Interior Designer Jonathan Rachman returns home to Bali

San Francisco interior designer Jonathan Rachman of Jonathan Rachman Design was born on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, but from a young age his imagination was captured by another one of the country’s islands: Bali. For Rachman personally, the island is a constant source of inspiration and style. For his family, or as he says ohana, Bali is a touchstone and a gathering place. This past summer Rachman and his husband traveled to the “island of the gods” to celebrate two special anniversaries: their 20th and the designer’s parents’ 60th. 

A view of the main pool at the Amanusa restort.

You return to Bali often—why?  Bali truly is a magical island, one of my favorite spots on earth. For my family, it is “our island,” and we feel the same way about it as Americans feel about Hawaii. It has held many important and sentimental milestones in our ohana’s life. This is where my mother, her parents and siblings took refuge during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II. It’s also where we gather for special occasions, such as my 40th birthday, when 60 people from 14 countries (the people I consider my ohana) gathered there.

carving depicting the love story of Rama and Sita at the Tandjun Sari hotel.

I am currently working on one of the biggest projects of my career in Bali—an entire villa complex set in the hills between Ubud and Singaraja. It is truly an honor to return to my homeland and design a dream project. The best part is working with the people of Bali—to be among them is the best feeling.

A scared black- and-white Poleng fabric is used to wrap a column at the Amanusa resort.

How would you describe the island?  In a few words: magical and sacred, artsy and romantic, chaotic yet intoxicating—and let’s not forget highly cultured! For me, it is the people of Bali who truly make this island special. Besides their spiritual nature, the Balinese are one of the most hospitable and sincere groups of people I have ever encountered.

How has the island influenced your aesthetic and your work as a designer?  Balinese arts, crafts and architecture are very distinctive, but it’s the nontangible aspects of the culture that have influenced me the most. It’s the unwritten rules that help me design, plan and execute projects. Both Balinese households and temples have these rules—the closest thing I can compare them to is feng shui. It’s like a zoning system that translates to a hierarchy of a house or place. It helps me create harmony in the spaces I’ve been commissioned to design. 

A bed layered with traditional fabrics at the Tandjung Sari hotel.

The arts and crafts of the Balinese people are mind-blowing. When you see the details in everything they do—from floral arrangements to ceremonies to art—it’s beyond belief. This has been one of the biggest influences on my work. Gracious attention to detail is a trademark of my design!

Balinese architecture is very distinctive. How would you describe it? Balinese architecture has a lot of variety, but most archetypal structures are simple and airy. Many have tropical pavilions, open-air living spaces and the signature thatched roofs. The more formal, gilded and carved structures are for higher castes and temples. Both types always use native materials such as corals, paras stones, coconut trees and bamboo. In many ways, the architecture of Bali is extremely spiritual and superstitious: Everything is symbolic.

The main pool at the Amandari is where Rachman spent his 20th anniversary as well as his 40th birthday.

What advice do you have for people traveling to Bali?  Be respectful of the local traditions. Try all the food, but know the risks of “Bali belly” and only drink and use bottled water. Get lost! I love getting lost in Ubud’s winding streets or exploring the Sanur street vendors. Take part in cultural and ceremonial events, but learn the dos and don’ts prior to getting involved. 

An early morning shot of the beach at Tandjung Sari shows colorful fishing boats and the majestic Mount Agung in the background.


Hotels: Oberoi in Seminyak, Amandari, Amanusa, Amankila and Tandjung Sari

Restaurants: Kura Kura at he Oberoi, Tandjung Sari Restau- rant in Sanur, the original Naugh- ty Nuri’s in Ubud, Cuca, Sister- fields and Mades Warung

Markets: I love all of the local markets! 


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