My parents were traveling artists who brought me to Bali from Canada in 1981 when I was five months old. Back then, Ubud was a relatively peaceful town with the occasional traveler wandering through. It was really just a dirt road lined with beautiful temple gates and mud walls.
I grew up outside of town in a home that overlooked a lush ravine. Instead of taking piano lessons or going to soccer practice, I learned Balinese dance and wood carving. When I slept over at my friend’s house in a nearby village, I’d help plant rice and slaughter ducks for the family’s smoked duck business. When I turned 14, I left the island for boarding school in California, then I went on to study fine art at Tufts in Massachusetts.
I spent a few years working for Donna Karan in New York, but I began to miss Bali. So I moved back in 2010 and founded Ibuku, a design firm that builds homes and furniture using bamboo, an exceptionally sustainable, sturdy, inexpensive, and plentiful material. Ibuku works with students from the Green School (founded by my dad, jewelry designer John Hardy, and my stepmom, Cynthia Hardy), where kids learn sustainable building and gardening techniques. These days my son, Nayan, and I split our time between Bali and the United States, where my husband, Rajiv, is finishing his medical residency. I like the idea of Nayan, who is almost a year old, spending his childhood connecting to nature in Bali the way I did.
Today, Ubud has become a much bigger tourist destination, where overheated visitors pour out of buses and people on the street try to sell them tickets to dance performances. A lot of the rice paddies I used to walk through as a kid have been built over with villas by expats. But increasingly, you stumble onto little oases and creative pockets in town: charming restaurants, beautiful boutiques, tiny workshops. The more visitors seek out and value those things, the more it encourages artistic life here.
The open, creative spirit of Bali is what drew me back. There’s a magical ingredient here. It has to do with the genuine friendliness of the locals, but another part of it is resilience: Bali has been barraged by interest from the West for centuries. Despite all this outside influence, the Balinese are still very much focused on their own culture. You see more of traditional village life in Ubud than in other parts of Bali. Coming home the other night, I had to drive a circuitous route because the village road was blocked off for an evening ceremony. It’s all still going on around us; we’re just living alongside it.
—As told to Jennifer Flowers