Blissed out at Balila — creating a home with integrity

One of the first things I do on returning to Bali after an extended trip to the UK is head up to Amed; it feeds my soul to spend time in the shadow of the Gunung Agung. One of my favourite places to stay is Balila Beach Resort, a peaceful eco-chic retreat resting above a crescent beach of volcanic black sand north of Amed. There, I can spend hours gazing at our sacred mountain from the pool terrace….. and alas managed to sleep through its spectacular mid-May eruption. Many of the amazing photos you may have seen of these now-regular eruptions are likely to be taken by Birgit who, together with her husband Made, created this beautiful ocean retreat. I invited this long-term Bali resident, architect and sound healer to share her top tips for creating a home with integrity.


Go with your gut feeling

Feel the energy of the place, how it fits with you. Pay attention to your first feeling….and trust it! You can find a beautiful house but don’t get a good feeling from it. And you can get a positive vibe from the shabbiest place. So don’t be over-influenced by how it looks.


You don’t need as much space as you think

It’s easy to be blinded by these huge villas, and then end up with way more house than you need — I have so many friends who have over-built and wish they had built half the size. Large houses take a lot of cleaning and maintenance, and they need a lot of furniture and design details to make them homely. Before you sign that new lease or agree to those house plans, consider the cost of cleaning and maintenance.

I admit I had my own dream house in mind… designed it right down to the last details; it was perfect! We contracted the land behind our beach resort and, intending to live on site to supervise construction, created temporary accommodation using a gladak that had been in storage since we moved to Amed. This tiny teakwood hut would eventually be a guest room, we reasoned. It didn’t take long for us to realise that this little space was all we needed … and that big dream house wasn’t necessary. Now we have a second gladak which we transported from Java on the back of a pick-up, and a living area and kitchen in between. Perfect contemporary space that’s the right size for us!

Build with the abundant natural materials around you

If you want a natural and sustainable build, you don’t have to go far; there’s an abundance of wood, bamboo, stones — almost everything here that you need. Always take a look at what is readily available close by, and use what is to hand. There are tons of stones in our area of Karangasem, so that’s the right material for us to build with. Inside Balila’s resort rooms, rather than using stones that retain heat, I used mud plaster which absorbs humidity and heat and creates an excellent indoor climate. Even though bamboo is a popular eco-material on the island, I don’t use it because it is not grown in our area.

When building in the tropics, natural ventilation is really important — there’s no need for air con in many places. As a guide, it’s good to see how the old traditional buildings are made. In the past people knew how to build using the best materials for the best living conditions — you can still see examples in the mountains around us. Sadly it is different with new builds.


Be flexible, take your time

Take things slowly, because then you have the time to change things; its during construction that you can realise it’s not how you imagined it, or it would be better to have a window moved or use different materials. By being flexible, you can make improvements, and the build will be better. Of course, your pace might have to be different if you have a 10-year land contract, or a one-year 1 year lease. And remember, it will never be perfect; there is no perfect house!


Use your imagination

My way of working is very organic; I start building, and then only when it’s time to fit windows or doors or floors do I go shopping with open eyes and ears, and the intention to find what’s needed. I never go into one shop and order in advance!

A good imagination helps in problem solving too. For example, I really didn’t want to close off the end wall in our Seeds restaurant and lose the fantastic view of Gunung Agung. But it was way too windy. We could have installed one massive window, but I thought a huge pane of glass would be out of character with both the space and our eco-philosophy. My solution was to collect old window frames of varying shapes and sizes over several months, wherever I saw them. Now I love the quirky feature wall that frames our sacred mountain so beautifully.


Buy second-hand, recycle and repurpose

Wherever possible I source building materials and furniture in second hand shops. They used to build with much better materials in the old days, so by shopping around in dusty second-hand shops, you can pick up better quality for a cheaper price. For example, you can clearly see the difference in quality between an old door and a new one. And old wood is already very dry, hard and insect-free. Once I found huge tempered glass sliding doors originally from a five-star hotel that I would never have been able to afford; they are now installed in the Ocean Rooms at Balila.

I am a magpie. When I see something that grabs me, I grab it even if I have no idea how I am going to use it. For example, I saw a beautiful old ornamental ironwork grill decorated with butterflies and flowers. I managed to resist the temptation on three separate occasions until on the fourth visit I knew I couldn’t leave without it. And with that decision made, I knew exactly how to use it: as a decorative feature on a Balila balcony.

A few years ago, I was looking for old building wood at my regular second-hand building material suppliers, and spotted the most beautiful traditional carved door embellished with red and gold. I fell hopelessly in love and, thought I didn’t need it, justified the wildly impulsive purchase with the thought, “This is going to be the door for my new house”. At the time, we had no plans….no land even! But at last, after lying around for three years, it is now installed in our new house, and I am thrilled.

I like to think that another person’s waste is my treasure! Other than the beds and bedding, all furniture in Balila is second-hand or made out of recycled material. I once made a table using the ends of a large industrial cable drum and discarded tyres — an instant talking point. Other tables in our restaurant are made of old planks of boat-wood.


Be patient

It’s worth waiting until you find the right place and right piece. Remember I said how we’re no longer building what we thought would be our dream house? Recently I came across some gorgeous carved pieces from an old bale, and knew that I could use those 12 tiang to create the additional room we needed to supplement the two gladak. I can’t wait to build my new structure! I am curious as I don’t know how it will be… I don’t yet have the full picture in mind, so we will see. Here in Bali I have learnt to be flexible and patient.


For more information on Balila Beach Resort, visit

To book one of the five rooms (or 7 single chakra rooms), call +62 (0) 877 6166 7900

or email info@balilabeachresort


If you would like to share some interesting home design products, services and ideas, please get in touch.


Copyright © 2019 Ibu Jenny


Copyright © 2019 At Home in Bali

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