Introducing Michelle Tanaya, the owner of Alaya Hotel Ubud
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the gorgeous Michelle Tanaya at Pison Coffee Ubud. Michelle was born in Bali, and grew up in Australia. In 2005, she came back to Bali for a holiday.
“I remember on October 1st 2005, I was having dinner with my family when all of a sudden we got thrown on the ground,” she pauses, “I could feel the heat and explosion. There were 83 casualties that day, but thank God my family got a second chance,” she says as she replays the night of the second Bali bombing in Jimbaran that night.
Michelle ended up never leaving Bali. She started managing her parents’ little villas in Kuta which eventually led to her starting the Alaya Hotel Ubud in 2013, when Ubud was not as developed as it is now.
Alaya was envisioned as a boutique hotel, consisting of 60 rooms. She wanted the architecture to be designed by Grounds Kent Architects, an Australian architecture firm who’s known for their exquisite work designing the Four Seasons Resort Jimbaran and the newly opened Jumeirah Bali.
But she hesitated at the thought of reaching out to them. “There’s no way they would want to work with us. We’re a small boutique hotel,” Michelle recalls, but to her surprise, they agreed to do it. Martin Ground, the principal architect, implemented the use of local materials such as marble, bamboo, teak, and local stones to make Alaya a design hotel with a reasonable price.
They had such huge success within the first 3 years of opening that they became certified as a 5 star hotel. In 2016, they decided to add 46 more rooms, making a total of 106 rooms.
Alaya Hotel Ubud is strategically located in the heart of Ubud, within walking distances away from some of the top tourist attractions, “It’s so close to the Monkey Forest – close enough for people to walk there but far enough so that the monkeys don’t get here,“ she laughs.
The hotel also has three F&B outlets; Pison Coffee, Brasserie by Pison, and Cerita Manisan that was formerly called Manisan; it was designed by the late Made Wijaya, a world-renowned Australian landscape architect based in Bali. It ended up being his last project before he passed away in 2016.
“We kept all of our staff during the pandemic, we had to close for 7 months because Ubud was completely dead,” she notes. Luckily Bali is slowly coming back to life, as we sat down to have coffee during the interview, I can’t help but notice how crowded the coffee shop and hotel area was. Filled with local and overseas tourists.
Pison Coffee is one of the most famous Ubud cafes, can you tell us a bit more about it?
“We wanted a cafe that can blend in with the existing hotel behind it, so we thought it would be a good idea to have the same architect design Pison for us,” Michelle says as she takes me around the coffee shop.
The outdoor area of Pison is surrounded by rice fields, which have now become a popular instagram spot for tourists. “Fun fact – these are actually productive rice fields. So every three months during harvest time, guests can join in,”
The interior design for this Ubud cafe was done by a local interior designer called Desaru. It’s characterised with a thatched roof to make it merge seamlessly with the surroundings.
Aside from the coffee shop, Alaya is also known for its in-house spa, Dala, which in Sanskrit translates to ‘leaf’. It started with Michelle and her husband’s weekly spa routine; they noticed that most Indonesian spas in Bali are either very zen or minimalist, and the Indonesian rituals are not being highlighted as they should. “Indonesia is rich in beauty rituals, and if presented properly, it’s beautiful!” so she says.
After recognizing that gap in the market, Michelle and her husband, Jimmy, set off to start their very first project together as a couple. “We wanted everything in one room, instead of having to move from room-to-room for foot scrub, massage, and so on. It just breaks the whole flow,” she explains.
In terms of design, she wanted maximalist instead of minimalist, opulence instead of zen, with lots of detailing, and she also wanted each room to be a different colour. The reason being, different colours evoque different moods. For example, red is romantic, blue is calming, green is relaxing, etc.
“I came across this lady, Zohra Boukhari, and I immediately fell in love with her work,” Zohra Boukhari is a well known French-Moroccan interior decorator. She knew Zohra was the right person for the project.
Michelle requested the spa interior to be classic, timeless, and lean more toward a French boudoir style.The decorator took her wishes to heart, and the resulting rooms feel contemporary yet still have a vintage French atmosphere.
This Ubud spa focuses on using natural ingredients for their guests. The therapist will prepare the ingredients in front of the guests, and for the bath, they use the 7 flowers that are commonly used for Balinese offerings. Guests coming from overseas can really experience the culture. I’ve personally had a massage there and I’ve gotta say it’s one of the best Ubud spas I’ve tried!
What’s next for Alaya?
“Our current project is Damara Village – Alaya Collection, it’s the first high-end residential housing area in Ubud,” she says as she shows me pictures of her project, 60 units of 2-3 bedrooms villas that are currently for sale.
And, how do you manage to work full time as a mother of three?
“I have support systems! And an amazing team of course! I just make sure that everything is aligned but the team is pretty much self sufficient,” she says.