- Anna-Carina Tetzner and Sean Peel moved to Bali, Indonesia, from Australia right before the pandemic.
- They paid $17,000 to lease a plot of land in Ubud for 20 years and built a modular home on their own.
- They say they love life on the island and have plans to build another house next year.
After a few vacations in Bali, Anna-Carina Tetzner and Sean Peel decided it was where they wanted to live full time.
The couple had been based in Brisbane, Australia, but always dreamt of living in Asia. After spending time in a few different countries, they realized they had left their heart in Bali, an island in Indonesia.
“We were experiencing the island as tourists, and I think we had been coming for three years in a row when we decided to build a house here,” Tetzner, 39, told Business Insider.
First things first: Find land
Thankfully the couple had friends on the island, who introduced them to a plot of land just outside of Ubud, a town in central Bali that’s known for its cultural heritage and rice terraces.
“We looked at it, we loved it, and we signed the contract in early 2020, just before the pandemic broke out,” Tetzner said.
However, there are strict property ownership laws in Bali: Foreigners can’t own land, but they can lease it for several years.
In the couple’s case, they paid 275 million Indonesian Rupiah, or about $17,000, for a 20-year leasehold contract.
“At that end of the initial lease, we get the right of first refusal to say, ‘Yes, we want to continue the lease,’ or ‘No, we don’t.’ If we choose not to, then the actual land, and the house that we’ve built on it, goes back to the landowner,” Peel, 46, told BI.
A modular design for DIY
Instead of brick and mortar, the couple designed their own modular house that comprises steel frames and wood panels.
Their main reason for going with a modular home was the limited access they had to the property, Peel said.
The road that leads to their home is narrow, which meant that anything larger than a small car wouldn’t be able to pass through. But with a modular design, parts of the house could be built offsite, he said.
“We had a steel fabricator making the panels for us. He’d put them on the back of his little pickup, drive them here, and we could just carry them to the site,” he added.
Moreover, a modular design meant the couple could build the house themselves.
A structure that’s made out of components that they could just “screw together” would require less manpower than laying bricks conventionally, Peel said.
This building method isn’t all that common in Bali, Tetzner said: “In fact, we don’t know of anyone who has built like us, pre-fabricated.”
“Most houses are built with Batako, a cheap sand and cement brick, which leads to all sorts of problems, including mold and moisture issues, so we wanted to avoid that at all costs,” she added.
Other modern homes in Bali have been built using bamboo.
While data regarding modular homes in Bali could not be found, a Google search did result in multiple local construction companies specializing in building prefabricated structures. The designs found are not comparable to the couple’s home.
Peel added that building his own house was always something that he had wanted to do.
“My father was a builder and he had a hardware store back in Australia for years,” Peel said. “I’m a tertiary-qualified mechanical engineer, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with him doing renovations on houses.”
Moreover, the couple also renovated a house together before, Tetzner said.
“We bought and renovated an old apartment from the 1980s right on the beach in Australia’s Sunshine Coast in 2016, only six months after Sean and I met,” she said, adding that it was where they lived before moving to Bali.
An open-plan, modern home
The plot of land measures about 6,500 square feet, while the house takes up about 1,400 square feet.
The home is made up of three rectangular buildings that are connected by two sheltered walkways.
The first building is where Tetzner’s home pottery studio is, while the second comprises the kitchen, dining, and living room.
The last building is where the couple’s bedroom and bathroom are found — with an additional door leading to the garden outside.
The home’s dark gray, almost black steel-clad exterior cuts a striking figure amid the lush greenery surrounding the plot.
There are no doors across the front of the house, creating an open floor plan that allows the island breeze to sweep through the interiors.
The couple’s favorite spot is the second building, home to the shared living spaces.
“The entire area is really beautiful,” Peel said. “It’s just open to the jungle. We painted the house a very dark gray with a lot of black steel. So the contrast between that, the timber, and the green of the plants is quite cool.”
The house is also powered by the grid while water comes from a well that the couple installed on the property, Peel said.
“Wells are common in Ubud, where it rains a lot,” Tetzner said. While most people only drill their well around 25 meters deep, the couple’s well is 80 meters into the ground.
“We use that water for watering gardens and showering, and then we filter that water before drinking it,” Peel added.
The couple started construction in December 2020, and the house was ready for them to move in by June 2021.
Since then, they have been working on some final touches. The next step is a pool, which they expect to be completed by Christmas, Peel added.
Building during the wet season wasn’t fun
One of the biggest challenges the couple faced was that they started their project during the rainy season.
The rainy season in Bali typically runs from November to March, and central areas like Ubud tend to be cooler and experience more rain than the coastal regions.
“We were kind of at the mercy of the gods in terms of when we could work and when we couldn’t work,” Peel said. “How much we worked each day really depended upon the weather.”
But in all, Peel estimates that they worked between 30 to 40 hours a week on building their house.
Back then, the two of them were also still new to the language and faced some communication barriers when liaising with local contractors, Tetzner said.
There are two main languages spoken in Bali — Indonesian and Balinese.
Thankfully, the couple managed to get things done with the help of Google Translate.
“You deal with everybody here via WhatsApp, which is one of the things that the Indonesians, or the Balinese do. All the businesses have WhatsApp, so you can just chat with them there and copy-paste your translated message,” Peel said.
While the feature isn’t foolproof — leading to funny translations all the time — it got the job done, he added.
Learning through the process
The couple lived nearby during the first six months of the project.
They started out living in a small resort that was about a five-minute scooter ride away from the site but then moved even closer.
“We realized that it was getting annoying that we needed to jump on the motorbike every time we wanted to go home or eat something, so we decided then to rent a small house within walking distance of the site, and that made a big difference,” Tetzner said.
While originally the idea of building their own home had seemed daunting, the process wasn’t as complicated as they expected.
“If you set your mind to it, you could do anything,” Peel said. “Anna used to say, ‘How’s this going to ever be finished?’ And I would say to her, ‘It’s just like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time.'”
It also took them a while to get used to the cultural differences in the way that the locals worked.
“It’s not like in the Western world where you ask a tradesperson to be there at eight o’clock on Monday, and that’s exactly when they show up. Often if we did need a hand or a delivery or something, it’s Bali time — they come whenever they want,” Tetzner said.
“You really needed to be very, very patient and just allow things to kind of happen when they were ready,” she added.
Capturing the moments
Midway through the project, the couple started documenting their progress on YouTube.
“In the beginning, we weren’t filming anything because we just didn’t have time,” Tetzner said. “And then as time went on, I felt a little bit sad that I wouldn’t have the memories, so I thought, let me just see if I can put something very basic together that we could look back on.”
The videos on the couple’s channel are both cinematic and raw, with stunning drone footage spliced together with scenes of the couple discussing their plans for the day and time-lapses of things getting done.
Do your research first
A piece of advice for others who want to build a home in Bali? Get at least three quotes, Tetzner said.
It’s also important to live in Bali for a while and learn a little bit of the language before making such a huge lifestyle switch, she added.
Moreover, people should also take extra care to ensure that any contractors they engage are legitimate, Peel added.
Future plans for a new place
The couple is planning to build another place about an hour and a half north of their current home, Peel said. It was originally meant to be a weekend getaway, but they now intend to move up there once the building is constructed.
This is because Ubud, where they currently live, has become very busy ever since the borders reopened after the pandemic, he said. That said, the couple is still in the early stages of designing the new house and plans to start building in March next year.
They’ve enjoyed their life in Bali so far, and can’t wait to see what else the island — and their next home — have to offer.
“You can have an amazing lifestyle at a fraction of the cost, and the climate and the people are also very beautiful. They’re very kind,” Tetzner said.
“We love the energy of the island. Life is a lot more simplistic here than anywhere in Australia,” Peel added.
Have you recently bought or renovated your dream home and want to share the details and photos of the process? Email this reporter, Amanda Goh, at [email protected].