Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

A “retreat”, on the holiday island of Bali at least, commonly refers to extended stays dedicated to the practice of yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic healing, fitness, even surfing. But the concept is evolving, so that a retreat can be taken to mean an immersive stay around any central theme.

The latest addition to this holiday concept is an interiors and design retreat hosted by Bali Interiors owner and founder Sheila Man. For six nights, up to 12 guests come together at a Balinese resort to immerse themselves in the Indonesian island’s esoteric design, homeware and interiors.

An interiors photographer by trade, Man is well versed in the local building and design scene. Bali Interiors is an online platform on which she posts images and visual stories that highlight the best interior design and architecture in Bali and the surrounding islands.

Bali’s incredible villas, and access to the designers and architects who created them, are a highlight of the Bali Interiors retreat. Photo: Bali Interiors

The first season of her video series A Peek in Paradise, with exclusive views into the most beautiful homes in Bali, aired on YouTube in 2021 and now has more than 31,000 followers.

Like many long-term Bali visitors, I have just signed a lease on a piece of land. The next step is building a house. Given this is new territory for me, I am excited about what the retreat offers – exposure to private homes and some of Bali’s top architects and designers, back-door access to artisans’ factories and workshops, and insider knowledge on the island’s many shops, studios and galleries.
Author Penny Watson exploring old wares on Bali Interiors’ design retreat. Photo: Penny Watson

All this from the comfort of a resort that boasts yoga classes and spa treatments and rooms with balconies overlooking a pool shaded by coconut trees.

Joining me in this slice of paradise are five women: an interior designer, an events designer, an entrepreneur who sources homewares on her travels, and two others, like me, who are finding ideas and inspiration for their own building and renovation projects.

A welcome blessing ceremony, in full Balinese ceremonial dress, gels our friendships almost immediately.

Bali Interiors’ retreat fuses design inspiration with cultural experiences such as a welcome ceremony. Photo: Bali Interiors
Access to experts in the trade is key to Man’s insider approach, especially when touring some of the island’s homes. At a red-hued, single-storey, Moroccan-style villa in busy Canggu, the architect describes how the ingenuity of the local tradesmen and relatively relaxed buildings regulations have allowed him to create earthen walls and surfaces that resemble North African design.

In a contemporary whitewashed hilltop home in Pererenan, the interior-designer owner shows us how she primed the small urban plot for maximum space, and fused Western comforts with open living conducive to the tropical lifestyle.

At a pimped-up villa mansion in Tumbak Bayuh – with a waterfall flowing over a glass ceiling – the developer explains the concept of “sexy low-cost”, where the emphasis is less on quality, more on styling.

Access to experts in the trade is key to Sheila Man’s insider approach, especially when touring some of the island’s homes. Photo: Bali Interiors

At the Ong Cen Kuang lighting studio, in Kerobokan, we meet designer Budiman Ong, from Sumatra, who fuses artisanal craft with modern textiles and materials to make hero pieces such as a series of lights made from white zips.

Tarum textiles, in Medahan, is owned by a Balinese family who use weaving techniques and natural dyes made from indigo plant leaves to create sustainable fabrics.

Budiman Ong’s renowned zip lights – his studio is one of the stops on the Bali Interiors retreat. Photo: Penny Watson
In Ubud, we pop into marble, stone and wood shops selling kitchen and bathroom homewares that are made by craftsmen skilfully working away in front of us.

The itinerary is more about product and design sourcing and inspiration than shopping, but that does not stop us scratching the itch to buy.

At a characteristic old warehouse, hundreds of new and antique pots, sourced from across the Indonesian archipelago, make for excellent keepsakes, as do earrings from the Pablo Luna architect studio’s jewellery collection.

A characteristic warehouse selling pots from across the Indonesian archipelago is one of the hidden gems on the Bali Interiors retreat itinerary. Photo: Penny Watson

Rugs, bags, trays and baskets are invariably more affordable at a showroom we visit, and easily shipped.

At a rattan shop, I show the owner a photo of a chair spotted at a high-end boutique earlier in the day. He pulls one out from behind a stack of other furniture, and explains how he can make as many as I want, in whatever colour I want, at a price that is negotiable.

Kevala Ceramics, where each piece is designed in-house and crafted by hand, is another find. From a shop at the rear of the building, we buy charming one-off factory seconds and display pieces that fit neatly into our luggage.

Another stop on the Bali Interiors retreat is a visit to an artist at work at Kevala Ceramics, which boasts of designing and making all its pieces by hand on site. Photo: Penny Watson

The design itinerary dovetails with sightseeing and leisure activities for a holiday vibe. An afternoon lounging around the waterfall and natural swimming pools of Sayan’s Bambu Indah resort, known island-wide for its bamboo architecture, is followed by dinner overlooking the rice paddies at nearby Rusters, a restaurant and design concept store.

On another evening we learn about the Potato Head resort’s sustainable architecture before watching, cocktail in hand, the sun set over Seminyak’s Petitenget Beach.

The retreat is an intoxicating mix of inspirational activities, cultural thrills and tropical relaxation.

Leisure activities during the retreat include lunch in the tropical surrounds of Bambu Indah resort, known for its bamboo architecture. Photo: Bali Interiors

Now all that is left is to … build that house.

Penny Watson was a guest of Bali Interiors, whose next design and interior retreat runs from September 24-30. It costs US$5,900/US$4,900 single/double, which includes accommodation, meals and activities, among them a day trip to Lembongan Island, private driver and airport transfers.

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