DREAMWEAVERS :: Jodie Cooper

You might’ve seen that on our recent trip to Indonesia, Patrick & I were lucky enough to spend time at an incredibly luxurious villa on Nusa Lembongan, called 353 Degrees North. I spied this place about six months ago and fell in love instantly- then I got my research hat on and did some looking around to learn as much as I could about it: here I learned that I was as inspired by its designer / owner as I was the space itself. Jodie Cooper is an interior design specialist who also happens to have built something seriously special right in the middle (but seriously) of paradise. Not only were we invited to stay at her place for a night while we were away – still counting my lucky stars – I also got to ask some questions of her, and impart some of her wisdom with you. I am so excited to share it.

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Chloe: honestly, I don’t know quite how to describe 353 Degrees North in a way that does it justice- but I’m sure you have lots of practice doing just that! How would you sum it up?

Jodie: I think it is different for everyone that stays at 353 Degrees North- for me, it is a place to disconnect with technology and reconnect with nature.

C: I read in another interview [this one!] that every item in your house is one that you love- that you’ve carefully curated it to reflect the way in which you see the world. How important is it to you that the objects you surround yourself with tell a story?

J: Everything we own has a story attached- when, where and how are the interesting facts when you acquire something unusual. I have been fortunate to travel to amazing places, and I always try to purchase something that is unique to the culture. I avoid tourist shops, seek out smaller artisan markets and ask for the oldest piece they have. In Uzbekistan and Bukhara where I purchased the amazing embroidered Suzanis hanging in the villa, they were surprised that I wanted the oldest they had rather than the new machine-made versions. I have learnt so much from the people of the villages, and they are only too happy to share stories when you are interested.

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C: What was the moment that you went ‘you know what, this is something I really need to do- let’s create some magic here?’ and started working on the property?

 J: The Island and the location are the magic ingredients that make 353 Degrees North, such a special place. I purchased the land 8 weeks after my first visit to Nusa Lembongan in 2012.

It had been a dream for a long time to have my own piece of paradise in Bali, but the mainland had lost its appeal to me due to tourism and overcrowding. When I first visited Lembongan it was like being in a time warp, so beautiful and unspoilt by tourism.

The initial design concept came to me easily, as it was all about maximizing the property’s incredible views. As far as overall design aesthetics go, I wanted to combine Balinese culture and traditional elements with clean, modern lines externally. For the interior I wanted the spaces to flow, to be open and free of unnecessary furniture that obstructed or defined an area; for example, no dining room allows people the freedom to eat by the pool or on the roof. I designed the villa to be enjoyed, and to be used as people felt like using it.

C: It has got to be a challenge building somewhere and creating something that’s still slightly off the beaten path like Nusa Lembongan is: what was the construction process like? Were there challenges you didn’t expect?

J: Ohhh yeah! I have a motto- “no problems only solutions” –  that kinda takes on a whole new dimension when you are at home in Perth and you are sent a photo of something that is not even remotely like what you have designed! There are lots of learning curves, and the price to build was approximately 30% more than on the mainland. I found that there were a lot of additional issues such as power supply and fresh water to consider, and local culture and traditions to be respectful of.

I had a fantastic builder, I employed an Australian project manager who lived on the island, and I was on the island every 4 -6 weeks during the build. I had no idea what I was getting myself into- there was no rule-book, I didn’t ask for or take advice because it was my mission and mine alone. I have learned so much. I am still very aware that I am lucky to be a guest in other people’s country.

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C: Tell me about the process when it was finally ‘done’ and people started staying within your walls- how does it feel to have something you’ve put so much work in suddenly open to the accommodation and interpretation of other people?

J:I was really nervous!  It was genuinely my greatest achievement, and at the same time my most vulnerable moment. I know that I do this for a living, but this was my dream, my design, my taste and my style… there was so much excitement and achievement, and I felt exposed- it was me: all me. I couldn’t hide behind other people’s input or tastes, because it was only me behind it. When you walk in you get a sense of openness and I was careful not to dictate every space, and because of this there was a real sense of ‘people aren’t going to get this’.

 C: If you got to create an itinerary that would see people spending three or four nights on the island, what six things to do would you recommend and why?

J:

// Do nothing but relax and enjoy the everchanging view. Natures artwork is something I never tire of.

// Swimming with Manta-Rays is an amazing experience; they are so graceful and so huge, it is beautiful and humbling to be able to share their environment.

// Snorkeling is like being in your own aquarium! So much to see and enjoy.

// Eat freshly caught seafood at a local warung with your feet in the sand (Nyomans or Bambu Warung, near the mangroves)

// Enjoy a Drink at the “Howff “ – Lembongan’s medieval whiskey bar, complete with kilt wearing bar staff.

// Day trip to Nusa Penida, visit the underground temple and beautiful beaches.

// Ride across the Famous Yellow Bridge and explore Ceningan Island- be sure to have lunch at The Palms!

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C: How integral has it been to you in finding the right people to be on your team? There must be a real element of trust in being so far away.

J: The 353 Degrees North team are the real heartbeat of the villa. They are all amazing, not only the fantastic 4 on Lembongan, but also Michael- our bookings and “everything” manager. I am very lucky.  

C: What has stood out to you as the most important lesson you’ve learned in business so far?

 J: How to juggle work and play? there is no down-time when you own your own business. Being a creative I am hopeless with administration, but if you don’t invoice you don’t get paid!

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C: And in life?

J: I’m still learning every day. There are no blueprints to follow and as a friend once said to me: “if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster!” It is so true, so……  live, learn, love and laugh a LOT.

C: What advice would you give to someone who has a big dream- whether that be starting out in a career as creative and competitive as interior design or working on a project so complex it seems impossible at times- to get them started or keep them on the right track?

J: Ask as many questions as you can- get inside the client or customer’s head: people know what they don’t want but are not sure what they do want. Communication is key, and sometimes your vision and their vision are not the same. If it’s not the right fit, do yourself and them a favor and walk away.

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C: How has spending so much time on island time changed you as a person?

J: If only I could spend more time on the island! Unfortunately, the truth is that I only get to visit for short amounts of time, and that involves doing maintenance, staff meetings and not much relaxing and enjoying the island- defiantly not as much as I would like.

C: I found you on social media- is that how lots of your guests stumble upon you, in terms of accommodation or as a creative figure?

J: It’s a funny association; I am so bad at social media; full of ideas but not at execution. I have Michael dealing with social media and he is brilliant! Booking sites have changed our world, and social media has too I suppose. Other than that, the villa design has helped us stand out: I’ve been lucky enough to be on euro magazine covers and our even pool has won awards!

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C: You have a $500 budget and you’d like to bring a sharehouse space to life; what items do you consider to really make a difference in the personality of a living area and what are some considerations to bear in mind here?

 J: A beautiful indoor plant, and a lamp or light fitting that will change the room at night: my rule of thumb is something organic and something textual: whether that be soft textiles or something patterned or something that adds depth, ambiance makes such a big difference.

C: What do you often wish you were asked, that you would love to share with the world?

J: Ohh- I’m not sure about this one. Maybe all of the things that I don’t do. I wish I had more time to do all of the things! I want to go back to drawing, I want to help villages retain their skills, I want to bring the best of their culture to our worlds and share ours too. Everything evolves, I am always evolving and I’m sure that my answer to this will change over time, too.

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FINISH THESE SENTENCES:

I feel inspired when…I am challenged.  

I’ll never forget the day… I found the land. I was booked in down at sandy bay, when I arrived it was double booked (to both myself and another Jodie!). I wandered up the hill looking for somewhere else to stay- if that hadn’t happened I would have never found the land, or gone up the hill and discovered the serenity that was there at all! It was a coincidence, and it was meant to be. That was in 2012.

The words I live by are… no problems, only solutions.

 I’m happiest when… I’m laughing

My best bit of advice would have to be… never stop dreaming.

I’m so looking forward to… new adventures (before dentures!)

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To check out the villa, head to www.instagram.com/@353degreesnorth: to learn more about Jodie, check out her account at www.instagram.com/jodiecooperdesign. I cannot recommend the villa, the island and the whole experience highly enough.

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