Sunday, 26 July 2015

Bath time!

The bathroom

Is a bathroom without a bathtub technically still a bathroom? Or should we term it a shower room? Or maybe a wet room?

One of the best aspects of building a new house is that you can design your own space. After years of staying in a range of hotel rooms, I kind of had an idea of what I preferred in terms of bathroom style. Luckily for me, my better half agreed to let me take charge in terms of bathroom design.

I also had tons of pictures on Pinterest to inspire me, which actually made it a bit difficult to settle on one design. Eventually the limiting factor was the location of the toilet to facilitate the location of pipes in line with those of the adjoining bathroom. So we worked around this. The result is a clean design using lots of concrete and very little else. 

Pinterest inspiration

another door opens...

one door closes...

Indonesian bathrooms are usually limited to a hole in the ground as a toilet and a water holding area with a bucket/jug for washing. The concept of a wash-hand basin and a shower is alien to the average Indonesian. At first, H and A were bewildered with my designs. Luckily, they have had experience building homes for ‘bules’ (friendly Indo term for foreigners) so they eventually got my drift. 

As we wanted to keep it simple, we have opted for a tile-free space with concrete as flooring. This, it turns out, is not as simple as pouring concrete, covering it with white cement and polishing. It is a job that requires precision in the mixing and pouring of concrete, lots of man-hours of manual polishing, a good quality sealant and long drying times. We are now experimenting with epoxy paint instead…fingers crossed it all turns out amazing. 

foundation for the dividing wall between shower and toilet

aerial view

the wall comes up

And contrary to most people’s preference, I opted for a closed bathroom rather than the popular open bathroom Indonesian-style. While it is highly romantic to look up at the stars while showering, the reality is that, being outdoors, means the space is a welcome home to insects and other critters. I respect nature but would rather have an insect-free home, if at all possible in the tropics!

Sink cabinet - the beginning (my detailed designs with measurements are appended to the wall, just in case!)

Sink cabinet - in progress

Sink cabinet - completed

Tip: Ideally buy your sanitary ware before any plumbing or construction is done in the bathroom. This allows the plumber to work out the precise location of all plumbing lines and drain lines.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Let there be Light

Electrical wiring

You may have often wondered about the abundance or lack of electricity points in hotel bathrooms/ bedrooms or in any holiday accommodation. I surely have, which is why I wanted to make sure we got it right.

the omni-present low-hanging electricity cable
Here in Indonesia the majority of houses are not conventionally wired. When the electrician comes over to wire your property, you kind of play it by ear. You also need to be aware of the amount of electricity available to you. This depends on the local set up, which tends to be quite limited on these islands. Therefore, you would need to find out how much energy each of your appliances uses, such as a washing machine, water-heater, fridge/freezer and air-conditioner, and prioritise accordingly. Moreover, due to the inconsistency of the power transmitted to households, it is advisable to use a stabiliser to ensure that appliances and computers are not negatively impacted by electricity surges.

I have never built a house before…actually I have never built anything! So when I am asked to point out the exact location of all the switches and electricity points I require, I freeze. It is not a straightforward exercise. I don’t want to make any mistakes. Once the wiring is passed through the walls, there is no going back. (You could have a change of heart later and decide to locate electricity points in other areas, but this would mean cutting chases in walls after all the plastering has already been done!

electricity points in bathroom
Before committing to the electricity points, I want to have time to walk through the house and experience it, but this is not an easy feat when you are surrounded by half finished walls, no furniture, apertures with no windows, no roof on the bathroom and kitchen. I close my eyes and try to imagine what the house would be like when it is completed. Will it have sufficient daylight? How much artificial light will we require at night?

electricity points in kitchen

For example, just sitting on the upstairs verandah right now, I realized I needed to charge my laptop and the nearest socket is miles away!

Tip: Plan ahead, visualise your space and figure out where you want your light fittings as well as sockets for appliances, etc.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

My Sanctuary

The Shower Shack

Sumbawa is a predominantly Muslim island. Most women cover their heads and most of their bodies. So you can imagine how I feel about camping in an entirely open wooden structure with guys working all over the property and scooters driving past our fence.

Bear in mind, we have no bathroom and no privacy. So ‘toilet duties’ for me are limited to a bucket in a corner of the house with the least exposure and no workers around. This ‘corner’ tends to vary from day to day and hour to hour as works progress around the house.

My daily respite is an old shack in a neighbouring surf camp, which houses a shower with hot water. The shack is an old concrete room with pipes sticking out of the wall and spiders crawling overhead. The shack’s roof is shared with a toilet so it is not unusual to overhear certain sounds from next door! It is amazing how the smell of my shower gel creates a sense of home and comfort. Those few minutes at the end of each day are magical while the water washes away the day’s grime and sweat. This is the only time I can close a door and have a few square metres of privacy. MY SANCTUARY.

Tip: Always pack a very special shower gel or shampoo that whisks you away from reality and takes you back to a special place.

friendly neighbours on my way to the shower shack

who are you staring at?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Human waste

What's that smell?

This is not a pleasant topic so you may stop reading now if you feel slightly squirmish. Have you ever wondered what happens to the stuff you flush down the toilet? Well, it’s kind of the first thing you need to plan for when building a house.

While in most countries there are regulations to be followed when constructing a septic system, in Indonesia you have to rely on your / your workers’ knowledge and experience. Whenever you walk around Bali it is not unusual to be greeted by unpleasant smells particularly in the densely built up areas, which have no proper sewage systems.

Hence why we wanted to make sure we had a proper system in place. For those of you who, like me, have no idea what is involved in the construction of a septic tank, here is a very simple explanation.

A household septic system is made up of two parts: the holding tank and the overflow / ‘digesting’ tank. The waste fills the first tank, with solids falling to the bottom. When the liquid reaches a certain level it flows into the second tank. Most of the solids liquefy over time and disperse. Thirty percent of the waste goes into the ground and the sun evaporates the other seventy percent. You could also be more creative and use the recycled waste water for gardening or other uses around the house.

Holes are dug for septic tanks

Septic tanks made out of concrete

Of course it is best to reduce the amount of solid waste that is disposed of at source. In Indonesia most loos have a jet-washer, which replaces the need for loo roll. This has a two-fold beneficial effect on the environment in that you are using less paper and not clogging up the septic tank!

Tip: While it is preferable to locate the septic tank close to the source (ie bathroom), you also need to ensure that the wind blows in the right direction (ie away from the house), as you would not want any unpleasant smells lurking around!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


What's cooking?

In anticipation of our venture in a remote location, we invested in a rice cooker and a countertop gas stove. The staple foods here in Indonesia are rice and noodles with a range of veggies and either chicken or fish.

The Indonesians do not mind consuming rice three times a day. My body, however, is clearly indicating that I need to slow down on the rice and increase my intake of fibre instead!

The rice cooker is a truly indispensable tool when you need to prepare rice at 6am. I have also experimented with using it as a ‘slow cooker’ for stews. It actually works as long as you keep an eye on it.

mie goreng, a traditional indo dish
The other day I asked the neighbour to buy some chicken from the market.  The bird came in a plastic bag, which when opened let out a hideous smell. At first we thought it was due to lack of refrigeration. It looked ok though, so I ventured to boil it before stewing it in order to eliminate the smell. After chatting to various locals, we concluded that it is down to the halal way of killing the chicken. We were advised to look for a ‘kampung chicken’ instead which is a free range farm chicken. Watch this space for more about my chicken adventure.

dreaming of pizza!

 Meanwhile, when the house is done, we will be building our very own outdoor pizza oven. Any tips or suggestions on pizza ovens are definitely welcome.

Tip: In an area where the range of fresh vegetables is limited, do consider growing your own. Check out: Redeem your Ground

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Joys of Painting

The Fence

Our dream is to live in a white beach house reminiscent of the Greek islands and the French Riviera. To this end, I resolved to paint the perimeter fence white. I started painting the fence a few days ago. However, I had under-estimated the time it takes to paint a wooden fence, which is 30 metres long and 17 metres wide. To add insult to injury, there are weeds growing below the fence so I have to tear them all out in order to be able to paint the fence properly.

Also, the wood is quite weather worn and while I am applying a generous coat of paint, I think the wood still looks rather brown. Oh well…I tell myself that it is simply a whitewash. But my darling other half insists that the fence needs a second coating as it has to be white. He is, of course, right. There are, however, 188 metres of fence that need to be painted twice over! To be honest, painting can be meditative.

the fence - before

the fence - after one coating

Tip: For a more economical (in asia) and longer-lasting effect, thin your wood paint with petrol instead of thinner. Wood tends to absorb the paint more and will not peel away, which means it lasts longer but will need a second coating.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Journey


Do you recall that feeling of having to organise each and every box of personal belongings in such a way as to be able to find it later after relocation. Moving to a remote area with limited supplies means you would benefit tremendously from having excellent organisation and planning skills! You need to be able to pre-empt what may be needed during a construction project so as to avoid any disruption to the works. We had a headstart as my partner has been involved in building projects for most of his life.

nearly done
loading the truck

making sure our stuff arrives at its destination

Given that we were moving to an empty house in a remote area with two Javanese tradesmen (H & A), we had to organize ourselves to be able to ‘camp’ as comfortably as possible. 

We packed substantial quantities of food, drinking water, a small stove, a rice cooker, crockery, cutlery, pots, a wok, glassware, sunbeds, a mattress, dishcloths, cleaning products, building tools, paint, gypsum, cement, sanitary-ware for the bathrooms…the list is endless. 

I was keen on keeping the stuff we packed to a minimum as I envisaged lots of dust from the building works, having to move stuff around due to building, etc. All in all we managed to pack quite well. Sumbawa here we come!

After a few hours of loading a truck and a van, we were on our way from Bali to Sumbawa. The journey, by road and ferries, started at 3pm and lasted just over 14 hours. 
we love indonesia!
We travelled through the night and arrived at our destination at dawn the next day. The truck travelling through the small roads in the tiny fishing village at 5am was quite a sight to behold (a very rare occurrence!). The truck was several storeys higher than any of the buildings. As we watched the truck through our rear view mirror, we were hoping that the final lap of our journey over gravel would run smoothly. Suddenly, the truck came to a halt. 

“This is it, a puncture with only a few miles to go”, we thought to ourselves. To our relief, we realized that the guys had stopped to lift the electricity cables, which were too low for the truck to pass under. We were visualizing a blackout in the village…an excellent way to “announce our arrival”.

A few hours later we had unloaded all our stuff and set up our temporary home with our sleeping quarters and kitchen upstairs, while H & A had their makeshift bedroom downstairs. The next stage of our adventure starts here…

our makeshift kitchen

our temporary bedroom

Tip: Always pack some drinks and snacks for the journey as there are no kiosks or canteens on Indonesian ferries. Toilets are very basic...always be prepared!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Building the Dream

Beach living

Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming about living on a beach, far from the hustle and bustle of city life? Waking up to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. Wearing nothing but a bikini, sarong and flip-flops. My partner and I are lucky enough to live in Bali and yet we yearned to get away from the crowds and to live in a quiet spot by the sea. Here we are today, building a beach house on a relatively unexplored Indonesian island. This is our story!

our beach house
Back at university in Malta, my friends and I were assigned the task of analyzing a production process. We opted to research the steps involved in the construction of a house in Malta. It was challenging and fascinating all at once since none of us had any previous experience in this field. 

Fast forward twenty years...and here I am working with my partner in visualizing, designing and supervising the construction of a beach house. He has years of experiencing doing this so I'm lucky!  

views to the south
To be fair, the wooden skeleton structure was built by the landlord over a year before we decided to lease the property and embark on this exciting project. While the house is located on a relatively remote beach, we have managed to secure an electricity connection from the nearby fishing village. This has enabled us to mobilise a workforce of nine Indonesian tradesmen to help us turn our vision into reality.

views across the bay
Sea water is available in abundance on our doorstep. However, fresh water is still being sought as the third attempt at drilling an artesian well is underway. 

So here we are in a foreign land explaining fairly technical ideas in a foreign language to people who are unfamiliar with Western interior design and architecture. 

Frustrating, challenging, hilarious, exasperating, mind-boggling, heart-warming…words cannot describe the feelings we experience on a daily basis.

If you are thinking of building your dream home in a foreign land or you are just curious to know what crazy adventures you can encounter while living the dream, then follow us as our project unfolds.

reef at low tide

view of the neighbourhood