feet in the air.

So you see, the rewards of Malacca are great, and much like the traders of old who braved rough seas and certain death to visit the ‘Spiceries’ to seek fame and fortune, for the 21st century traveller there will always be an irresistible pull to return, to experience the food, the culture and the magnificence of a place that was once the crossroads of civilisations.

Thomas Jones

Just one look at Jez O’Hare’s aerial photography and you can see both his skill with a camera and the passion he has for his adoptive homeland of Indonesia. A professional photographer for over 25 years, Jez has travelled far and wide across Indonesia photographing or filming most parts of the country, both above and below the waves. However, it is the imagery taken from on high using his microlight aircraft that truly captures the physical and geographical wonders of the archipelago best.

To see more of his work, visit or

This massive 12-bedroom estate consists of three interconnecting villas (a three-, a four- and a five-bedroom) and is unrivaled on the island, both for its grandeur and its sheer size and possibilities. Designed and built using ornately carved ‘joglo’ buildings, the dwellings of Java’s aristocracy, which have been lovingly restored to their former grandeur and ingrained with Western comforts and technology, the villa grounds cover a massive 8,200sqm of well-manicured lawns and landscaped gardens filled with all manner of tropical plants and flowers. The villa features spacious and uniquely designed bedrooms complete with en-suites, gorgeous open-plan lounges overlooking the surrounding rice fi elds, a media room, Western-style kitchen, formal and informal dining areas and three swimming pools. It is conveniently located at the end of a quiet lane amidst the green open spaces of Umalas, just ten minutes from Seminyak.