Interview with founder of Mandala villas in Bali, Ben Jones: "Modern luxury is about equality in hospitality"
Room for more
Booking yourself a stunning private villa while holidaying in Bali isn't an arcane concept; in fact it has become the norm for most tourists who prefer secluded privacy as opposed to the usual resort treatment.
But with Mandala, the typical villa is blown out of proportion. The trailblazing brand sparks a portfolio of privately owned, design-fluid residences that are either available for sale or a brief stay. While all Mandala homes revolve around clean, flowy lines, open airy spaces, raw and industrial touches, every property here isn't like the other. They each boast its own art collection, library, full bar with house bottled cocktails, bespoke bathroom products and gym with workout programs. The word excessive clearly does not exist here.
Founder Ben Jones, who helm M.Developments (of real estate and hospitality), talks us through the elaborate process of modern luxury, the landscape of Bali and what hospitality means in this day and age.
How did you get to settling in Bali?
Design has always been my passion. And it was all about designing spaces - hospitality spaces. I live in Singapore, and we opened Oxwell & Co., Operation Dagger as well as Meat Liquor (that we unfortunately had to close). The next step was to design and developed luxury villas in Bali; originally for ourselves because it was kind of our dream home.
Singapore is a pretty competitve and challenging market, it's trend driven. One day you're hot, and then you're not. Bali presents a fairly different opportunity for us where we felt like if we design beautiful and well-designed spaces then the longetivity would be there for us. So far, it has proven to be the case. We have designed over 20 luxury villas in Bali. We own and operate four of them under the Mandala brand and we have a beach club - Uluwatu Cliff House that recently opened this year.
Who was Mandala created for? How do you envision the traveller to be?
It was purposefully created for the up and coming demographic — the demographic that is reaching for the next stage. They don't want the whole package of luxury, they want to feel relaxed, and have a good time. They appreciate being in a beautiful property but not wanting to be waited on hand and foot. What we provide at Mandala is perfect design, great F&B experience, great service culture, but to a certain extent that you are left to yourself.
Technology is used cleverly here. Whenever guests come, they receive an iPad and iPhone with full accessibility and interactive menus as well as WhatsApp messaging to the central team at any point that they need something.
Tell us about the design elements in a Mandala residence.
We always try to do interesting things. It might sound like we are a little bit spoilt but there are so many luxury proprietors and properties around Asia that there is very little we haven't seen about ten times before. What we always try to do is that we come up with these real jaw-dropping moments within the properties. Glass bottom swimming pools, swim-up bars, basement cinemas, secret libraries; all sorts of interesting things. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the business, is these crazy things that we do.
What does modern luxury mean to you?
Historically, luxury hospitality started out in Asia in a subservient manner. Service staff would tip-toe around the guests and communication was restrained and formal. Hospitality that is being driven in other parts of the world, is about equality. Checking into the hotel and being asked questions: "How was your flight?", "How are you feeling?", "You look great" etc. The staff becomes people that you want to hang out with, instead of the other way around. I'm a firm believer of that, and that is increasingly the definition of modern luxury.
It seems that service is dialled down now, in a good way.
I think that's another part of this modern luxury that we are providing, which is about a fairly laid back and chilled out sort of life. Even for Airbnb, the reason why it's growing to what it is is because people see modern luxury as automony and privacy that a dwelling can provide.
Where to next, for Mandala?
We are looking at other parts of Indonesia, in Lombok. But also at Europe — Mykonos, South of France.