The Villa Bebek in Sanur’s quiet Mertasari area was built in 1990 as the Bali residence of a very lovely lady, a former Miss Palm Beach (Sydney). It was my biggest private house commission as a designer and coincided with two other important jobs: a house garden for singer David Bowie on the island of Mustique, and the design of the Hotel Saba Bay on the coast of Central Bali, for which my office was not only architect but also interior designer and landscape designer. And the Villa Bebek benefited from getting the best pick of the crop in terms of antique doors and furniture.
As the Villa Bebek was also an investment for me (the client agreed to put two extra rental villas on the land), plus a great opportunity for our office to do something grand on a smart residential street, the design team did its best to ensure a result to be proud of.
The architectural inspiration for the complex of three villas and a cottage was 1990s Balinese palace architecture, a blend of colonial and traditional styles.
The 10 buildings were intricately interlocked through a network of gates and courtyards and garden walls. Ponds assisted in providing privacy (or at least assisted as barrier to keep the adjoining villas’ dogs out).
In 1997 I pulled down the walls separating the three villas of the property and redesigned the gardens. Villa Bebek entered a new phase as a multi-purpose, multi-courtyard, studio/house: my client’s dream house was at last mine, all mine.
The Villa Bebek’s temple and gates, indeed the layout of the whole compound and the style of the gardens, is classically Balinese in a way that few Balinese mini-palaces still are. The compound has 12 pavilions and 36 courtyard gardens: each tropical pavilion opens onto garden terraces on at least two sides. These terraces link through a labyrinth of paths, ponds, pergolas, and internal Balinese gateways to rooms stacked with either antiques or drawing boards.
The house’ interiors are annuals, not perennials – major changes are wrought overnight to accommodate the expectations of guests or to provide a new studio for a project in progress. It has been said that Balinese traditional architecture is like a big box of Lego blocks, so adaptable is it to modification and change.
Tropical gardens, too, are fun to rearrange. The Villa Bebek gardens have monthly overhauls as a new light or planter arrives for a test run. The name of the compouind imploies a sendse of irreverence that continues through the interior design: Matador lamps guard “decommissioned” Chinese altar tables. Stephen Little’s OSRAM light-box fridge )a Dadaist marvel) finds a home in the ornate Marrakeshi suite; a beyond-kitsch T-shirt showing Diana, the Princess of Wales (a courtyard favourite) is draped at the feet of three ancestor figures from Borneo.
The compound is not trying to be outrageous (unlike so much of the “Bambi meets Cecil B. DemMille” Style that defines my Sydney peer group’s decorative vision). But the house has achieved the shock value of the seductive. It is a peaceful garden oasis amid the urban sprawl of present-day Sanur.