You could say that French born, Singapore resident Marie-Anne V. knew from the time she was a child she would someday build a jaw dropping, ultra modern house like Villa Sapi. “My father was a successful architect. He built practical things like hospitals and schools. Sadly, he never got to do his dream house. “But,” she says with obvious delight, “I did it for him”.
That house, Villa Sapi, is an odd shaped and striking collection of modular living spaces under a roof that seems to float beside a cerulean Indonesian sea. The structure is so otherworldly looking, it appears to have fallen from space onto more than seven acres of rice field, garden and palm forest on the forested and fertile island of Lombok. “Lombok is Bali forty years ago,” Marie-Anne explains of the island she and her husband Matthieu first visited in 2008. “The island was pristine”, she says. And the land they found for the dream house was like nothing she had seen in her life. “It was a landscape of high grasses, palm trees and lots of beautiful, slow moving sympathique cows,” she says of the bucolic vista. “It was pure countryside, but at the same time you could see white sand and the blue sea.” It was, she says, a coup de foudre (love at first sight), adding that her husband, Matthieu, had the exact same feeling at the same time. “He is the one who always wants to try new things so we bought the land really quickly.”
Looking back on the sudden purchase, Marie-Anne admits that buying the property didn’t make practical sense, but, she says, sometimes acting on intuition rather than logic produces the most creative outcome. She smiles noting that her husband even has a sign at the entrance of the property that reads Stop Making Sense referencing the iconic Talking Heads movie and album. The couple hoped the house they would eventually build would, indeed, be a place for invention, spontaneity and respite from the frenetic pace of life in Singapore.
But what architect would share that vision and be willing to come to remote Lombok? “We found a book with an image of an amazing house on the cover, tracked down the architect we were sure we wanted and…” She pauses as she tells the story. “And he refused!” The couple knew David Lombardi was perfect. The problem was he didn’t know it yet. The project stood still. As Marie-Anne tells it, “It was a little like unrequited love for an architect.” Suddenly, after a few months, the elusive Lombardi surprised them and decided to meet. One conversation and he immediately agreed to build the home. As it turns out, the couple not only had the same architectural vision for a home as Lombardi did but, says Marie-Anne, “Matthieu and David were both super super fans of Talking Heads!” That clinched it.
The couple’s only requirements were to create a house totally open to the outdoors with a view of the sea and that no trees would be cut down to make room for it. They gave Lombardi carte blanche. And so Lombardi built with a daring use of local natural materials combined in endlessly surprising ways. The almost thirty-foot high roof, constructed with shingles of a local hardwood, references the island’s heritage. One of the freestanding structures is nearly all glass. Another, the guesthouse, is subterranean and each room has its own pool crafted out of volcanic rock. A sixty-five foot high waterfall tumbles down an outside wall. Bamboo-clad concrete and lava define pathways through the garden.
The house, with its unusual freeform structures, sits in a rice field. Cows meander by as they always have, seemingly untroubled by their new human neighbors. Rice field yields to a garden of coconut palms, bougainvillea, frangipani and fishponds. Then suddenly, almost an apparition in this bucolic scene, an almost one thousand foot stretch of beach and the sea appear. From paysage to plage in an instant.
The interior of the house is full of equally surprising elements. In some cases there are no doors, just space where doors might be. In the dining room, a door is transformed into giant table. There are gold textured walls, a floating staircase, and lime and red modular cubes that morph either into a sofa or bed or cozy corner chair. A Lucite countertop filled with guitar picks honors their love of music, and art throughout Villa Sapi bears testament to the couple’s appreciation for the Indonesian aesthetic and their commitment to the country. They are particular fans of artist Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf who is known for his woodblock prints and colorful paintings that depict contemporary social and political issues. Iconoclastic muralist, Samuel Indratma, is another one of the couple’s favorites. Marie-Anne and Matthieu also make a point to support local crafts and have recycled wood and glass sculptures by artisans from both Lombok and Bali.
When Matthieu and Marie-Anne speak of their “outrageous” good fortune in owning Villa Sapi, their gratitude is made evident by their actions. Much of their time on and off the island is given over to projects that boost opportunities for others to, as Marie-Anne puts it “drive their own projects.” In the case of their support of Kenyan Riders, they mean, “drive” quite literally. The organization (started by Marie-Anne and Matthieu with others) supports Kenya’s first professional bicycle racing team. Marie-Anne speaks with deep respect for the individuals with whom she works. “One person who became a racer was a shoeshine man who rode his bike more than ninety miles each day to work. Another drove a bike taxi. Now they are racers!”
Owning Villa Sapi and having the “amazing” Chef Kantun on their staff gave the couple another idea to create opportunities for others. They noticed a big demand on Lombok for skilled chefs as well as other support staff. They thought “Why not have Chef teach cooking to some local young people when he isn’t cooking for our guests?”. That thought has taken root and now there is a small school (replete with a practice dining room) adjoining the villa where young people can come to learn skills to work in the hospitality industry. “We have everything from cooking to accounting now”, Matthieu says modestly.
Villa Sapi is in every sense a dream come true for the architect’s daughter who loved “the dusty unfinished construction sites” of her childhood, and the diehard David Byrne fan who turns the imperative of a beloved album title into a retreat for his family and an engine of good for the community.
The tranquil landscape and the endless surprises of Villa Sapi’s sculptural presence remind us of yet another quote from art-rocker, David Byrne. “Real beauty knocks you a little bit off kilter.” One might well add, “And what an enormous pleasure that can be.”
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