Expert Tips, Tricks and Contacts from a Renovation Addict

Janet Molloy knows a thing or two about creating homes in Bali. In the 30+years she’s lived in Ubud, this serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and full-blown decor obsessive has built three homes from scratch, renovated a handful more, and also designed the interiors for her island restaurants and boutiques. Here are her tips on lifting lack-lustre places into luscious homes.

Always be on site!

After a year of living in pondoks, in 1989 we started building our first home in Kutuh Kelod. I found graph paper and took time in drawing plans to scale. The builder took one look, screwed up the plans and tossed them down the ravine. It was clear that close supervision was required, so we moved onto the site, and lived in a simple room with bedeg walls, bamboo windows, and pythons falling from the roof onto my new-born baby while our house was built around us.

A decade or so later I set about creating a new home in Lotunduh, inspired by an enormous 14m x 14m joglo I had found in pieces in Java. After re-erecting it first in Solo to make sure it was complete, we had it dismantled again and shipped to Bali where the ladies from the village set about preparing the piles of wood. How could I have anticipated that they would diligently sand off all the numbers carefully placed by the Javanese team to aid reassembly, so no one had any idea what went where? We solved this unanticipated challenge by using local contractors for the ground storey and bringing the Javanese team from Yogya to assemble the joglo on top. Same lesson, 10 years apart: Something can be ok, but if you turn you back it will be different. You must to be there on site and keep your eye on the project at all times. This advice is as true today as it was then.


Give your inner control freak free reign

With the Lotunduh house I wanted to create a kid-friendly home that didn’t impact the interior to the extent that it changed the feeling of the antique joglo. I imported traditional tiles from Yogya for the two floors and the encircling verandas, selecting tiles and borders with different motifs unified within the same colour palette. We prepared all the drawings on computer in great detail — a massive job at a time when computer design was in its infancy — and with lots of creative direction the installation went without a hitch. Alas the same can’t be said about the stained-glass memorial window I designed to mark the millennium; I was off-site when one day, and returned to find it installed back to front. Naturally my control freak paranoia intensified.

Another decade later, the kids had grown up and moved out, and my beautiful joglo house suddenly seemed way too big. I was yearning for something smaller, on one level, and decided to place another joglo in the garden. It turned out that the westerner who sold it to me had patched together a lot of mismatched wood in poor condition, along with wall panels that didn’t belong. We eventually found a way to incorporate the panels into the house, and used every piece of wood. We painted everything white to cover the uneven hues of the wood and give the panels a gorgeous lacy look. We replaced the centre panels of the original joglo doors with traditional patterened glass to let in more light. For the floor, I chose cheap black and white tiles, and was amazed by how effective they were in making everything else pop. Two key learning points here: white solves all sorts of problems… don’t buy a joglo from a photo!


Buy what you love

Rule number one: Have storage and just buy stuff you like. You can work out afterwards what to do with it! Some ceramic plates I picked up on a whim while holidaying in Tunisia eventually found their place in a middle eastern restaurant I opened a few years later. The stunning terracotta tiles with a blue ceramic insert that I felt compelled to buy were looking for a project for a few years. They now grace my new home in Kemenuh — and by happy accident I saw the same tiles in an Andalusian palace in Spain last year.

For bedrooms, I do like Spotlight in Australia (or online) and happily found green-and-white palm-print duvet covers and matching pillows for Palm Merah —a steal at A$9. I also like Bed Bath N’ Table, and am inspired by their beautiful quilt colours.

I am probably like a very primitive hunter gatherer woman, I don’t assume the berries are going to be in that particular paddock — I just cruise, whether in an office supplies shop or a dusty antiques shop in Mas. I will buy something even if I don’t know what it’s for. On the other hand, I will happily shop with speed and purpose; it took me just one day to buy everything to furnish a Perth apartment, and all from Pondok Padi, which has truly inventive and fabulously finished furniture and accessories.


Repurpose wherever possible

I have always been a fan of reusing things. In my latest renovation, an old office building in Kemenuh, I set out to repurpose anything that I could find. A seven-drawer cabinet used in the jewellery factory for storing iron tools has been sanded, spruced up with paint and new hardware and now has a new lease of life in Palm Merah. Hanging racks from my Goddess on the Go boutique have been painted warm white and placed in bedrooms and bathrooms, keeping clothes aired and free from mould. The cashiers desk from Café Havana has pride of place in the kitchen, while its iconic ironwork serves as a thief-proof roof over the courtyard. The sofa from Goddess on the Go has been recovered in rose-pink velour. And an old floor lamp now sports a new shade in a fab poppy print… my heart literally leapt when I found this fabric!


Be bold with colour

My friends know me as the queen of colour…nothing is too bright in my book! You really can make a splash with a can of paint. If the colour is too dark, add some white into it… and if you don’t like it, just paint over it again. We had already used four test colours for Café Havana’s upstairs dining area, but I couldn’t find the colour I wanted. So we dumped them all into a bucket and mixed them up, and a unique aubergine is what we got. My son must have inherited this experiment-with-colour gene; he used three different cans of spray paint to create the right pink colour for the gate.


Final words

Don’t be precious — nothing is worth the drama. If something isn’t working, just move on. I planned this great koi pond in my new home, but after my son introduced turtles, the koi aren’t going to get a gig. The upside is that I have learnt to be fond of the turtles!

Janet’s little black Bali book

The Object, Jl. Raya Mas — painted leather sofa

Pondok Padi Design, Jl. Tjokorda Rai Peliatan ( — just love their truly inventive designs

Citra Warna paint shop, Jl. Raya Peliatan, Ubud.

Depo Bagoes Bangunan, Jl. Raya Semebaung — for lovely tiles, light fittings, hand basin sets etc

Set’ya Bali Cushions, Jl. Raya Andong (081558325910) — for cushions, sun-loungers, fabric, upholstery, umbrellas

Sumber Makmur, Jl. Raya Sakah (082336941892) — for wood and rotan, including repairs

Krishna Antiques, Jl. Raya Mas — for antique architectural pieces

Tegel Kunci, Yogya ( — for traditional decorative tiles

Bali Zen, Jl. Monkey Forest ( — for gorgeous ethical homewares

Bed Bath N’ Table ( — for bedlinen and homewares

Spotlight Australia ( )


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


Copyright © 2019 Ibu Jenny


By Ibu Jenny 

Copyright © 2019 At Home in Bali

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