Couple Spent 10 Years Building Bali Clifftop Villa: Photos
- Renee Zecha and her husband Christopher Wood spent 10 years building a clifftop villa in Bali.
- It was difficult terrain: the site was divided by a ravine 15 meters deep.
- Today, Uluwatu Estate is a vast collection of interconnecting walkways and villas that cross the estate.
Renee Zecha and her husband Christopher Wood first saw the land in 2002. They were in Uluwatu, one of Bali‘s most remote areas. The terrain in question was barren and inaccessible, perched on top of a cliff. But when Zecha and Wood arrived at the end of the country road, they discovered the true beauty of the site.
“There was no indication that there might be anything special at the end,” Zecha said. “But when I saw it, I was blown away. The view is worth a million dollars.”
Zecha, a former investment banker, had stumbled upon the field by chance.
“Bali has become quite built up. But Uluwatu was the only place in Bali where nothing had really developed except for a few surf shacks and beach cafes,” Zecha told Insider. “We thought there wouldn’t be many opportunities to buy land on the Bali coast for a long time, so we grabbed it.”
A difficult start
As an Indonesian, Zecha was able to buy the land, but while she was building a house in Switzerland and renovating a house in Singapore, she waited until 2009 to innovate. She declined to say how much she bought the land.
The terrain was not without complications. For one thing, the cliff-top site was divided by a 15-meter-deep ravine.
To design the house, Zecha worked with the architectural firm Tristan & Ju. Architect Juliana Chan said the length of the site was the biggest concern. “The most stunning part of the plot is at the end, where it overlooks the Indian Ocean,” Chan told Insider. “The challenge for us was how to plan the spaces, so that one could enjoy the journey of walking through the villa without feeling the length of the site.”
Zecha’s biggest wish for the property was to not lose his sight.
By terracing the land and placing the villa on different levels, the design team ensured that the ocean was visible from every room, including the back of the house. This is how Uluwatu Estate became a vast collection of interconnecting walkways and villas that lead through the park and across the ravine to the cliff view.
The real work begins
When work began, the plot had no electricity or water, so the construction team had to install a generator and a water pipe. Large construction vehicles could not ascend the winding roads that led to the clifftop site, so the limestone rock landscape had to be cleared with small vehicles – and even manually.
The excavated limestone did not need to travel far: it was reused in the walls and foundations of the villa.
Palimanan stone from the volcanic island of West Java has been used to line the walkways and solid teak wood has been carved into the furniture. Traditional Balinese tools were transformed into art installations for the walkways, and 400-year-old mercury jars that had been salvaged from shipwrecks in Java were used to create eye-catching lights around the house.
Although Zecha refused to share the cost of construction, she admitted that they spent far more on furnishings than on the 5,000 square meters of land they purchased. “The land had good value back then,” Zecha said.
It took seven years before Zecha and his family could live on the property, and another three years before it was finished. “I was very Indonesian,” Zecha said of the unhurried process. “You go with the flow.”
A construction in three stages
At the start of construction, three giant volcanic boulders were shipped from East Java, then craned and cemented into the yard. The house grew around them.
“The rocks had to be big to stand out among the tall trees,” Chan said. “We wanted their shape to be unusual so that they would serve as sculptural objects in a landscape gallery.”
During the first four years of construction, the team created the living areas and four bedrooms. They also built a bridge over the ravine in the garden and perfected the infinity pool.
Zecha knew she wanted to share the villa, so she built four more bedrooms – and a spa – in the second phase. Every room has become a purpose-built apartment, from the Tosari Suite with its koi-filled ponds that wrap around the room, to the teak-filled Bromo Suite with its frangipani-scented courtyard.
In the third phase of construction, a two-story building was created at the rear of the house with space for a games room and an office for staff members.
A giant track to the ocean
Before the pandemic, Zecha visited the villa every two months and stayed for up to four weeks at a time. Now she can’t wait to come back. “Once I’m there, I don’t want to leave,” Zecha said. “It’s very quiet and the view is magical.”
When Zecha is not in Bali, she rents out the villa to guests. Angelina Ypma, consultant and former CEO of Bulgari, stayed in the villa with her family when it opened.
“It was like discovering a hidden gem,” said Ypma, who lives in Hong Kong. The sleek luxury aesthetic appealed to her, as did the villa’s soundtrack, created by the rhythmic pounding of the waves on the shore.
Ypma also embraced the drama of the home layout. She told Insider, “Uluwatu Estate is like a giant track leading to the edge of the cliff.”