15 November 2008


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Building a dream house in Bali
by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop Published: November 13, 2008

UBUD, Bali: The long, narrow lane would not look out of place in an old spy movie.

It ends abruptly at what looks like a wall of thatched grass but, after the driver toots the taxi's horn, what turns out to be a grass-covered gate swings open to reveal a private entrance to one hectare, or 2.5 acres, of luxurious property nestled among the rice paddies of the Ayung River valley, near Ubud, at the center of the Indonesian island of Bali.

There, on the Sayan Ridge overlooking the river, stands a 33.5-meter-long, or 110-foot-long, single-story traditional longhouse among a vast expanse of coconut and frangipani trees, manmade and natural ponds, and even vegetable gardens.

Built entirely of tropical wood, including old ironwood electricity poles bought in a government auction, this is the dream house of John Hardy, 58, a Canadian, and his American wife, Cynthia.

Each arrived in Bali more than 20 years ago and they separately set up small jewelry businesses. Then, after meeting here, they joined forces to develop John Hardy, the renowned silver company. Its initial designs were based on four traditional Balinese jewelry-making techniques.

The couple sold their share in the business last year and now are concentrating on a new ecologically friendly school that they have built entirely of bamboo. The international school, which opened its doors in September, serves about 100 students from preschool through eighth grade.

When it came to their house, "We talked to the architect, Cheong Yew Kuan, about a fantasy," Cynthia Hardy explained. "John's brief was as few walls as possible, floor-to-ceiling windows upstairs and no door downstairs to maximize the outdoor living experience and the fabulous view. We wanted the house to be as open and as transparent as possible, so you could see the rice fields from wherever you stood inside."

The couple fell in love with the site when they first spotted it in 1992 on a cycling trip around Ubud. At the time, they were living in a small house with no electricity or hot water on the very edge of the Ayung River gorge, below the luxury Amandari Resort.

"That day there was corn in the field and the view was incredible. We had had the same view below the Amandari but not that open," she recalled. "Here, there was a real expanse of rice fields and the river below. There was a feeling of peace, serenity, seclusion."

The first small parcel of land was bought for $20,000 with a loan from Cynthia Hardy's father. (Property prices in Bali are quoted in U.S. dollars.) Since then, the couple has bought 10 more pieces of land to make up the site they now have. "Actually, the land is mainly contracted because foreigners cannot buy land outright in Indonesia," Hardy said. "So you get a contract for 20 years, with a possibility to extend for another 20 years or buy through a Balinese proxy."

The construction of the main house, which cost around $1 million, was a slow and organic process that took about two years, ending in 1997. "We first built a scale model in bamboo, just to get an idea of what it would be like to live in that house. We put up a little tent and moved it around to see where we wanted the bedroom. That's when we decided we wanted to sleep in the north," Hardy recalled.

The result is striking. The 20-meter-high structure stands on stilts and is one-room deep. The open ground floor space underneath the house is punctuated by water features that create a series of living spaces, some linked by small bridges, and include plenty of nooks for privacy. The décor is dominated by Javanese items that the couple has collected over the years, linked by a saffron and burgundy color scheme.

At far end of the house, a dining room, mainly used for breakfast, overlooks a deep pool and an old stone tub from Java that has been transformed into a Jacuzzi. "I can't say we're using it very often, maybe once every six months. We've never been in the hang-around, lounge mood, ever. One day, when we're old and not doing anything," Hardy mused.
Upstairs is another enfilade of rooms, beginning with an 8-meter by 7.6-meter living room, then a his-and-hers office, a master bedroom with a small walk-in closet, and finally a well-appointed bathroom with a custom-made rainforest shower with copper walls designed by John Hardy.

The rooms are open to the elements, so every night the Hardys' staff hoist "sails," screens made of varnished canvas, to protect the furnishings and decorations from the rain.

The couple's two daughters, Carina, 12, and Chiara, 8, live in a separate five-story, parent-free pagoda with a thatched roof. Also designed by Cheong and built at a cost of $25,000, it is accessed either by a submerged stone path from the living room or through the garden.

John Hardy's two older children from a previous marriage, Orin and Elora, have separate small Javanese houses that were restored and placed on the property for their visits. Elora is a graphic designer for Donna Karan in New York; Orin attends Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington.

Cynthia Hardy admits the house, which employs more than 15 staff members, requires "huge upkeep" as nature constantly tries to regain some ground: "We get lots of cobwebs, dust and leaves flying around, ferns grow out of the wood on the second floor, we even have bee holes in some of the teakwood and some of the coffee tree wood we used have rotted."

Building their dream home has required "thousands of little decisions to make," Hardy said, and it seems like the couple may never stop adding to it.

The latest addition was a 12.7-meter by 10.5-meter open family kitchen with an underground dry-storage space and toilets with walls that have been reinforced with bamboo and plaster. At the far end, overlooking the paddies, stands a huge kitchen table created from a long teak log split in two.

The couple says it is fast becoming the heart of the house, where the family spends every evening together eating the food they have produced in the garden, the rice paddy and the new shrimp house by the riverside.

"There is no downside to anything. This house is incredible, and it gets better every day, it really does," Hardy said. "Every day I'm here, I like it more."
More photos...

Remus Mark A. Carballo
JAVALAVA Travel Surabaya
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Art & Culture Indonesia (ACI) peduli pada pengembangan seni budaya Nusantara warisan nenek moyang kita. Warna-warni dan keragaman seni budaya Indonesia adalah anugerah terindah yang kita miliki. Upaya menyeragamkan dan memonopoli kiprah seni budaya Indonesia dalam satu pemahaman harus kita tentang mati-matian hingga titik darah penghabisan.

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