Conversation with Kathryn Romeyn of Bali Kali Kubu
Luxury travel and design journalist Kathryn Romeyn has written for Departures, Architectural Digest, The Hollywood Reporter and more. In 2017, she completed building her Bali home, Bali Kali Kubu, then began splitting her time between there and Los Angeles. I met her in L.A. in 2017, introduced through another globe-trotting friend.
The day we met, she told me she had just broken ground on the house and was nervous and excited. We went our separate ways, and each had lots of adventures and words to publish about them (Kathryn also launched her own travel newsletter, Journeys, featuring her photography).
When I started writing for BoutiqueHomes and saw that Kathryn’s now-completed Indonesian haven was in our collection, we came full-circle. It was a thrill to meet her on the balcony of her cheery West Hollywood pink bungalow (that reminds her of past Mexican holidays) and talk about where life has taken her.
WHAT HAS YOUR YEAR BEEN LIKE?
KATHRYN ROMEYN: "I feel like this year has been a huge shift away from travel, due to the circumstances. I was planning this trip to India in November and I was really looking forward to it. One of the things I was planning was to go to Pushkar, the biggest camel festival in the world. But that was canceled, so there hasn't been a lot of travel. But I did launch the Conscious Traveler podcast, with my friend Eric Rosen, who is also a travel writer."
CONGRATULATIONS! TELL US WHAT SPARKED THE IDEA.
KR: "Eric and I had the concept in February of this last year. We wanted to do something around the idea of conscious travel, of not just saying you're going to an eco-lodge or, ‘I want to buy something that's sustainable’, but really kind of digging in deeper to the ideas of how to be more respectful and sensitive, and how to get more meaning out of your travels. Maybe even having experiences that influence the trajectory of your life, or decisions you're making about things going forward. We went back through all of these amazing trips we've had in places where we've been able to write stories about a new luxury hotel or a tour operator, but felt like there were so many things that we hadn't been able to share through our assignments that we were really touched by."
CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE?
KR: "In Kenya last year I was on a safari, and I had my first safari guide who was a woman. I was really inspired by her story. Her name was Nash, and she was the youngest out of 20 children, the first one to finish her education. She went to guide school, and became a safari guide. She drives her own vehicle. Now, when she's driving through villages, everyone points at her and is like, ‘Look, it's a girl driving that safari car!’ She was so motivated and passionate about wildlife and conservation that she made it her mission to accomplish this. And now she supports her family. So that's an episode we have. We’re going to do a series on emerging or evolving female roles in the tourism industry."
HOW DID YOU END UP IN BALI, AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO CREATE BALI KALI KUBU?
KR: "When I was 30, I moved to Australia, and a friend of mine was doing a workshop in Bali. I ended up going and staying for a month. Bali is definitely where my soul is happiest. It was alluring to me from the first morning I woke up and stepped outside, right on a canang sari offering. I was talking with someone about how the Balinese people are like a national treasure. They’re the kindest most sweet, thoughtful and sensitive people I’ve met anywhere, and truly made my first experience on the island unforgettable. During my first month there I did so much—I climbed Mt. Batur, a volcano, to watch the sunrise at the top. I bathed in the sacred water at the temple Tirta Empul on my 31st birthday, feeling all the blessings that people travel to receive. I watched a nighttime surf contest at Uluwatu. There are just so many things I love about Bali, and each and every time I’m there I discover more to do, see, eat, think about. It’s an endlessly enriching place for me.
"I kept wanting to go back there and made it a point to return once or twice a year for the next few years. On one of those trips, I remember seeing a flyer up about a house for sale, a three-bedroom house with a pool. I want to say it was $200,000 and I thought about how that was much more affordable than buying a house in L.A. It planted the seed in my head that I wanted to build a house in Bali. And my dad is a homebuilder in Atlanta, so I thought it could be a fun project to do together."
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE BUILDING MATERIALS YOU CHOSE, AND ABOUT THE FURNISHINGS.
KR: "I had a very distinct vision for my bathroom tiles, and it took a crazy amount of Internet research, asking around and physically searching around Bali to find something that fit what I saw in my head. Finally, I discovered Sadus Tiles, owned by a lovely Balinese man named Wayan, who makes custom concrete tiles and had the kinds of shapes and colors I dreamed of. When it came to the great turquoise tiles that you see as you go down the driveway, it was actually kismet. I’d admired them on the bar at Mana, the restaurant at Uluwatu Surf Villas, as my house was being finished. And then my friend, the owner’s wife, told me they actually had a few extra boxes! I bought them from her, and my dad and I came up with the diamond design that incorporated each and every one.
"Most of the wood in the house is teak, though the ceilings of the yoga shala, breezeway and balcony are old coconut wood. The furniture was almost entirely custom-made in Bali with the exception of a couple vintage pieces. It’s incredible what you can have crafted there with just an inspiration photo or drawing and dimensions! I visited so many different furniture shops and ordered custom pieces from a variety based on where their specific skills lay.
"It was like a treasure hunt. Even just to get linens and pillows and lamps - driving around with a pile of stuff tied to the scooter and I’d always want to see just one more shop."
WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND VISITORS DO IN BALI?
KR: "A few of my favorite musts for visitors include taking a surf lesson in Padang Padang (if you’re not already an experienced surfer), riding bikes through the rice terraces and fields around Ubud, taking a cooking class to learn how to make some Indonesian classics like nasi goreng, and visiting craft villages or workshops where you can see locals weaving, carving or creating other beautiful crafts. I also love tooling around the island on my scooter trying to find less-touristed waterfalls, of which there are many gorgeous ones hidden in unassuming villages."
HOW DO GUESTS RESPOND TO KALI BALI KUBU?
KR: "I love that my house usually elicits a 'wow' from guests, and I often hear that they can feel how special it is, the way it’s curated and designed. I’ve had guests tell me they felt so much magic there. And that makes me so happy, albeit a little envious when I can’t be there myself!"
To book at stay at Bali Kali Kubu, click here.