Bali has a lot of spectacular villas, but the one recently completed by French architect Maximilian Jencquel is particularly extraordinary
It all started when a Polish woman knocked insistently on his front door. ‘She moved to Bali and was looking for a house when she stumbled on mine on the internet,’ he says. Designed in a Balinese vernacular style, it embodied all the reasons Jencquel had moved to the Indonesian island in 2011 — the skilled local craftsmanship, the tropical climate, the harmony between nature and the built environment. The woman wanted to buy it, but Jencquel didn’t want to sell.
So they reached a compromise: she rented Jencquel’s house for a year, enjoying her time so much that she bought land and asked him to design her a home. ‘She wanted something super modernist, but I wanted something timeless, something people here would know how to build,’ recalls Jencquel. ‘A modernist house needs people who know how to do concrete, you need to bring in people from Switzerland to do the windows.’ In the end they compromised on a blend of vernacular and modern.
The client flew in Dutch landscaper Menno Landstra to ease the transition between the dense jungle on the edge of the 4,000-square-metre property and the open living areas of the 400-square-metre house. ‘The jungle is very lush — it’s so rich it becomes part of the decor,’ says Jencquel. With that in mind, he designed many parts of the house without walls, to encourage a typically Balinese indoor-outdoor lifestyle. ‘We look at where the wind is coming from, what the sun is hitting, so the house is ventilated properly and there’s enough air flow.’
Working with local craftspeople, he used a limited array of materials to build the house, including Indonesian ironwood for the structure and roof. ‘We use it for aesthetics but mainly because it’s a wood that does extremely well outdoors in the humidity,’ he explains. ‘The termites don’t even like it.’ Inside, the floors and walls are richly hued teak, some of which was recycled from the site’s former home, including an entire log whose ends are riven with a century’s worth of rings. ‘It would be worth then thousand dollars if you bought it,’ says Jencquel. ‘The client said, “We’ve got to use this for something”, so we turned it into a vanity in the master bathroom. It’s become a bit of a sculptural piece.’
Paras stone also figures prominently. ‘It looks a little bit like concrete but if you look closely it has these patterns,’ he says. ‘It comes out of a river in Ubud — it’s volcanic ash that’s been compressed. It’s a very soft stone. You can literally break it apart in your hands but it does really well as a wall cladding.’ The one concession to foreign luxury was Carrara marble, which Jencquel used on the floor of the master bathroom. ‘It’s facing a garden that’s quite dark and we wanted something that would reflect the light,’ he says, noting that the veins also complement the teak.
The result is a villa that makes the most of its setting and context. ‘We managed to take a concept that I’d created for my own house and took it really far,’ says Jencquel. ‘The house has a humble feeling but at the same time it’s very luxurious. The quality of the materials in general was such a pleasure to work with. Some people might think it’s a cottage, but it’s not. It’s a precious home.’
Text / Christopher DeWolf
Images / Edmon Leong