Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia

Follow Us

Asia travel and leisure guides for hotels, food and drink, shopping, nightlife, and spas | Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia

A Boutique with Classic Balinese Flair

Katamama, a boutique hotel in Bali, translates age-old Indonesian traditions into a contemporary classic. By JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN. Photographed by MARK LANE.

Published on Jan 6, 2017


ONE-AND-A-HALF MILLION BRICKS. That's the first thing you notice about the 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 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."

Potato Head
Designer Andra Matin's iconic Potato Head amphitheater, made of old wooden shutters.

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.

Red-brick road
Follow the red-brick road.

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 openair 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).

Akademai bar
Akademi bar, the Katamama welcome.

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 glassedin 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.

Rooftop Whirlpool
A rooftop whirlpool.

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 make everything as easy as possible." He points out all the convenient power and USB plugs hidden in every section of my suite, and discloses other less obvious touches. "Don't you hate getting wake-up calls? How can we make it pleasant? I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if my wake-up call was coffee and a chocolate croissant?' So that's what we do."

It's true, a skim latte and a fresh pastry make getting up to go to the hotel gym a lot easier, though I could've also used that wake-up call after the early morning Tibetan bowl ceremony, a hypnotic sensory session that was part of the hotel's ever-changing calendar of cultural offerings, curated by concierges who, "while they don't necessarily come from hotel backgrounds," Akili says, "know the island inside out and can help create a one-of-a-kind experience, not typical tourist itineraries."

Katamama Suite
The Katamama suite overlooks Potato Head.

Katamama forms partnerships with like-minded folks intent on raising the bar ethically and aesthetically, including Alchemy, the first 100-percent raw-vegan restaurant in Indonesia, and Room4Dessert, Will Goldfarb's temple to seasonal-sweets in Ubud that is all about nurturing local staff. These types of values are projected at the hotel's front door, at Akademi, the embodiment of Masso's vision for a place for bartenders to train, collaborate and invent. At Akademi, they apply the nose-to-tail philosophy to fruit and produce, using, for example, chocolate pod husks as cups; they're bringing back Batavia arrak, a moonshiney rice wine that Masso has found mention of in centuryold cocktail books; and their best-selling drink, the local arrak- and tamarillo-laced Tama-Tama was dreamed up not by Masso but by native son mixologist Jakob Oetama.

"Katamama showcases what is Indonesia now, not some old island cliché," Akili says. "We always aim to show the best of Indonesian culture through our signature contemporary context." I'll raise a Tama-Tama to that. But could you bring it to my roof deck? With a chocolate croissant?





Katamama 51B Jln. Petitenget, Seminyak; +62 361 302 9999; doubles from Rp7,092,536.

Akademi drinks for two Rp350,000.
Alchemy meal for two Rp300,000.
MoVida meal for two Rp1,500,000.
Potato Head Beach Club +62 361 473 7979; meal for two Rp600,000.
Room4Dessert Jalan Sanggingan, Ubud; +62 812 3666 2806; dessert tasting menus from Rp430,000; drink flights from Rp450,000.


See All Articles...

Follow the red-brick road.
  • Shaking up sunset atop the Katamama suite.
  • Lanai-life in MoVida.
  • Akademi bar, the Katamama welcome.
Related Articles