I left Stone House Bali a few weeks ago, yet when I think of it now, I can still feel as if I’m there. So vivid was my stay there that the feeling lasts and lasts, and is imprinted deep into my sense memory. When you stay at Stone House, you absorb every bit of the luscious, luxurious energy in this lovely private hideaway in Ubud.
Opened just last year, this luxury B&B has already gotten glowing attention in lofty publications like The Economist 1843, Conde Nast Traveller UK (and now, ahem, in Barefoot Luxe !).
It may be new, but I’ve known about Stone House long before it opened, ever since it was a rice field and a vision in creator Walker Zabriskie’s mind. I’ve known his life partner Wendy even longer than that, from a previous, pre-Walker life in Bangkok where Wendy worked for the uber-chic COMO resorts, setting up their properties in Bhutan.
And I first met their lovely daughter when she was still a bump in her mother’s belly. Wendy had moved back to the US by that time, and on a return visit to Bangkok she met up with me and told me, “We’re going to name her Kyan, after a Burmese King, because we both like that name,” and then rushed off to find a new pillow to support her knees (which was supposed to be good for the pregnant back). Wendy is really insistent on comfort and quality, and the rest of us can be grateful that this can be felt in the plush trappings around Stone House, in the high-thread count luxury bed sheets, puffy pillows, cool cotton robes, and all things soft and textured, while all the hard surfaces gleam and shine.
Reflecting on this makes me realize that over the years I’ve known this adventurous couple, I’ve been audience to their visions when they were just words describing seeds of ideas, and then watched as they made those things happen in a no-nonsense, this is what we want way. These guys know what they like, and they know how to make it happen. And it’s all pretty damn amazing!
After watching Stone House develop from idea to hip hideaway over various visits to Bali, I finally had the chance to stay in the finished place, and chose it as the venue for a girl’s escape / long lost reunion with another old Bangkok friend who now lives in San Francisco.
Stone House has three guest villas to choose from, the Longhouse, the Java Suite, and the Sky View, each in a different style and all decorated with gorgeous Asian antiques, artifacts and textiles.
I chose the Longhouse, which is the biggest and most glamourous of them. Crafted like a traditional Indonesian longhouse, it’s built on massive stilts on the bank above the tiny rivulet that borders the property.
It’s the most private of the villas, and also the grandest, with three separate balcony sitting areas, one in front with a swing sofa; one on the side with an outdoor shower, and a bigger balcony / sitting room in the back with a view of lush terraced rice paddies beyond.
The happy splashing of a mini waterfall rises from the babbling brook below. Gentle birdsong provides natural background music. This outdoor sitting room was where we loved to stretch out, languish, talk endlessly, work at the table with our coffees in the morning, and loll around with our cocktails in the evenings.
I’d gotten a preview tour of this Longhouse a couple of years earlier when the site was still in its construction stage, and had been impressed. But getting a tour and actually staying in it were different things. Staying here is a much, much better experience than getting a tour!
Stepping into the room as a guest here is exciting. From the minute you enter, so many details catch the eye. It’s the opposite of staying in a typical hotel, where rooms are blah, cookie-cutter generic, deliberately designed to be as blandly inoffensive as possible to suit all range of guests. Here, the guest steps into the personal taste and style of the owners, which is exquisite. Wendy and Walker have unerring good taste, and between them have lived in Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia and collected amazing treasures over years of travel around Asia.
Walker is a furniture designer, and can design and make whatever visions blossom in his brain, such as an enormous wooden bathtub or a dramatic bathroom counter made of spectacular petrified tree roots.
Wendy’s touch is in the details and accessories, like the antique Tibetan rug in the bathroom and garlands of amber beads and mala prayer beads that overflow from wooden offering trays.
Let your gaze wander around the rooms and you’ll find wooden oars from Papua New Guinea, Himalayan beads, tribal necklaces, Tibetan singing bowls, things made of horn, shell, bone, stone, wood; things carved, embroidered, braided, pleated, woven; everything exquisitely crafted by artisans, both antique and contemporary. Everything exudes rustic beauty, and the aura of the handmade.
Seating is layered with ethnic textiles – beaded, textured, mirrored, tribal, old, and new.
Stone House is a luxury bed and breakfast, and the morning meal is a relaxing experience in the open-air living/dining room called the Great Room. A chalkboard menu on the kitchen counter offers a fine selection of homemade breakfast options. But once I tasted the the banana pancakes, I ate them every day and didn’t even look at the rest of the dishes. In retrospect though, I now wish I’d tried some other dishes, like the homemade granola and the signature spicy eggs. Oh well, next time. Coffee, tea and fresh coconut water are available all day long.
Dinner can be ordered in advance from a menu offering home cooked Indonesian cuisine. “Best Indonesian food in town” is what my friends say about the talented cook here, who is trained in various types of cuisine.
Staying at Stone House feels like being a guest in an exotic and beautiful private home. There’s an easy-going social aspect too, because you inevitably meet the other guests over meals at the communal dining table. Interesting stories can be shared, new friendships formed, and new connections made among the international guests who stay here.
Aside from my own girls’ escape reunion of two old friends coming from Bangkok and San Francisco to meet up in Bali, there was a family from Geneva consisting of a Canadian wife ( a yoga teacher) and Venezuelan husband (a multinational corporate executive) whose two 7- and 9-year-old kids spoke five languages, and an adventurous Canadian – Thai couple (who were my friends), from Bangkok who were an architect and a fashion PR manager, who rented a motorbike and rode all the way up to the Kintamani volcano and around the island. The children were so sad to leave, they were sobbing and clutching their parents, the dogs, the cushions, and the Stone House manager when it was time to check out.
If you’re not in the mood to mingle, the Great Room offers enough separate areas around the dining table, sofa area and bar so that people can have their own space if they want to.
Adding to the homey charm are the owners’ two friendly and well-behaved dogs who roam around meeting and greeting everyone.
There’s Lulu, a standard French poodle who is sweet and gentle and loves to play fetch with a tennis ball. The little one is Bella, of indeterminate breed, yet oddly familiar looking, I thought, as if I’d met her before. When I learned she’s half corgi, half beagle, I realized that’s why she looks so familiar – she has a beagle’s soulful face on a corgi’s low-slung body, like a little mini beagle! She’s adorable and sometimes even cuddles in people’s laps.
The pool here is probably the most inviting pool I’ve ever seen in Bali. In the boiling, sweaty, suffocating tropical heat, the cool sea-green pool was beckoning us with its little waterfall and infinity edge fringed with giant elephant ear ferns. It’s too bad that we were so busy that I never had time to really enjoy it or laze by it, and sadly I only had time to jump in for a hurried swim just before we checked out.
My second favourite room here is the Java Suite, so named because one wall is made from an antique mural from an old palace in Java that Walker had collected and kept in storage for years, thinking that one day he could use it for something. And years later, he’s put it to fabulous use. (What’s the lesson here? If you see something fabulous that you really, really love, get it. It might come in useful if you keep it long enough).
All the fabulous things at Stone House are items that have been collected from love of beautiful objects, custom designed and crafted in Walker’s design workshop, or lovingly curated by Wendy in pursuit of beautiful living.
Isn’t that what life is all about? And that’s what you get at Stone House. Beautiful living, curated by free spirited, intrepid travelers with great taste!
Have you been to Bali before? What’s your favourite type of accommodation there?