This is the first time Justin and I have built a house from scratch. We have bought apartments "off the plan" and learnt how to design an interior space from 2D floor plans, and we have also embarked on some major remodeling projects - like our home in San Francisco - but designing and building a house from the soil up is a step beyond anything we have done before.
It took us around 3 months to find our piece of land and negotiate terms with the landowner. The process of choosing and acquiring land in Bali is an interesting project in itself. As foreigners, Justin and I are not allowed to exclusively own land or property in Indonesia. There are two options for non-Indonesian nationals; you can either partner with a local to buy a freehold in co-ownership, or you can buy a leasehold for a specified number of years. We chose a 35 year leasehold - which means that after 35 years, our land, and everything we have built on it, will revert back to the original landowner and his/her heirs.
Indonesia is working hard to reduce corruption but, as is often the case in developing countries, there is still a risk of lower-income earners being left behind, or even worse, exploited, while the nation advances and the economy grows. I find it comforting to think that at the end of our tenure in Bali, the local Balinese family that leased us our land will get it back again. Bali is completely unique in Indonesia, being the only Hindu island in the largest Muslim country in the world. It’s an incredibly special place. It’s such a privilege for us to be able to build a home in Bali, and to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in their rich and utterly unique culture, and this leasehold system will be responsible, in-part, for ensuring the preservation of Bali for the Balinese.
Bali also has strict regulations regarding which land is buildable and which land is designated for agricultural use. It’s not hard to image Bali becoming overrun with development, so the fact that the government has the foresight to protect some of the beautiful rice terraces in “green zones” is reassuring for the future of the island.
We were lucky that we had a very clear idea of which neighborhood we wanted to live in, and this kept our search area focused. Even so, we looked at around 15 plots of land. When we were scouting we evaluated each plot on the basis of price, size, proximity to some key neighborhood highlights, privacy, views, breeze (this is important in Bali where the tropical weather is hot and humid), surrounding buildings, and surrounding buildable land. In a rapidly developing landscape it’s also important to consider what other buildings are going to pop up around you. You might have a nice view now, but you need to have an eye for the future and think about how that view might change. For this reason, we were keen to find land that was either surrounded by buildings we liked, or could be developed in such a way that we retained a sense of privacy irrespective of what popped up next door.
Once the land agreement was secured, our next job was to find an architect. Finding the right architect for your project goes beyond simply appreciating their design ideas. It's a relationship that really needs to be highly functional because you’re going to be working together on a significant project for 12-18 months. For us, there were 3 primary considerations:
Do we like each other's taste and have a shared aesthetic vision?
Can we work together effectively and harmoniously, including when we’re abroad and communication will be remote?
What's their track record like in terms of client satisfaction and quality of work?
After a lot of research, and meetings with half a dozen different firms, we settled on our team. Brilliantly, one of the first things our architect did was send a drone up on the site. They wanted to capture 360 degree views from the land at different heights so we could determine if there was a sea view, what the sunset would look like, and so that we could design the house according to what you would see from balconies or out the windows at different vantage points.
Justin and I then spent a couple of days brainstorming an outline of our "wishlist" for the house. Now we're excitedly waiting to see our architect's first renditions of our future home...