I sometimes look around our living room, realizing how many things are from the vacation we took just before moving in, and wonder if our lives would look very different had we been in Belgium rather than Bali. Seven of the items in the second photo are from our month in Indonesia.
And a lot of readers have asked about our experience bringing furniture back from Bali. I hope that means a lot of lucky readers are going to that beautiful island. But I imagine some of this could be helpful for anyone shopping abroad.
Here’s our story…
We were moving from a studio in New York to a house in California (with a month in Bali along the way) and knew we were going to be needing a lot of furniture, but would need to go slowly—budgeting and prioritizing. (Honestly, we’re still not done.)
We decided that our happiness with our new home would be maximized if we started with a table for the backyard—as having outdoor space and eating outside in the fall was likely going to help a lot whenever we started to miss New York. We started looking around at teak tables and discovered almost everything we were seeing at places like Crate & Barrel was (a) really expensive, (b) backordered, and (c) made in Indonesia… which was exactly where we were headed.
And that’s how it began. As soon as we started looking into buying our backyard furniture while in Indonesia, we had opened the door to more. And if you apply the right logic (akin to that fuzzy “cost per wear” justifcation to buying expensive jeans), one could argue that our entire trip to Bali was paid for based on how much we saved by buying so much of our furniture there.*
Yay—another reason to travel!
Do what you can to be sure you’ve found a reputable dealer—one that tells you exactly what type of wood you will get and that has good quality craftsmanship.
We found places by walking around, trusting our gut, and looking for online reviews. In the end, a lot of our backyard furniture came from Christy Furniture and Art Gallery on Jl. Raya Kerobokan. We’d bring in images of items we liked or make modification-requests to items we already knew they could produce well. And then they sent us photos for approval once the items were finished—before shipping them. (See more in the Seminyak post.)
You also want to do your due diligence to find vendors that have ethical practices. We hope we did when buying our headboard, which is a wood called Suar (a fast-growing, non-endangered hardwood), from “Giant Wood” in Ubud. (You can more read about the selection and delivery process, in this post about our headboard.)
Assume that whatever you find in a well-designed, curated store (or even what you spot in a hotel or boutique) is being made in bulk and sold wholesale as well. Baskets are everywhere because they’re used in so many aspects of Balinese life, like prayer offerings. That white beaded one above is one of my favorites. And we were on a mission to find the leather-strap chairs we spotted in Ubud—finally finding someone making them in Seminyak after walking down a lot of dusty roads rather than sunning at the beach.
Finding the store you love is the tricky part, because there are so many. You’ll likely need to do some legwork and ask around if you’re looking for wholesale versus curated selections—many seem to be sort of grouped. The stores with all the baskets, the ones with all the kites, the ones with all of the fake-antique reproductions, and so on seem to be close together. We found that there were a few copper fixture spots around the Kerobokan prison, for example, and then just wandered. (Here they are in our kitchen!)
Alternatively, pay a slight markup in the pre-curated stores or ask a favorite spot if they take custom orders.
We learned that almost every store that sells direct will already have experience shipping to the U.S. and will have an agency that they have previously contracted with. The cost is calculated for a price per square meter, not by weight, and it’s relatively affordable for such big purchases.
Now I hesitate to talk prices because what’s affordable to one person may not be to another, and keep in mind we’re talking about furnishing a home (always pricey) while traveling (always a luxury). But I feel like some details are needed if this is to be useful:
For example, shipping to San Francisco was between $208 and $260 per cubic meter. To give you a sense, we brought home our headboard, our patio tables, chairs, and chaise lounges, our living room coffee table and chairs, lamps, cushions, and a few other decorative items—and it all came in under 3 cubic meters. In our experience, they did an excellent job of packing efficiently.
What makes it easier, is that you can designate a single store to do all your shipping—the other stores will deliver the goods you bought to that store, then it will be shipped out in one big group to you.
Well, not quite to you—it ships to a major port, and you have to figure out how to get it from there to your home. In our case, we had some incredibly heavy pallets—and big ones too. So we hired a company to deliver them from the port of Oakland to Davis—this cost about $200 as I recall. (We learned, however, that this did not include bringing items into the house, so plan ahead if you need help with that!)
You also have to pay the shipping agency—or an outside contractor to be your customs agent (this was about $80) once you get back in the states, and pay tax on the declared value of the goods. And you have to find a way to dispose of all the pallet wood once you’ve unpacked the crates (and clean up the many discarded nails and staples, too)—we were lucky to have a neighbor who wanted most of it.
Again, the cost savings of the purchases (probably as much as 90% down from retail here in some cases) made up for the costs of shipping (and lost beach time), but you’ll want to factor in additional funds for transit and labor.
Be patient. It takes months to cross the ocean.
I hope that’s helpful! I’ll add a link to the FAQ page.
*Technically it was years of eating out in New York that did that because we bought our plane tickets entirely on credit card miles, but that’s neither here nor there.