Barefoot Luxury: The Stunning Design Of Cempedak

The savvy traveller with a taste for slow, tropical living has either been to Nikoi Island or placed it near the top of their destination bucket list. A fifteen-hectare private island located off the east coast of Bintan, Indonesia, Nikoi was developed in response to a general disenchantment with the standard holiday accommodations in the region; options at the time, says the development group, were either “flea-ridden shacks or opulently garish five-star hotels.” Forgoing western notions of luxury in favor of a design that made use of the natural materials and building customs of the island, like driftwood and double-vaulted roofs, the stunning accommodations of Nikoi pay homage to regional culture while creating a unique haven overlooking the South China Sea.

Following the success of Nikoi, the small group of developers—self-professed lovers of the outdoors, nature, food, and wine—looked to emulate this model elsewhere. Enter Cempedak, a seventeen-hectare private island also located off the coast of Bintan. Its white sandy beaches, white boulders, rain forest, and unique wildlife made this land the perfect place in which to build a paradise, one playfully described by the company as “Luxury Survivor” or “Crusoe Lux.”

As with Nikoi, the architecture of Cempedak makes use of natural materials and vernacular design, with careful consideration given to cultural sensitivity and local practices. The result is a series of beach villas and sea-view villas scattered across the island, carefully positioned so as to not disrupt the natural ecosystem. According to the owners, bamboo is used in these structures in innovative ways never seen before. The crescent-shaped curved roofs are made from the island’s local grasses, a vernacular style known as ‘alang alang.’ The resulting visual effect is a series of seemingly naturally-occurring moons dotted along the sloping coastline, tastefully blending in with the raw beauty of the landscape.

Each villa is built with a private plunge pool and large deck, offering guests ample opportunity to soak and lounge in the balmy air. Inside the villas, overhead fans work in tandem with the geographical placement of each structure to take advantage of the naturally cooling ocean breezes. There isn’t an air conditioner to be found on Cempedak — clever design has rendered them obsolete.

Both for aesthetic and environmental reasons, there is minimal use of human-made materials like cement, plastic, paint, and glass on the island. Natural materials were left unfinished wherever possible, and when practical needs called for it, organic varnishes like natural oils and waxes were used. Solar energy is applied throughout the island, with solar hot water systems and a solar PV system that powers each villa.

Careful consideration was also given to the human footprint on Cempedak when it came to the building process. External consultants were hired to advise on the protection and restoration of the environment before and after building. Today these consultants are regularly enlisted to help protect the island’s local flora and fauna.

Committed to sustainable building practices and the preservation of regional culture, the island’s owners founded the Island Foundation in 2009. The organization works with the local community to promote sustainable development, but also to promote social justice and education within the area. Primarily a fishing region that has suffered in recent years from the rising price of fuel and overfishing, Bintan and its neighboring islands have seen new economic life thanks to a surge in local tourism.

The result of several years of cautious, creative development is a pared-down, luxurious retreat on the blue waters of Indonesia. Here guests can enjoy local cuisine in the island’s restaurant, which is situated on a rocky point to provide sweeping views of sunset. The menu is derived from local ingredients, like seafood and fresh fruits. Other amenities include a spa, natural grass tennis courts, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, scuba diving, and lasers and catamarans for sailing.

For those looking for a rugged adventure on land, guests are free to explore the island by bike or foot on any of its beautiful trails. The lucky adventurer may even spot some of the rare and endangered wildlife of the region, like hornbills, sea otters, sea turtles, terrapins, and pangolins.

For the traveller ever in search of a quintessential island experience, the architectural delights and natural amenities of Cempedak make this tropical oasis a worthy destination.