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In Bali, a Series of Modernist Vacation Homes

By Bianca Husodo

 
The Rocks, Uluwatu

Far-flung in Bali’s southwestern tip, The Rocks is a sequestered waterfront villa of Singapore-based entrepreneur Ben Jones. The house — designed by James Brown of Adelaide-based UFO Agencies, the designer behind Seminyak’s beloved hip enclaves Motel Mexicola and Tropicola — referenced the works of midcentury architects the likes of Le Corbusier and Eero Saarinen.

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The Rocks, Uluwatu

“We can organise incredible cocktail barmen, the island’s best DJs and chefs, healers and professional surf and fitness experts to come to the villas at the drop of a hat. We’ve thrown some fantastic parties and events for our guests, from 40th birthdays to last-minute weddings,” says Singapore-based entrepreneur Ben Jones, co-founder of Mandala Places, a host of holiday houses in Bali, including The Rocks.

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The Rocks, Uluwatu

Perched on a rocky outcrop only accessible through a flight of cliffside stairs, the house’s remote location imposed design limitations. “We could only use materials we could get to the villa via a pipe down the cliff, hence the heavy use of terrazzo, white concrete and other coloured composites,” says Jones.

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The Bay, Nusa Lembongan

The Bay is the latest addition to Mandala’s growing portfolio. For The Bay, Jones had James Brown return for a collaboration with his in-house design studio for a take on The Hamptons beach house. “[Brown] curated the art throughout the house and created two large murals of his own in the living spaces. Wood, rough textured marble and woven surfaces are offset by polished brass, coloured terrazzo and high-gloss mural surfaces that introduce a more playful feel,” Jones notes. 

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The Bay, Nusa Lembongan

Left: An outdoor fire-pit overlooking Sandy Bay. Right: An outdoor kitchen with a Picasso-inspired mural, drawn by Brown.

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The Bay, Nusa Lembongan

One of the bedrooms at The Bay is housed in a private pavilion.

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The Bay, Nusa Lembongan

An outdoor marble and terrazzo dining table is equipped with chairs carved out of recycled Javanese timber.

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The Home, Canggu

This villa was originally built as the family home of Adam Murray, Jones’s business partner and co-founder of Mandala Places. “It was designed by the same design team [of The House], but with a much warmer, welcoming and functional vibe at its heart — perfect for the family-centric guests.”

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The Home, Canggu

Left: Polished details are juxtaposed with brutalist elements like bare cement ceiling. Right: Laced with verdant greeneries, the outdoor kitchen and dining area is weaved into the terrace’s garden.

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The Home, Canggu

The 5-bedroom house has one room dedicated for kids (left). The other bedrooms (right) are glass-panelled and offer an undisturbed view of the pool and meandering river by the terrace.

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The House, Canggu

The villa that sparked the birth of Mandala, The House is located in Canggu}s Berawa private residential area. Pictured here, a glass-bottomed pool — purportedly Bali’s first — is laid above the main pool that comes with a built-in sunken bar area.

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The House, Canggu

In the kitchen, a palm tree sprouts by the marble countertop.

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The House, Canggu

“Though inspired by modern architectural lines and quite brutal touches such as exposed steel and concrete slab, The House is heavily contrasted with natural materials — Indonesian hardwoods, marbles, stones and fabrics,” says Jones.

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Right by one of Uluwatu’s cliff-outlines shores at the southern end of the Bali island is a hidden alley. Furtively enshrouded next to the sprawl of a luxury resort, the alley’s craggy path leads to a flight of stairs that juts down to a beach. The journey down is perilous. The stairs, seemingly built in a slapdashed impatience to reach what waits beneath, are dauntingly steep. To descend the hundreds of odd-sized steps, that sorely lack a handrail, is to test your self-will. (The uphill clamber is another battle of its own.) But after what could feel like an involuntary stretch of muscles you never knew existed, and a brief traverse on white sand, there it is: The Rocks villa.

Sitting atop a bed of seaweed-laden outcrop, The Rocks hangs right above where the high-tide waves lap at the shore of Impossibles, a relatively obscure reef break only known to the more avid surfers. The extremely secluded house has the cliff-trailing staircase as its only direct access.

Yet therein lies its sequestered beauty: Despite Uluwatu’s flurry of new development, the remoteness of The Rocks’s site preserves a rare tranquillity. A beach in Bali, unalarmed by throngs of tourists, is near-impossible to come by.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mandala Places (@mandalaplaces) on

 

The two-storey holiday home has six ensuite bedrooms and is largely open-aired. The expansive living room shares its space with a bar and a balcony, framed with blossoming bougainvillaeas. Its stripped-back ambience of whites and restrained bursts of turquoises and salmon pinks lean towards midcentury Le Corbusier-inflected Mediterranean tropes. And as it should, the space is designed to point you to the main event: chaise lounges, counter seats and sunbeds all face the long stretch of uninterrupted ocean.

The Rocks is built and owned by Ben Jones, the British entrepreneur behind Singapore’s experimental bar Operation Dagger and gastropub Oxwell & Co., and is part of his growing list of properties in Bali. To design the house, he commissioned James Brown of Adelaide-based UFO Agencies, the designer responsible for Seminyak’s achingly hip Motel Mexicola and Tropicola. Jones has three other residences, aside from The Rocks, scattered on and around the island: two are located in the more popular area of Canggu; another in Nusa Lembongan, a less-populated island that’s a 40-minute boat ride away from Denpasar. These are all vacation homes Jones leases out under Mandala Places, his brand of luxury accommodation that’s meant to bridge the gap between luxury hotels and private villas.

Mandala Places began with The House, Jones’s first sizable expanse in Canggu, as a personal endeavour to build his dream house. Designed in 2015 by Spanish architects SUKYF and the Californian interior design firm 4 Corners, The House is made to impress. A glass-bottomed pool — purportedly Bali’s first — is laid above the main pool with a built-in sunken bar area. A secret door, melded into a glass wall of shelving in the master bedroom, opens to an attic library. A bunkerlike gym; an in-house theatre; a palm tree in the kitchen.

“It started to generate a fair bit of attention, booking inquiries and an online following,” says Jones. “We decided to effectively convert the theme into a business where we build design-forward dream villas. The name itself is a symbol that is in Buddhism and Hinduism, which stands for the circle of life. I have a big one [a Mandala symbol] tattooed on my arm. It kind of inspired the choice of name.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mandala Places (@mandalaplaces) on

 

What came after was its other Canggu property, The Home, followed by The Rocks. And in 2019, The Bay was opened in Nusa Lembongan. Its prime perch on a limestone promontory overlooks Sandy Bay and Devil’s Tear wild waves. Inside, Mandala’s in-house studio Superlatives had teamed up with Brown, the designer behind The Rocks, to orchestrate a Hamptons-like pad where cool terrazzo underfooting, upcycled Javanese furniture, Picasso-inspired murals and a cliffside firepit are luxuriantly huddled under one roof. 

With the endless stream of design imagery on social media, it takes a singular aesthetic to elicit a second look. To Jones, that meant going beyond merely beautiful structures. For one, the four villas under Mandala are strategically placed. Their locations, singled out for what Jones believes as definitive to any Bali encounter, tick the obvious boxes. “Canggu for surf, restaurant and bar culture, yoga, fitness and a more hip yet cosmopolitan experience. Uluwatu for sheer beauty, quiet waves, and white sandy beaches. Nusa Lembongan for raw and stunning landscapes, snorkelling, diving, and a much more relaxed ‘back-in-the-day’ experience,” says Jones, noting that there are still uncovered facets of the island that his brand would aim to encapsulate.

Currently underway are vacation villas in Ubud and Tabanan. Much like their predecessors, these forthcoming houses will be moulded to fit its own singular natural surrounding — but also, to dazzle its would-be lodgers.

“When people want to book their ultimate escape, their dream house, their MTV crib, you can’t play it safe,” says Jones. “You need to push the boat out.”