Anna and Sean built their home in Petulu, just north of Ubud. And in this case “built”, perfectly describes their experience. They literally built it themselves, and avoided using external workers as much as possible. We sat down to discuss why and how they built in this way.
Where are you from originally and what did you do in your former lives?
So I’m originally from Australia. In a former life, I’m a tertiary qualified mechanical engineer. I dabbled in that industry a little bit, but then moved into corporate roles, predominantly technical sales. I lived in Sydney and then I lived in Victoria as well, I also lived in Brisbane, which is where Anna and I actually met.
Yeah. I’m originally from Germany, but I moved to Australia in 2007 and ended up spending 13 years there, first doing university and then also working. And I’ve worked in economics and finance. Then we met and we both kind of mutually discovered that the corporate world wasn’t really what we wanted to do, so we started traveling a lot together. Eventually, after many, many years of traveling in our camper van through Europe and checking out different areas of Asia, we were looking for somewhere to settle together. We knew it needed to be Asia. We ended up in Bali.
And what drew you to Bali?
Well, I was here once before in 2012 as a tourist and I just loved the energy of Ubud in particular. Obviously, it’s very traditional here still, with a lot of ceremonies, People were very friendly. And, of course, the food is delicious.
When was that? When did you first move back to Bali?
Well we first came here in 2000. We started coming in 2017 for like a month or so. Then I think we came in 2018 for three months. Then in 2019 for three months again, and then we were like, all right, let’s just do it!
So those were kind of little experiments, so we could try before we buy! Just to experience what it’s like. To not be a tourist, but kind of integrate with the community a bit more.
Why did you choose to live in Bali?
It’s hard to convey to people that either haven’t been here or don’t necessarily get it. There’s a certain feeling to the island that drew us to Bali for sure. Anna and I did a trip back in 2016. We spent a month here in Bali and a month in Vietnam. I had this preconceived idea that I wasn’t 100% sure about Bali. The reason was that it used to get a fairly bad rap from time to time in the press. It still does I guess. So we needed to try it out.
I absolutely loved Bali. It’s so diverse here and the more you get out and ride around and see different areas of Bali, you can ride an hour one way and feel like you’re in an entirely different country.
It was really important always to live in a warm climate. That’s why I went to Australia in the beginning. And I didn’t want to move back to a colder climate because there’s just so much freedom about having a warm climate. You always feel like on a holiday. Everything is so much more relaxed. People are more relaxed. The affordability is great here too.
When did you get your land in Bali?
We leased the land early 2020 and then went back to Australia. We stayed in Australia for a few months and then realised that Australia was going to be quite strict with their COVID regulations. So we actually left Australia and went to Europe. We spent three months in our van over in Europe during that time. And as that trip was coming to an end, we got a message from some friends of ours that were currently in Australia but they had spent some time in Bali. They said there was a new visa available so we could go back to Bali
And when did you start building your Bali home?
The Indonesian government was allowing people back in on a business visa, so we jumped on that. Yeah, and then we started a lot faster than we had anticipated.
Yeah, so that was in the October 2020. We had the design of the house pretty well sorted by that stage. We’d spoken about it a lot and drew it up on different napkins and pieces of paper over the months. When we were in Australia, I even made up a scale model of the design of the house.
Did you plan to actually build it yourself?
The idea was actually not to build it ourselves in the beginning because we’ve never done this before! The idea was to engage a local contractor and we had met with a few different ones. Unfortunately, none of them gave us a lot of confidence.
We really had explored other options. We went also to some of the larger construction companies here in Ubud and, and got quotes. It was just astronomical what they wanted to charge us. We’re not going to spend AUD 3-400,000 on a quite basic Bali house.
I think we had a “the shower moment”, where Sean was standing in the shower and he says to me, “Guess what? We’re going to build this thing ourselves”. And that was really the beginning of it! We thought we’re going to do this and see what happens.
Were you working at the same time?
We were fortunate for the fact that we didn’t have the additional commitments of having to generate an income while we were doing the build. If we needed to work, we simply couldn’t have done it. We couldn’t have done it, especially in the timeline that we did this place. Our focus was the build.
What was your Bali build timeline?
We started it in early December of 2020. And we moved in about June of 2021! So from the time we actually broke ground until we actually moved in, it was about six months. So it was a super intense time!
I don’t know how we actually did it! Also, the weather didn’t help. There were some mornings when we get up, eat breakfast, and 20 minutes after we started working, it would start pouring with rain. We couldn’t do anything so we just had to wait till it stopped. Unless there’s some sort of covering above your head, you’re at the mercy of the elements!
What gave you the confidence to do build a home yourselves?
I’m a mechanical engineer, but my father was a builder. He got out of the building industry a long time ago, but they owned a hardware store in Australia for 25 years or something like that. Occasionally, dad would buy a house and renovate it.
Being a kid at that stage, I’d go with him and kind of watch him. Once he sold his hardware, he started doing some handyman work and again I’d go with him and watch. When I got older, I bought a house and I renovated it myself with dad’s help. So I’ve always always been hands-on with that kind of thing. Due to my qualification. I knew about electrical work. I knew plumbing too. I knew a lot of different things in that respect. So it was just the fact of kind of putting it all together.
One of the biggest challenges we had was that we just didn’t know where to source good materials. That was really hard at first.
What did you do when you realised that you will have to do something that you haven’t done before? How did you research what are you were going to do? Where did you get the technical information for that sort of thing?
There’s a lot of research online. Obviously, there’s a lot of resources that you can find online as well, especially when it comes to structural engineering, which was really, really helpful. We spent a lot of time researching that.
Is your home steel framed? What’s the style that you chose? What kind of feeling were you trying to create?
Yeah, all steel, every part of every frame of the house is steel. One of the things that I’ve always been drawn to is the modular house or modular home kind of design. So that’s where the concept came to actually have the panels manufactured and then delivered to the site. Then we put them together onsite.
We found a really good fabricator, which wasn’t far from the site. We got him to make up a couple of test panels to make sure that the quality was good enough and away we went! So he would bring it in kind of section by section, room by room, and then we would put it together while he was preparing the next module.
I sort of modelled the roofline and the dimensions of the house on mid-century style properties. I wanted to a sort of 50s style, like a Palm Springs kind of roofline, where it’s fairly flat. The rooms are separated so you’ve got kitchen and living separate from the bedroom. There’s an elevated glass walkway that you walk through. It’s all black, so a lot of the steel work is black.
It’s definitely very industrial in the sense that we have a lot of glass and a lot of steel and so it really kind of pops against all the green of jungle and the rice paddies. It’s very, very open. The front of the house doesn’t even close. There’s no doors so the breeze comes through!
How big is the property? And how big is your home on the property?
6ara. In total, so we’ve got like a kitchen, lounge room, bedroom, bathroom, deck, a back barbecue area, which has our services room in it. So we’ve got our water pump and our water tank, and we’ve got a garage, workshop, and office, and then a bike parking. The total area of all of that combined was 150 square meters. So there’s a lot of green on our land.
Compared to those quotes that you got originally, how much did you spend?
I would say we spent about a third maybe.
Amazing! So, what’s your next project?
We’ve got 10ara beachfront in Tejakula, and we’ll build our own shack there. It’s just one of those instances where exactly what you want falls into your lap and you feel like if you don’t take that opportunity, then you’re just being silly. So we just said, let’s just grab it!
(Interview edited for clarity and length)
Photos by Anna & Sean
Words by Bali Interiors
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