Architectural Digest Magazine, January 1999


Interior and Landscape Design by Michael White
Text by Petra Carroll
Photography by Tim Street-Porter


The entrance court’s ornamental garden in his compound in Sanur “welcomes with visual and olfactory splendor.”The entrance court’s ornamental garden in his compound in Sanur “welcomes with visual and olfactory splendor.”

“My work is a multidimensional permutation of Balinese courtyard architecture,” says landscape designer Michael White, known as Made Wijaya.

Michael White is the bad boy of Bali, an impish Australian who sailed in on a leaking thirty-five-foot ketch in 1973 and went native.
Twenty-five years and a name change later—he is known on Bali as Made Wijaya— White is island’s foremost landscape designer, celebrated for his signature “tropical Cotswold” gardens and for an approach he describes in a single breath as “commando style” and “couture design.” His best-known gardens are at Amandari, the Bali Hyatt in Sanur, the Bali Oberoi and the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay. But it’s the gardens at his private compound that, like “giant swatches of fabric,” have spawned his ideas.
White’s Sanur compound is typical of the irreverence that has gained him notoriety on Bali. He named is Villa Bebek (meaning “duck”) as a pointed commentary on the scores of fancy houses with fancy names that are rising on the once remote island. And in designing the nine pavilions and twenty-five courtyards, he embraced a dizzying range of colors and provocative styles.
But Villa Bebek has its share of reverence too. Its “encrusted and convoluted ruinscapes” pay open tribute to the Hindu palace and temple gardens the White has frequented for over two decades and to his years of “looking across a courtyard through branches and statuary and silhouettes” at traditional homes. Bali has been my greatest teacher,” he says. “The beauty of the of the Balinese nature and the ceremony of the people’s lives awoke tropical aesthete in me.”
Bali has not been White’s only teacher. He praises Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa for the fluid interweaving of his interiors, architecture and landscape design. He also cites as influences “the vibrant textures and colors in English landscapes” and “an element of unrefinement—like grass growing between cracks in an English garden—which I think is critical to good design.”

“I won the gray-and-white vase in the living room in a tennis tournament on Mustique, partnering Basil Charles against Linda Garland and Mick Jagger,” says White, whose projects have included gardens in the Caribbean. Sofa pillow fabric from Jim Thompson.

White constructed the long, narrow compound of 30,000 square feet for an Australian client in 1989. He liked it so much that he eventually took it over, and he now lives and runs his design studio on the grounds. A labyrinth of courtyards, antechambers and galleries is offset by Indonesian architectural elements that he has adapted a backdrops. It’s a continuum, with one courtyard melding into the next, shifting from contemporary to primitive, restless to meditative.

White commissioned the dining table and chairs from Javanese designer Jaya Ibrahim.

White has developed a lexicon of phrases to explain his approach to garden design. He calls himself “part midwife, part sculptor, part engineer,” and he terms the gardens “courtyard classic”—a nod to the courtyard traditions in Asia and Europe that shaped them. The focal point is a central court that links the master suite, the swimming pool, the guesthouse and White’s design studio. There are also six water gardens, or “passive cooling systems,” the most dramatic of which abuts the swimming pool, near the entranceway. Planted with irises, bulrushes, water lilies and papyruses, it blends Japanese, Chinese and Balinese styles.

White used the 18 th century legong statues in the master bedroom, which he calls the bridal suite, as the basis for the ten-foot-high versions that he placed in the gardens of the Four Seasons Resort Bali. The pots once carried vinegar and condiments from China.

One of Villa Bebek’s nine pavilions contains the open master suite, which sits above a Balinese pavilion that White modeled on a village audience hall. The 500-year-old tablets are boundary stones from the island of Sumba; at right are statues from Sumbawa.

Apair of early-19 th century temple gate guardian statues from a coastal village in north Chinese apothecary chest in the study.

The nine pavilions mirror the eclecticism of the landscaping. The split-level east villa, housing the master suite and guest quarters, was built with a Balinese pavilion as its base and modeled after a bale agung, or village audience hall. Its yellow exterior is accented by a colorful Balinese window by Bali-based Australian artist Stephen Little (who painted most of the decorative walls in the compound). Inside the master suite is sparsely appointed. The guest bedroom, in contrast, is furnished with an ornate bed from Yogyakarta Palace, in central Java, and with Moroccan fabrics and art. “As Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world, I wanted to experiment with Islamic decorative style in a secluded nook of the home,” White explains.

The swimming pool, with Hockney-inspired lane markers of ceramic tile, is surrounded by plumeria that drops its flowers into the water, honeysuckle, and coconut and fishtail palm trees.

Interiors and gardens are constantly changing at the compound. “They’re annuals, not perennials,” he says. “The built-in benefit of having staff around is the you can pull down a wall, put one up, paint it blue, make a new garden lamp, get a tree up, cut a tree out, create a raised grass platform, a new terrace or a new pond, virtually every day.” For Michael White, Villa Bebek will always be a work in progress. His greatest source of pleasure, he says, is “the metamorphosis, the flux.”


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