Katamama, a new boutique hotel in Bali, translates age-old Indonesian traditions into a contemporary classic. BY JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN. Photography by MARK LANE.
ONE-AND-A-HALF MILLION BRICKS. That’s the first thing you notice about the new Katamama hotel in Bali, which doesn’t look at all like a hotel in Bali—you know, those varying versions of tree house- or temple-chic. No, this new, first hotel from Indonesia-based PTT Family looks like a big, hard brick wall, at least from the approach, and that feels jarringly incongruous to anyone who was familiar with sister Seminyak property Potato Head Beach Club’s iconic soft silhouette of colorful, vintage wooden shutters, salvaged from abandonment across the archipelago. But then you find out that all those bricks were handmade by local craftsmen using age-old techniques, and you realize how much these walls have in common with that one across the driveway, that they are yin and yang. “I love the idea of a balance. I like it when monochrome meets the multicolors,” says Indonesian architect Andra Matin, who designed the two buildings. “The Katamama hotel was to represent Bali. It should feel Balinese, but modern at the same time.”
Both structures were conceived in homage to Indonesian tradition, to blending old and new in a way that feels fresh but timeless, artistic but warm. The primary experience of Katamama, though, is sustainability as a community measure, lifting up local culture to elevate five-star comfort. So while it stands out in its environment, it also blends. “You are surrounded by fine work from some of Indonesia’s best artisans and craftsmen,” says Ronald Akili, CEO of PTT Family. “We strive to make it authentic, not ethnic.”
This ethos courses through “the ‘modern’ architecture of 60s and 70s,” as Matin describes the geometrical design of the hotel, which is also reflected in the angles of the hand-thrown tableware made by Gaya Ceramic in Sayan. The Midcentury Modern furniture was modeled on a throwback Indonesian style called jenki and is carved of native teak. Fabrics such as robes and table runners come via Threads of Life, a fair-trade collective based in Ubud that helps thousands of women in remote villages across Indonesia support their families while keeping up their all-natural weaving and dyeing traditions.
And then there are those bricks: “Natural bricks, man-made and involving specialized craftsmanship,” says Pak Ketut Sukra, owner of Sumber Rata Bricks in Darmasaba. Founded by his grandfather in the 1960s, the family company starting in 2012 made nearly 1 million of the bricks used in Katamama. Mixed from scratch with paras, a fine stone powder sourced locally, the bricks were hand-pressed into custom molds and glazed with palm oil, before a 10-day drying and firing process. “The terra-cotta bricks are softer texture and stronger material for buildings, and last longer compared to other materials,” Sukra says. “For this reason, a lot of temples in Bali used these bricks.” They change color with age, and with light—and if you’re looking for an Instagram-winning selfie spot, just position yourself in the northwest-facing open-air corridors in late afternoon. The sun shining through long lattices of terra-cotta casts gorgeous golden patterns.
THE SECOND THING YOU NOTICE about Katamama is there’s no check-in desk. No, what’s usually that last barrier between you and total relaxation has been considerately discarded in favor of a direct path to it—namely, a bar. A broad set of stairs funnels you up into the mouth of this modernist cave, and once you’ve ascended into the hotel’s embrace, you’re greeted by Akademi, an open-plan bar-slash-library anchored by shelves adorned with Gaya drinkware and award-winning resident mixologist Dre Masso’s
house-infused liquors, some in clay pots (“clay pots are the new barrel-aged,” Masso laughs).
It’s a challenge to resist the temptation to dally here, but carry on. Access to the hotels rooms is via MoVida, the Melbourne Spanish spot beloved for its tapas (get the imported Espinaler sardines with tomato toast), charcuterie and swinging bar that is a perfect fit for this vibe. Call it rattan-chic. With its greenery and comfy nooks and open air, it’s a high-end lanai—and that feel flows directly into the 58 guest suites, all of which have original work by contemporary Indonesian artists, outdoor space (a handful with private pools) and an open bar. Yes, these guys are big drinkers, and bless them for it. Masso has stocked each room with four big bottles of his special-recipe booze, plus mixers and a manual. But if you don’t want to get to work just yet, during your in-room check-in a cheerful butler shall be summoned to smash up a welcome mojito.
Walking into a rooftop suite feels like stepping into a house by Frank Lloyd Wright, the tropical years—it’s all geometric lines, Eames-style furnishings, toasted solid colors, and burnished wood centered around the showstopper: a glassed-in garden, a terrarium that brings the outside in, and contains the spiral staircase leading up to your private flora-filled roof deck complete with hot tub.
The flow of the entire building basically carries you into your most stylish friend’s beach house. “We wanted it to be like welcoming you home,” hotel managing director Andrew Steele tells me, “and house-infused liquors, some in clay pots (“clay pots are the new barrel-aged,” Masso laughs).
Katamama 51B Jln. Petitenget, Seminyak; 62-361/302-9999; doubles from Rp7,092,536.
RESTAURANTS+BARS Akademi katamama.com; drinks for two Rp350,000. Alchemy alchemybali.com; meal for two Rp300,000. MoVida movida.com.au; meal for two Rp1,500,000. Potato Head Beach Club
62-361/473-7979; ptthead. com; meal for two Rp600,000. Room4Dessert Jalan Sanggingan, Ubud; 62-
812/3666-2806; room4 dessert.asia; dessert tasting menus from Rp430,000; drink flights from Rp450,000.
Threads of Life 24 Jln. Kajeng, Ubud; 62-361/972-187; threadsoflife.com.