Bangkok

Design Anthology - - Contents - Text / Dun­can For­gan Images / Michael Paul

Bill Bens­ley's home is a tech­ni­colour re­treat filled to the hilt with per­sonal trea­sures, plants and art

Over the past three decades, Bill Bens­ley has carved sump­tu­ous tented camps out of Cam­bo­dian jun­gle, ap­plied colour­ful back­sto­ries to re­sorts around Asia and worked on pri­vate projects for lu­mi­nar­ies rang­ing from Mick Jag­ger to a sul­tan. It's lit­tle sur­prise then that Baan Botan­ica — the pro­lific ar­chi­tect and de­signer's fan­tas­ti­cal home in Bangkok — is alive with his trade­mark panache.

In the master bed­room, Bens­ley and his part­ner Jirachai Rength­ong, a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist, hote­lier and busi­ness heir, sleep be­neath a white crown guarded by two li­ons (for­merly a five-me­tre-high arch­way in­side the Dutch em­bassy in Yan­gon). In one of the guest rooms, mean­while, pride of place goes to a suit of Sa­mu­rai ar­mour — a trib­ute to the de­signer's father. Else­where, rooms, hall­ways and pub­lic spa­ces are gen­er­ously em­bel­lished with ob­jets d'art, paint­ings and an­tiques, all tes­ta­ment to Bens­ley's voracious col­lect­ing habit.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with the de­signer's work at stun­ning re­sorts and ho­tels like The Siam Ho­tel in Bangkok and The St. Regis Bali Re­sort will recog­nise in Baan Botan­ica his flair for car­ry­ing off the as­ton­ish­ing. But, while his paid work is al­ways re­ward­ing (he won't take a pro­ject on un­less it prom­ises to be fun), he says that the con­stant evo­lu­tion of his home is more like a labour of love.

Bens­ley pur­chased Baan Botan­ica, which is tucked away in a leafy en­clave down one of the ten­dril-like side streets of busy Sukhumvit Road, from an Amer­i­can named Billy Bones. ‘At first, I was more in­trigued by the name of the owner than the house it­self,' he re­calls.

He has well and truly bonded with the space in the en­su­ing years. In­deed, since tak­ing own­er­ship, the de­signer has used it as a place of re­treat to relax amid a whirl­wind sched­ule that of­ten has him and his stu­dio work­ing on be­tween 40 and 50 projects at any one time. He also treats it as some­thing of a lab­o­ra­tory for his rest­less cre­ative in­stincts. ‘Mad­ness has al­ways been a driv­ing fac­tor both at work and at home,' he chuck­les as he out­lines the var­i­ous tweaks he's ap­plied to the place over the years.

Though Bens­ley claims that he over­hauls the prop­erty ev­ery time he returns from a trip, there are sev­eral con­stants: he's a keen pain­ter, and his love of art is ev­i­dent in a col­lec­tion that in­cludes work by Swedish pain­ter and sculp­tor Richard Win­kler, Aus­tralian ar­chi­tect and artist Robert Pow­ell and In­done­sian con­tem­po­rary artist Ny­oman Mas­ri­adi.

The de­signer's pas­sion for art also in­forms his nom­i­na­tion of the veranda as his favourite part of Baan Botan­ica. Here, he can set up his easel over­look­ing the bright gar­dens, swim­ming pool and gazebo with its cop­per claw­foot tub. ‘The veranda is the sweet spot,' he says. ‘From there I can see ev­ery com­ing and go­ing. But I love ev­ery­thing about the house. It's my sound­ing board, my refuge, my touch­stone.'

A large-scale paint­ing by Bri­tish artist James Mor­timer takes cen­tre stage in one of the sit­ting rooms, where pops of bold red and cerise come in the form of a paint­ing by Bens­ley him­self on the left wall, a pair of wooden horses bought from an an­tique ware­house in Kochi’s Jewish quar­ter, and cush­ions on lo­cally made wicker fur­ni­ture. The 1970s Ital­ian Bru­tal­ist three-piece cof­fee ta­ble was a sur­pris­ing find dur­ing a trip to the Cotswolds

This page In the foyer be­tween the two sit­ting rooms, an early 20th-cen­tury An­glo-In­dian ta­ble and strik­ing flower ar­range­ment re­flect the home’s larger-than-life per­son­al­ity, while the French Art Deco ceil­ing lamp con­trasts with the pair of Burmese an­gel sculp­tures — a birth­day present for Rength­ong — stand­ing guard out­side one of the liv­ing ar­eas

The gar­den kitchen is flooded with nat­u­ral light from all sides, with an im­pos­ing 1950s Thai teak cab­i­net tak­ing pride of place

This page The sep­a­rate ground-floor apart­ment is well-ap­pointed, with its own pantry and out­door bath­room

The guest room is dubbed the Bon­net Suite af­ter Ru­dolf Bon­net, the Dutch artist who spent much of his life in Bali and is known for his in­flu­ence on the is­land’s art. The black cab­i­net is a con­tem­po­rary Burmese piece, while the bed is a re­pur­posed billiards ta­ble. A 1960s Ital­ian chan­de­lier hangs over a stack of re­fur­bished sil­ver suit­cases from France

This page An­other dra­matic paint­ing by Mor­timer hangs above a 19-cen­tury Dan­ish chest of draw­ers in the foyer of the master bed­room

In one of the gar­den’s nu­mer­ous fol­lies, a cop­per bath­tub filled with pur­ple moon or­chids is sur­rounded by 200-year-old In­dian col­umns

The wrap­around veranda is filled with pic­turesque vi­gnettes such as this one, though in typ­i­cal Bensely fash­ion the scenes are re­ar­ranged and up­dated weekly

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