Text & Photography by Gabriella Semele
Villa & Yacht’s Gabriella Semele goes through the keyhole into another Bali luxury residence and finds that Home is where the heart is.
Nine years ago half German, half Balinese Lelya Shippert needing a break from her busy New York life, came to Bali for a holiday, to visit her extensive local family and to continue work on her then fledgling business of making snakeskin handbags. After two hot, dusty and very busy weeks on the bike, visiting factories and suppliers, she decided to treat herself to a day in the sun and relax at La Louchola.
Basking in the sun sipping on a granita and reflecting on her love of Bali, she decided resolutely that she would someday build a home here to be closer to her roots and live in the culture of her ancestors. Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her. Lelya’s daydreams of the future were interrupted. Turning to see what was pulling her attention she locked eyes with Dirk, a tall handsome German man who had just entered the restaurant.
Love at first sight, is not unusual on the island of the gods, Bali is a magical place and those of us who have had the privilege to live here for a while know very well how the island’s magic plays its part in our lives and our love stories. Many of us have experienced the same thing with the island itself. We arrive thinking we have come to yet another tropical paradise, to at best, see and experience a new culture, or at the very least get a good tan.
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, we find our life’s paths have changed and we are looking for new ways to be able to stay and live here. For Lelya and Dirk, making a home in Bali was the icing on the cake. “When Dirk asked me to marry him, he told me I could have a ring or a house in Bali, I realised how much he loved and respected my culture and the place I was from and I was ecstatic. It wasn’t until then that I could see how I could continue to have the cosmopolitan life I have got used to and still keep my connection with the place in which I grew up. By the way, I choose the house… but I got the ring too, eventually” she says with a giggle.
Lelya’s life has been one of constant change and contrast. She grew up in Bali with a Balinese mother from a Brahman family and a German father who was a businessman and eccentric collector of Indonesian crafts and furniture. Lelya’s life has always been one of moving around and jumping in and out of different cultures.
“When I got older we moved to the States. I became just like any other American girl who only thought about school, shopping, and teal eyeliner. Later, there was New York University and finally work”. With a BA in Arts and Economics in hand she joined the work force at KPMG. Lelya was on her way climbing the corporate ladder until one day sitting at her desk in a New York office building she realized something was missing “I suddenly did not see myself doing that anymore, I needed a change”.
This feeling was cemented on one of her yearly visits home to Bali where her parents own and operate a small beachside hotel called Ida’s home stay in Chandi Dasa. “I was there and took a day trip to go shopping in Kuta and Legian. Going from shop to shop seeing what people could make I found myself inspired and excited. My biggest problem was I did not know where to start, everything looked so good, there were beautiful vases and platters brand. “I think everything in my life was pointing to Bali, to being here, creating here, the island was pulling me back home”.
Back in New York she showed her friends what she was up to while on holiday, “the reaction was crazy, people wanted more, I did not have enough for all my friends, and friends of friends were calling me up asking if I could take an order for my next range! Suddenly I was a designer”. With confidence generated from all the enthusiasm, Lelya decided that the time had come to take the plunge. She quit her job and jumped back on a plane to Bali to make more samples, which brings us back to that fateful day in La Louchola. Then forward nine years, two kids, a thriving business, and then a house in Bali. made from wood, all sorts of jewellery and then there were these snakeskin bags.
Living in New York with a good salary and a weakness for beautiful things, the snakeskin caught my attention”. With a few weeks left in Bali, Lelya sketched out a few simple designs and ordered some samples, “I was thinking presents for my friends” she says laughing. Lelya never suspected that she had just launched what was to become a successful international luxury Villa Bangkuang, like Lelya, is the collaboration of east and western styles. “We wanted something clean and open and modern that took advantage of the beautiful view” says Lelya when describing the process of designing her dream home. And what a view it is! Set in the rice fields of the sleepy village of Sogsogan on Bali’s’ west coast, going to Villa Bangkuang is like taking a step back in time to when the most common view was the open sky with mountains dotting the horizon and rice fields stretched as far as the eye could see.
When looking for land Lelya and Dirk had this ideal in mind, “we searched and searched, every time going further and further from town, never seeing the right place. Then one day we arrived in Sogsogan, even the ride getting there felt right, the village was so quiet, it seemed like it was removed from all the development that was going on, like it must have been 30 years ago before tourists ever came. Once again, it was love at first sight”.
“When we designed the house, we decided we did not want to take over nature, we wanted to live in it, be engulfed in it!” Lelya explains. With that, the villas open plan came to life. “Everything is focused on the view. A few years ago, when we added our guest rooms, we went one step further and put them right in the rice fields – when you lie in the bed and look out it feels as you are floating in a sea of green”.
For all the nature outside, inside Villa Bangkuang has a simple austere feel. “Dirk and I have hectic lives, we travel all the time and we have two children so we wanted Bali and our house to be a refuge from the fast pace and clutter of the city. When I come to Bali I am busy designing my next collection so I want as few distractions as possible”.
Villa Bangkuang certainly fits the bill, all the creature comforts are available, in fact the house is downright luxurious. Ask Lelya however, what her favourite part of her home in Bali is, and she will tell you without hesitation “the village, the community, the view. When I am here it reminds me of the beauty and the magic that I grew up in. I’m so happy that now my children can experience the same thing, Bali is in my heart”.