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.