Benedicte Hansen swapped a successful 20-year career at IKEA, her latest posting as Marketing Manager at IKEA Jakarta, with one running a sustainable villa in Bali’s cultural hub of Ubud. We find out what motivated her to get out of the fast lane and give back to the people of Bali.
Do you feel a greater sense of purpose doing what you are doing now, or was it more of a decision to get out of the fast lane?
When working with the establishment team of the first IKEA store in Indonesia, I created a launch campaign for this great global brand’s vision “of creating a better everyday life for many people”. It was a simple awareness campaign around iconic IKEA products combined with a long-term CSR plan – The IKEA Blue Bag project. This acknowledged and addressed a serious issue for many people in Jakarta: contaminated water.
IKEA Indonesia is a growing success since the opening in 2014 and the better the business does, the more it contributes to improving this serious issue. The project attracted the interest of IKEA Foundation and Water.org, and in March 2016, IKEA Foundation donated €12.4 million to improve access to clean water and sanitation in Indonesia and India in cooperation with Water.org. This is the biggest ever single donation made by IKEA Foundation and I am proud to have created and pursued a simple idea, which has leaped into such a widespread project.
I knew my next career move needed to include work with a purpose. When I discovered Villa Kalisat (as a guest), I saw the opportunity to combine a business with my passion of meeting like-minded interested and interesting people, as well as creating a long-term sustainable co-habitation partnership with the village it is situated in.
The hotel is beautifully designed, but how have you maintained a connection to the landscape and local culture?
First of all, the construction is on a cliff at the back of a rural rice farm village, which traditionally uses this area for chicken, pigs and garbage burning. I do not believe in building on food (rice fields), and garbage burning is very toxic!
You have to walk through the village to get to the villa, which gives visitors the unique opportunity to see/be part of the everyday life of a traditional village. The staff members are from the village or related to someone in the village, which makes them very comfortable and proud working in their own environment.
The natural spring below Villa Kalisat, is now supplying the villa’s restaurant and rooms and a big reserve tank for the village to use. Previously, the people would have to go down to the river below (80 metres) to fetch their water whenever the frequent cuts occurred from the water company. Water is also a growing issue in Bali. We only use local products in the restaurant, dining area, spa and interiors of the rooms, combined with some personal art pieces, to give a homey feel.
Finally, but most importantly, the villagers are the builders of all the constructions! The design was originally influenced by their knowledge of local material and building aesthetics. My recent additions have also been in consultation with the head of the village – the hotel manager’s father and the manager himself. An example is a balcony extension over sheer cliff rocks, integrating an existing tree. Another recent addition is a river pavilion 80 metres below Villa Kalisat.
Do you think you have been successful at this?
I believe we (the village and I) are successful in running a unique Bali home. However, every day, we ask each other: do the guests really ‘catch the Kalisat spirit’? We continuously make changes and adjustments to enhance this.
Is there anything you would like to work on in the future at the hotel to improve that connection?
We are looking into the possibility of generating our own electricity for the villa and the village with hydro or solar. We are also supporting one of the staff’s family coffee farms in northern Bali by purchasing their coffee beans directly. We are hoping to support other staff members’ hidden crafts and talents, once they become apparent. Just the other day, I saw some fantastic stone statues carved by our hotel manager in his spare time. They are now at our reception and our guests are buying them directly from the Villa Kalisat creator, which is so lovely.
Does Villa Kalisat reflect your own personal feeling for Bali/Indonesia?
I believe that it is important to surround yourself with beauty; people, traditions, nature and art.
I find the Balinese way of life does this naturally, every day. Balinese people believe that in exchange for the time we have been ‘lent’ on Earth, we must maintain balance on three levels;
The level above – worshipping the Gods
Our level – keep harmony amongst fellow people
The level below – respect for the earth and nature
The spirit of Villa Kalisat is a combination of all this – the authentic village and temples, the daily ceremonies, the family/community life, the locally crafted exteriors and interiors, original art pieces and the surrounding forest.
You mentioned the family compound a few times. How do the hotel and the community interact?
We asked the village to find a local tree surgeon to cut the top-heavy part of a tree. It was a strikingly beautiful tree, but we all agreed that its height would soon cause a safety issue. After the guy had a serious look at the tree, he told us he could only cut it after been given permission by the tree spirit. The village spent the next few hours making a stunning fruit offering, which the tree surgeon took down to the roots of the tree. It was evident that one should not take something away from nature without giving something back. During the fruit offering ceremony, he felt the permission from the tree spirit. Only then did he proceed to cut the top of the tree. An appeased tree-spirit is vital for a tree surgeon!
What are the things that guests most enjoy about their visit?
The view, the river, the staff, our spa treatments, the food – especially the famous Kalisat chocolate cake – but mainly the unique feeling, which is so difficult to capture in a photo. Social media has made a unique destination very rare, but I can honestly say that Villa Kalisat provides a unique experience; the jungle awakening, every morning.
What advice would you give to someone visiting Ubud for the first time?
Allow more time! There are so many interesting activities in the area, but if I have to recommend one destination, approximately 20 minutes’ drive from Villa Kalisat are the Holy Springs in Tampaksiring.
Thank you, Benedicte. For more information, please visit www.villakalisatbali.com