Months after my husband and I moved into our New York apartment, I would browse boutiques all over Manhattan, eyeing richly lacquered bowls, antique wicker baskets, and artisanal ceramics, hoping to find unique objects that would add a certain character to our loft. We had long been contemplating a trip to Bali and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Just as fashion fanatics flock to Vietnam or Shanghai to order knockoffs of their designer dresses by the dozen, furniture lovers head to this Indonesian island for less expensive Christian Liaigre-style pieces.
But before setting off across the island's verdant rice fields and dusty villages, my husband and I enlisted the help of expat friends for shopping advice and called on a driver to get us around. It quickly became apparent that the most productive search would take us from the woody reaches of Ubud—where expats order the International Herald Tribune with their morning coffee—down south, along Seminyak's busy stretch of new design stores and into Kuta's maze of contemporary and antique furniture outlets.
Luckily, I had been warned by Indonesian art and antiques expert Bruce Carpenter (62-361/285-713; by appointment) about the Bali buying bug: visitors often fall prey to the island's charms, not realizing that what looks good in a beachfront hut in Kuta might quickly lose its appeal (not to mention its cultural context) in a Connecticut Colonial. One enthusiastic traveler, he recalled, shipped a crate of demon masks back home to Florida, but when his wife objected to them he was forced to sell them at a fraction of the cost to a local flea market dealer. The masks, it turns out, were a huge hit with heavy-metal fans.
Whether at furniture shops or clothing and jewelry boutiques, we resisted the temptations of beautiful craftsmanship and low prices and refrained from impulse buying. Instead, we scanned the stores we loved more than once and carefully edited our wish list before stuffing our suitcases. Here, our guide to help you on your whirlwind spree.
HOME INTERIORS Balinese vendors are increasingly savvy when it comes to Western tourists: many artisanal products are now being marketed with a dash of Euro flair. Purists might consider this a commercial cop-out, but the results are often original and tasteful. At A-Krea, a minimalist boutique on the main street of the waterfront town of Sanur, traditional batiks are sold as multicolored patchwork bed-runners that can double as decorative tablecloths. Even the most ordinary objects here have style: the thigh- and waist-high bamboo vases dyed a rich shade of burgundy look great when arranged like freestanding organ pipes on a living-room floor; a teak ice bucket with mosaic inlays of pearly seashells becomes a cocktail party centerpiece. 51 Jalan Danau Tamblingan, Sanur; 62-361/286-101.
LINENS It will come as no surprise that Dominique Seguin, the owner of the pristine linen store Disini, was once a student of haute couture in Paris. With her passion for color and sharp finishes she has compiled a noteworthy selection of fine cotton and linen sheets, pillowcases, and curtains that marry the earthy tones of Provence with the saffron shades of India. Patchwork pillowcases with apple green and inky blue leaf cutouts sewn onto blocks of solid color recall Matisse collages. A traveler's roll-up jewelry case, in pink batik with vibrant spring blossoms, is perfectly padded to safeguard beaded necklaces and precious rings. The delicate fabrics and careful handiwork establish Disini as the (reasonably priced) Porthault of Kuta. 6-8 Jalan Raya Seminyak, Banjar Basangkasa, Kuta; 62-361/731-037.
TABLEWARE There's no shortage of simple ceramic dishes in the numerous market stalls across the island, but for highly polished designs there's only one place to go: Jenggala Keramik Bali. This monumental showroom and exhibition space—a favorite of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who orders plates here for several of his high-profile New York restaurants—serves as a tribute to the highly skilled artisans of Indonesia. Natural forms such as frangipani and banana and lotus leaves inspire tableware collections in deep eggplant and watercress-green. A more minimalist line, of matte ivory and ebony dishes, evokes contemporary Japanese design. You'll be tempted to ship home a boxful of the handsome shell-shaped serving plates ($10 each) and egg-like vases ($17.50 each). For a smaller souvenir, go for the handblown glass tumblers in brilliant yellow, cobalt blue, and deep magenta or dark teakwood salad set that will be the envy of your dinner party guests. Jalan Uluwatu II, Jimbaran; 62-361/703-311; www.jenggala-bali.com.
BASKETS Of the dozens of plain and painted baskets I saw used as offerings in daily rituals, the most striking one belonged to a woman who had filled it with flowers on her way to the temple. Its golden patina and uneven finish told the story of her life and its delicate routine. Unfortunately, the basket was not for sale. However, a few days later I was introduced to Brigitte Norton, the wife of Four Seasons regional vice president Christopher Norton. The effortlessly chic French beauty is known to her friends as the queen of sourcing because of her ability to dig up the best shopping addresses anywhere. Brigitte regularly scouts villages across Asiafor small gifts and holiday decorations. Thanks to her, I discovered—among other things—Anang's Art Shop, a warehouse off the Bypass, a busy artery running through Kuta.
Anang's dimly lit ground floor is cluttered with dozens of antique armoires, chairs, and desks; upstairs, hundreds of richly lacquered baskets and woven rattan and bamboo boxes are shelved like unlabeled treasures in a lost-and-found depot. A functional basket such as the urn-shaped hamper normally used to transport a live chicken turns into an original vase to hold dried flowers. But a word of caution: there are no price tags here, and cost seems rather arbitrary. (Hint: Leave your Hermès bag at home.) 3X Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai, Tuban, Kuta; 62-361/755-281.
FURNITURE A handful of outlets sell the staple contemporary, Asian-inspired tables with matching chairs, but at the Warisan Showroom the selection is more refined, along the lines of the Conran Shop. Most of the inventory is made to order (a minimum of 10-20 pieces per style is required), but in the Ready-to-Buy and Best Sellers collections you can find a classic teak armchair with a lattice back or a solid mahogany bookshelf, all set to ship home. Many of the more traditional designs include tables made from vintage teak planks, with hand-carved curved feet. Jalan Padang Luwih, Banjar Tegal Jaya, Dalung, Kuta; www.warisan.com.
For something more rustic—a place where the wood feels weighty and rough-hewn—visit Balex, a workshop and showroom located on the dusty road between Kuta and Jalan Raya Kerobokan. The Dutch-born owner, Alexander B. C. Hoek, creates bench-crafted furniture using traditional Japanese and early European joinery techniques. His family-sized kitchen tables and daybeds, made of recycled timbers, would fit nicely in country houses from Sonoma to Saratoga. Jalan Raya Kerobokan, Banjar Campuan, Kuta; 62-361/415-867.
JEWELRY Some 20 years ago, Jean-François Fichot landed on the white shores of this island to sell his necklaces on the beach. A native Frenchman who also joined the ranks of photogenic hippies in India during the late sixties, Fichot is as eccentric as the jewelry he designs. Serious collectors can call his office (62-361/974-601) for a private viewing of some larger pieces influenced by his travels to Cuba and Southeast Asia, but a fine selection of his work—pink-tourmaline and gold necklaces, Burmese jade pendants—is also available at Treasures, a gallery in Ubud showcasing five other local jewelers. Main Street, Ubud; 62-361/976-697; www.dekco.com/treasure.
Across town, John Hardy and his wife, Cynthia, produce sparkling semiprecious and precious jewelry, as well as black palm-wood-and-silver objects for the home. A few years ago the duo signed on French designer Guy Bedarida, formerly of Van Cleef & Arpels, whose passion for rare gemstones (peach sapphires and cinnamon diamonds) shaped the new Cinta collection. Some hotels will organize a tour of the Hardys' compound, a tightly run aggregation of small workshops and organic agricultural developments; there is also an on-site gift shop. Hardy plans to open his first U.S. boutique this Christmas in New York's Nolita district. 1 Jalan Baturning, Abiansemal, Mambal; 62-361/469-888.
CLOTHING Many of the finer fabrics in Bali are imported from India, which may explain why you sometimes feel you're in Delhi instead of Denpasar. Some of the designs are straitlaced reproductions of Indian clothes, but others are delightfully daring. Paul Ropp's beaded dresses, boleros, and fitted silk pants come in eye-popping shades of pink, purple, blue, and orange. Anyone who appreciates the flashiness of Versace—minus the revealing thigh-high slits and microminis—will want to save some space in her suitcases for Ropp. 1X Jalan Pengubengan, Depan LP Kerobokan, Kuta; 62-361/730-023; www.paulropp.com.
On the trendy stretch of Jalan Raya Seminyak stands Biasa, a two-story boutique reminiscent of the sporty elegance of Nicole Farhi. Design highlights include bias-cut skirts and tailored pantsuits in citrus linens, extra-long scarves in cool cottons, low-slung woven leather belts, and St.-Tropez-style beaded sandals. It's also worth taking a peek upstairs at the rack of crisp cotton pajamas for men and women. 36 Jalan Raya Seminyak, Kuta; 62-361/730-308.
By far, the most exquisite hand-painted and woven scarves are to be found at the Warisan Gallery, an exhibition space attached to the upscale Kafé Warisan, in Kuta. You'll find a tasteful mix of antique and contemporary objets d'art, including silver bracelets, opalescent bone spoons, and fanciful accessories by various local designers. In the center of the room stands a large round table with neatly folded silk scarves, some hand-dyed with ballerina pink, baby blue, or lilac stripes, others woven into multicolored, gold-threaded Missoni-style wraps for an un-Missoni-style price, $90. 38 Jalan Raya Kerobokan, Banjar Taman, Kuta; 62-361/730-710.
ONE-STOP SHOPPING As more and more tourists seek the Balinese "experience," resourceful entrepreneurs have developed a new retail concept. "I call it warung chic," says Jane Hawkins of her store Asia Style, one of the growing number of island boutiques offering beautiful products from across the region. Hawkins borrowed the term from the small street stands that sell everything from fruits to flip-flops. Asia Style carries a well-edited sampling, with its delicate bone spoons, ornate frames, and embroidered antique throws. 52 Jalan Raya Sayan, Sayan, Ubud; 62-361/970-056.
Pass through Palanquin Bali's elephant-tusked doors and you'll find a more Westernized selection, including leather and wood chess sets, square gold-lacquered plates, and reproductions of 1950's Balinese tourism posters. The thematic approach is amusing, but not altogether authentic: a collection of vintage windup ducks labeled DISCOVERED IN JAVA was MADE IN CHINA. 8 Jalan Bypass Ngurah Rai, Simpang Siur, Kuta; 62-361/766-555; www.palanquinbali.com.
MELISSA CERIA has written for Vogue, Departures, and the New York Times.
If you're checking into Amandari or the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, you won't have to travel far to find Balinese treasures. The Four Seasons Resort Boutique & Gallery (62-361/701-010) offers a well-edited selection of local fashion, including Milo's sophisticated green caftan-style robes and Bin House's kabaya shirts with batik motifs. The adjoining gallery showcases deep lacquered serving bowls, silver-lined wooden plates, and silver and gold jewelry by Jean-François Fichot and other island designers. • The Amandari Gift Shop & Gallery (Kedewatan, Ubud; 62-361/975-333) also carries the requisite clothing labels, as well as Javanese puppets and ceremonial statues, palm-and-coconut-wood coasters, mother-of-pearl cutlery, Indonesian gold jewelry, and painted wood masks.
1 Decide on your purchase before bargaining. Negotiating the bill prior to making your final selection is considered rude and could cost you more than a few rupiah. 2 Don't forget shipping costs. Airfreight can more than double the price of your purchase. Carry home as much as possible but keep in mind that your airline can charge you up to $125 for each additional suitcase you check. 3 Make sure that items are really from Bali. Friends might be disappointed to discover a MADE IN INDIA sticker on their souvenir. 4 Remember your home climate. Teak is highly adaptable because of its natural oils, but bamboo will crack in dry weather.
While the U.S. State Department still advises against "nonessential" travel to Indonesia, hotels on Bali have tightened security dramatically since the October 2002 bombings there. Many of the island's resorts—including the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and Hyatt—have formed an organization to review safety measures and strengthen their cooperation with local authorities. The properties have also increased security patrols on and around their grounds; in addition, all cars are routinely screened with mirrors and metal detectors. Hotel staffs across the island have received training on how to respond to terrorism threats.