Over 1.8 million. That’s how many bricks were handcrafted to create Katamama, an extraordinary boutique hotel in Bali realized by Ronald Akili and his team, the PTT Family, alongside Indonesian architect Andra Matin. Each brick is individually fabricated, from formation to finish, using an artisanal production process that includes firing them in a kiln heated by dried coconut shells. It took two years to make enough bricks to achieve Katamama’s impressive hand-laid foundation, which is a combination of solid walls and decorative perforated sections designed to let in natural light.
But the bricks are just a starting point in exploring PTT Family’s world of meticulous craftsmanship. In addition to Katamama, their projects span the neighboring Potato Head Beach Club—an oceanside oasis sheltered by a curved, amphitheater-like wall made of 18th century teak window shutters collected from across the islands—to the gourmet burger joint Three Buns below their bohemian bar Folk in Singapore to Tanah Teduh, a stylish 20-house estate in South Jakarta. There isn’t a detail left unconsidered nor a concept too big for the PTT team. The latest example: the Sou Fujimoto-designed Potato Head Hong Kong, which over 8,000-square-feet includes an audiophile listening room stocked with expertly selected vinyl records and high-end speakers, an airy coffee shop peddling handcrafted homewares and finally Kaum, a stunning restaurant swathed in 700 hand-painted panels with patterns that tell the story of Indonesia’s indigenous Toraja people.
When PTT takes their ambitions beyond Southeast Asia (Los Angeles, London and Tokyo are in their sights), they plan to tap into the culture of each locale while continuing to implement ancient Indonesian techniques in contemporary settings. “Indonesia just has so much to offer that people don’t know about,” says PTT’s creative director, Dan Mitchell. “The beauty of Bali is that Old World craftsmanship still exists, and we’re trying to show the youth [here] that being an artisan is cool and inspire them not to lose those skills.”
We saw this passion first-hand during a recent stay at Katamama, where luxury is undoubtedly in the handmade. Thousands of items and materials were produced specifically for the hotel, and PTT is not only transparent about who they work with, but hugely proud to promote them. Found in each of the elegantly appointed rooms is an in-depth guidebook that shares information about the processes and people who make the hotel’s bespoke furnishings. They also did an installation in which the artisans set up little replicas studios at the hotel and demonstrated their craft. “At the end the artisans were kind of crying. They couldn’t believe people were interested in something they do anyway,” says Mitchell. “They live their day-to-day lives not knowing how much value their skills hold. We want to try and show them how precious their skills are.” In addition to commissioning work for PTT projects, Katamama continues to hold a monthly showcase where villagers can come sell their wares and tell their story. Mitchell says, “They’re stoked they can keep working regularly and help support their villages.”
Katamama’s unfathomable beauty lies in this perfect combination of a seamless artistic vision dutifully carried out by master craftspeople. From the moment you enter the long leafy drive that whisks you away from the bustle of Seminyak, it’s clear this is an unconventional place. First, you’re taken immediately to your suite where you check in via iPad while they fix you a welcome drink at your in-room bar, complete with house-made spirits (like the local favorite arak), a set of bar tools and an ice box filled with large cubes ideal for the bottle of barrel-aged negroni that’s on the shelf.
They then leave you to enjoy the room, which is decidedly hip but with zero pretension. Put on the naturally dyed bathrobe, pick up one the numerous paperback books on hand and then head for the outdoor daybed on the private terrace, or to the giant bathtub framed by an expansive window and made even more indulgent with soaps and salts by Bali-based fragrance company Sensatia Botanicals. You could easily spend your entire holiday in the suite alone, but that would be remiss.
Instead, take a stroll around the property. In addition to Potato Head Beach Club (which delivers epic sunsets), there are two shops on site—fashion-forward Escalier and the sustainable lifestyle store Canaan—as well as One Fifteenth Coffee and the 100% raw food and juice cafe Alechemy. You can have lunch or dinner at Movida, a Spanish tapas restaurant based in Australia and brought to Katamama where they take advantage of local ingredients like super fresh fish.
At some point, spend some time getting to know the menu at Akademi, the lobby bar made almost entirely of custom-created cement terrazzo and helmed by award-winning mixologist Dre Masso. In addition to signature drinks like Molucca’s Sour, which infuses spiced rum with indigenous nutmeg (where it takes its name), a tincture made from mace (the dry covering that protects the nutmeg seed), citrus juice and egg whites, they offer six six variations of the negroni to choose from, each as interesting as the next. (Masso also hosts negroni workshops to teach guests how to make the perfect concoction.) Recover the next morning with a dip in the pool and a fresh juice mocktail from the grass-roof outdoor bar.
High standards are an understatement at Katamama, and seemingly every project they do. But it isn’t just all in the decor; they’re working to change laws in Bali that would protect its natural resources. The biggest challenge being the island’s water crisis. And they’re currently working with Rem Koolhaas’ architecture studio OMA on a hotel that will sit next door to Katamama and rest on stilts in order to maintain all of the natural land underneath.
You feel a strong sense of community during your stay, in the way everyone remembers your name to the way the workers smile at each other. When you leave, they give you a ceremonial tri datu bracelet that the Balinese believe gives you strength and protects you on your journey. This is, after all, the Island of Gods, and PTT Family ensures you understand why this isolated archipelago is uniquely special.
Lead image courtesy of PTT, all other images by Karen Day