A Tree House in Bali

Photographs by Rio Helmi

The Structure: Six stories, constructed (almost) entirely from bamboo.
Architect: Elora Hardy, Age 32

Walking into a West Village café, Elora Hardy looks like an intern just out of college. For a moment, it’s hard to imagine that, back home in Bali, she was responsible for building Sharma Springs, a house that looks like something King Ludwig II might have had constructed had he been of sounder mind and greener persuasion. The flights of fancy here are all about blending in with the surrounding environment, to create a house from bamboo that feels at one with its setting, rather than imposed, like some castle, upon the landscape. Hardy grew up in Bali, playing in the rice fields. After studying fine arts in the U.S., she found herself in New York as one of the print designers at Donna Karan Collection and later DKNY. But she was drawn back to Asia: “I loved being in New York, but I wanted to make a difference ecologically,” she says. Hardy acknowledges that her father, the jewelry designer John Hardy, has been experimenting with ecofriendly bamboo buildings in Bali since the early 2000s, inspired by bamboo pioneer Linda Garland. But this house—built for Sumant and Myriam Sharma and their four daughters—was designed and constructed in about eighteen months by Hardy’s own brand, Ibuku, founded in 2010, which works with Indonesian craftsmen and designers. “Some of our team had built with bamboo in traditional ways, but not in our style of curvilinear bamboo architecture. They were hired for the bamboo training they learned during earlier projects with my father,” says Hardy. As the house is entirely handmade, “it was built from a scaled-down bamboo model, not from the blueprints and drawings. On site, the builders measured it with a little ruler and chose a pole from the pile that was the right length and curved at the right angle.” Construction was something of an adventure: “We did build Sharma Springs during the worst months of the rainy season,” Hardy says with a laugh. “The slippery poles were hand-hauled out of river valleys and into place.” And building in heavily congested Bali is not for the fainthearted. “The big loaded trucks carrying bamboo came down the mountain in the dark of night to avoid the traffic.”

Illustration by Jason Lee

The result, however, seems almost effortless: You realize you have left the normal boundaries of architecture as soon as you arrive at the tree-house-style bamboo tunnel leading into the building, which crosses a small ravine to reach the fourth floor. Here, the main living space is open to the elements, except for a powder room encased in a giant woven basket. Downstairs flow the bedrooms, library, and spa. The house is six levels and rises like a bamboo butterfly, with three petal-shaped sets of wings leading off a central tower. This structural core contains twelve huge bamboo posts, each nearly 60 feet tall, extending from a second-level stone plinth up to the sixth-floor tower roof—where there are dramatic views of distant volcanoes above the palm trees. Substantial roof overhangs protect the house from rain, and Hardy dismisses any question of the building’s structural strength, explaining that “the bamboo is density-tested and even treated against insects with a natural salt solution.” As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Bali is vulnerable to earthquakes, but the house, she says, is designed to be flexible enough to sway during seismic upheaval.

Hardy loves coming to the property with new visitors, who usually react with “Oh, wow, what a cool bamboo house,” but are astonished when she points out, “This is the garage. The house is over there!”

Video: A Visit to Green Village
Video by Andrew Rothschild, founder of Break Point Media

To build the house, workers consulted a scale model”rather than blueprints”and then selected the bamboo poles they needed. Photo: Rio Helmi

The bedroom of one of Sharma’s daughters. The circular bed is suspended by rope from beams; the throw pillows are made from Sumba ikat. Photo: Rio Helmi

The view down the central tower. Says Hardy: “When one of the owners visited the house in progress for the first time, he wandered around in silence, occasionally saying, “I’m speechless.’” Photo: Rio Helmi

A bamboo-and-steel hammock on a third-floor-bedroom balcony. The vista from a few floors up looks out at volcanoes. Photo: Rio Helmi

The fourth-floor bridge connects the house to the Green Village across the ravine, which Hardy also built, in part, with her brand, Ibuku. Photo: Rio Helmi

A Tree House in Bali