Indonesian hotelier Ronald Akili unveils the last stage of Desa Potato Head—his unique vision for a hotel-meets-community centre that has been a decade in the making.


As any hotelier will tell you, building a hotel requires an almost masochistic appetite for long project deadlines, eye-watering expense outflow and an even longer horizon for an adjusted-for-inflation return on investment. In most cases, five years is a bare minimum, but in the case of Ronald Akili’s ambitious Desa Potato Head project, that horizon has stretched to a decade—and the Jakarta-based real-estate developer turned hotelier is still not done.

The first salvo was fired in 2010 when Akili—the son of prominent Indonesian entrepreneur and collector Rudy Akili, who also opened the Akili Museum of Art in Jakarta—launched Potato Head Beach Club in a quiet stretch of Bali’s Seminyak neighbourhood.

By any yardstick, it was a game changer: a slick mix of restaurant, music club, bar and pool, and social hangout for both locals and the greater community of hipsters that turned the tired old trope of Bali as the backdrop for surfers, yogis, spiritual shrines, traditional gamelan orchestras and kohl-eye-lined dancers on its head. For here was a thoroughly fresh take on Bali, a place whose setting was steeped in tradition but whose programming felt thoroughly millennial.

Exhibit B was five years in the making. In 2015, Akili opened the 58-suite Katamama right next to Potato Head Beach Club, tapping Indonesian architect Andra Martin and Singapore-based interior designers Takenouchi Webb to create a quietly modern space that was layered with teak and terrazzo, Balinese bricks and hand-made Javanese tiles. It was another instant hit.

Even so, few really appreciated that both Potato Head Beach Club and Katamama—and the sweep of restaurants that Akili opened in the interim in Singapore and Hong Kong as well—were test beds for a more ambitious expression of his belief that genuine hospitality “lies in the interaction between different cultures.” Specifically, “authentic, not ethnic” has been an abiding mantra. This year, Akili launches in stages what he describes as the last piece of the puzzle: the Creative Centre.

Beyond Borders

For this most affable of hoteliers, a hotel has so much more potential beyond being merely a place to check into and sleep. At the very least, it is a space that should be open to everyone; specifically, the local community and visiting guests—a communal space where strangers can meet naturally and form creative and emotional bonds. In other words, a village. “I have been dreaming about the idea of building a village for 10 years, ever since we opened our first venue in Bali,” Akili says.

And yet ‘village’ is something of an understatement, because it seems to imply something bijou and rustic, a place where you might expect to see, say, a troop of hens pecking at the dirt amid some alang-alang thatched huts. Akili’s village, or Desa Potato Head, to be formal, is a 387,500sqft complex that includes Katamama and Potato Head Beach Club, at the heart of which is the new Creative Centre.

Akili’s ambitions for the 258,000sqft Creative Centre have, except perhaps the Villa La Coste complex in Aix-en-Provence, few parallels in modern hospitality. This, he points out, is a new type of holistic experience where music, art, design, food, wellness and sustainability collide for both the local community and guest. “We’re not trying the change the industry. We want to create an entirely new model for it.”

Over the course of 2020, the Creative Centre will unveil a 168-room hotel called Potato Head Studios, farm-to-table restaurants, a host of bars, a multifunctional gallery, an environmentally driven kids’ club, several rooftop communal zones, an amphitheatre, a beachfront pool, a music recording studio, Wild Life Archive (a collection of posters, books and resources on techno, disco and acid house) and Klymax, a high-fidelity, subterranean discotheque designed in partnership with DJ Harvey.

As published in TatlerAsia