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Right by one of Uluwatu’s cliff-outlines shores at the southern end of the Bali island is a hidden alley. Furtively enshrouded next to the sprawl of a luxury resort, the alley’s craggy path leads to a flight of stairs that juts down to a beach. The journey down is perilous. The stairs, seemingly built in a slapdashed impatience to reach what waits beneath, are dauntingly steep. To descend the hundreds of odd-sized steps, that sorely lack a handrail, is to test your self-will. (The uphill clamber is another battle of its own.) But after what could feel like an involuntary stretch of muscles you never knew existed, and a brief traverse on white sand, there it is: The Rocks villa.
Sitting atop a bed of seaweed-laden outcrop, The Rocks hangs right above where the high-tide waves lap at the shore of Impossibles, a relatively obscure reef break only known to the more avid surfers. The extremely secluded house has the cliff-trailing staircase as its only direct access.
Yet therein lies its sequestered beauty: Despite Uluwatu’s flurry of new development, the remoteness of The Rocks’s site preserves a rare tranquillity. A beach in Bali, unalarmed by throngs of tourists, is near-impossible to come by.
The two-storey holiday home has six ensuite bedrooms and is largely open-aired. The expansive living room shares its space with a bar and a balcony, framed with blossoming bougainvillaeas. Its stripped-back ambience of whites and restrained bursts of turquoises and salmon pinks lean towards midcentury Le Corbusier-inflected Mediterranean tropes. And as it should, the space is designed to point you to the main event: chaise lounges, counter seats and sunbeds all face the long stretch of uninterrupted ocean.
The Rocks is built and owned by Ben Jones, the British entrepreneur behind Singapore’s experimental bar Operation Dagger and gastropub Oxwell & Co., and is part of his growing list of properties in Bali. To design the house, he commissioned James Brown of Adelaide-based UFO Agencies, the designer responsible for Seminyak’s achingly hip Motel Mexicola and Tropicola. Jones has three other residences, aside from The Rocks, scattered on and around the island: two are located in the more popular area of Canggu; another in Nusa Lembongan, a less-populated island that’s a 40-minute boat ride away from Denpasar. These are all vacation homes Jones leases out under Mandala Places, his brand of luxury accommodation that’s meant to bridge the gap between luxury hotels and private villas.
Mandala Places began with The House, Jones’s first sizable expanse in Canggu, as a personal endeavour to build his dream house. Designed in 2015 by Spanish architects SUKYF and the Californian interior design firm 4 Corners, The House is made to impress. A glass-bottomed pool — purportedly Bali’s first — is laid above the main pool with a built-in sunken bar area. A secret door, melded into a glass wall of shelving in the master bedroom, opens to an attic library. A bunkerlike gym; an in-house theatre; a palm tree in the kitchen.
“It started to generate a fair bit of attention, booking inquiries and an online following,” says Jones. “We decided to effectively convert the theme into a business where we build design-forward dream villas. The name itself is a symbol that is in Buddhism and Hinduism, which stands for the circle of life. I have a big one [a Mandala symbol] tattooed on my arm. It kind of inspired the choice of name.”
What came after was its other Canggu property, The Home, followed by The Rocks. And in 2019, The Bay was opened in Nusa Lembongan. Its prime perch on a limestone promontory overlooks Sandy Bay and Devil’s Tear wild waves. Inside, Mandala’s in-house studio Superlatives had teamed up with Brown, the designer behind The Rocks, to orchestrate a Hamptons-like pad where cool terrazzo underfooting, upcycled Javanese furniture, Picasso-inspired murals and a cliffside firepit are luxuriantly huddled under one roof.
With the endless stream of design imagery on social media, it takes a singular aesthetic to elicit a second look. To Jones, that meant going beyond merely beautiful structures. For one, the four villas under Mandala are strategically placed. Their locations, singled out for what Jones believes as definitive to any Bali encounter, tick the obvious boxes. “Canggu for surf, restaurant and bar culture, yoga, fitness and a more hip yet cosmopolitan experience. Uluwatu for sheer beauty, quiet waves, and white sandy beaches. Nusa Lembongan for raw and stunning landscapes, snorkelling, diving, and a much more relaxed ‘back-in-the-day’ experience,” says Jones, noting that there are still uncovered facets of the island that his brand would aim to encapsulate.
Currently underway are vacation villas in Ubud and Tabanan. Much like their predecessors, these forthcoming houses will be moulded to fit its own singular natural surrounding — but also, to dazzle its would-be lodgers.
“When people want to book their ultimate escape, their dream house, their MTV crib, you can’t play it safe,” says Jones. “You need to push the boat out.”
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