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When a hotel owner reveals that the bricks comprising the floor and the walls of his new retreat are the realisation of a schoolboy’s dream, it’s clear that every aspect of the experience has been crafted with reverential consideration. Welcome to Katamama, in Bali’s Seminyak, the first hotel for Ronald Akili of Potato Head Beach Club fame. “I majored in entrepreneurial studies because I just wanted to create things,” says Akili. “Creativity is in my blood, and since I was young I’ve known I wanted to be a hotelier. My presentation in fourth grade was on a hotel! It was a dream I didn’t know I would actually one day fulfil.”
Katamama is a fictional word, coined by Akili, that translates to ‘mama says’ and reflects the family values that are so important to him and are the bedrock of the hotel’s ethos. “I’m a big family man — I’ve grown up in a tight family and now I’ve built my own,” he says. “I have three boys, so family values are really important. In terms of design, I wanted to create a sanctuary with a homey feel.” In essence, a sumptuous home away from home.
The boutique 58-room retreat is a passion project that took nearly six years to design and build. To create his vision, Akili engaged Singapore-based design company Takenouchi Webb and award-winning Indonesian architect Andra Matin.“I believe creating architecture that relates to its culture and environment is my responsibility,” says Matin. “When designing Katamama, craftsmanship and local materials became a strong theme for me. In Bali, most of the people earn their living through craftsmanship and art; they carve, paint, and dye wood and stone in workshops. This is what we wanted to emphasise through Katamama’s architecture.”
The one-and-a-half million handmade bricks needed for the build, which have set the hotel’s relaxed tone and signature look, took two years to commission and have kept alive a local industry on the verge of decline. Traditionally, these red clay bricks are reserved for regional temple construction; their appearance in a commercial build is unusual for the age- old trade, which is capable of producing only 600 bricks a day.
This vernacular of indigenous architecture and craftsmanship is evident at every turn in the hotel. Akili’s passion for mid-century design is re-imagined with locally made furniture using wood and rattan from Java, along with heavy infusions of the Balinese art of indigo dyeing, which is revived in the hotel’s textiles, ceramics and staff uniforms.
“You see a lot of blue in Katamama,” says Emmelyn Gunawan, Katamama’s creative consultant. “It started with the indigo dyeing, which is so rare right now. In Ubud, there is one workshop where they still do it the old way. I wanted to carry this theme throughout the hotel, so I gave the other artists working on the project the indigo print and told them, ‘This is my inspiration. I want you to translate this into ceramics, art, furnishings’. Everything connects and everything you see in the hotel has a story.”
Akili couldn’t agree more. “We selected every single piece of art, from paintings in the rooms to posters and sculptures in the general areas. I know each of the artists personally, including Eko Nugroho, who does lots of work in Australia. He has a permanent collection in Brisbane and he’s been commissioned by Louis Vuitton to do a scarf,” says Akili, who also has a gallery in Yogyakarta for Indonesian artists. “Katamama is an oasis… the more you look at it, the more you appreciate it because it is the work of artisans. I never get bored going to every room… Looking at the bricks, for example, is different every day because they oxidise. They’ve changed colour since we laid them last month.”
Katamama is a breath of fresh air for Bali-bound travellers in search of a new type of luxury. Things are done differently here. For starters there’s no hotel lobby; guests are greeted instead at the sleek terrace bar with a welcome drink conceived by mixologist Dre Masso. With one of his signature roasted pineapple mojitos or Xocolatl beverages in hand, visitors can spin their favourite vinyl while overlooking the 130-square-metre pool flanked by coconut and asam trees, or stop in at MoVida Bali, the Australian tapas restaurant’s latest incarnation. “After a long flight, I don’t want to have to stand at a desk to check in, so we created a lobby- less hotel where you go straight to the bar, restaurant or your room and check in,” says Akili.
“When I travel, I like to have breakfast or coffee in the neighbourhood with the locals, so we created a restaurant and bar that is where the locals would eat and drink,” Akili continues, explaining the hook-up with acclaimed eatery MoVida, which is chef Frank Camorra’s first international outpost. “MoVida is straightforward, comforting, welcoming — in terms of environment and setting, it’s a far cry from regular hotel restaurants. We wanted to offer dining options that are a destination in themselves, whether you are staying with us or not.”
“It’s an all-encompassing experience we’re curating,” says Akili, leaning back into one of the generous armchairs in MoVida. “I could live in this hotel, and that’s exactly the point.”