A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Meet the king of exotic luxury resorts

Friday, 30 November 2012
By Miranda Glasser

Phnom Penh Post
He has been named one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers. Time Magazine called him the king of exotic luxury resorts. And now Bill Bensley is leaving his mark in Temple Town once again. With the original Hotel de la Paix under his belt – now being re-designed by him as Park Hyatt Siem Reap – his latest project is the monochromatically chic Shinta Mani hotel.

Long, tall Bill Bensley – his architecture has helped define the modern Siem Reap hotel landscape. Photograph Miranda Glasser
Harvard-educated, Bangkok-based Bensley cuts an imposing figure, lounging his well-over six foot frame among the black and orange sofa cushions of the poolside bar at the hotel. The fact that he is wearing tangerine trousers merely helps him blend in with the surroundings, all angular, slate grey furniture punctuated by flashes of orange.

He says the concept behind Shinta Mani’s design is that, “You can see all the horizontal lines – that very much is direct inspiration from Angkor. And what’s so beautiful about it is you have a building which is very much monochromatic, which buildings aren’t any more. It’s all dark grey and you’ve got spots where monks are walking through. That’s what we have here:  95 per cent is monochromatic and andesite – the stone Angkor Wat is made of – and these little accents of monks walking through.”

Bensley is now working on “Shinta Mani part two”, the 64-room extension to the hotel set to open in August 2013. Although it will bear many similarities to the original Shinta Mani, he says it will have a richer, more decadent feel.

“It’s going to be gorgeous. In the rooms, on the wall behind the bed I’ll have seven different panels of Cambodian silk, all different colours. Then we’re making these beautiful, wrought iron beds with big, padded backs to them, really old-fashioned. I’ve got this giant Aladdin’s lamp which is swag, and it’s hanging right over the centre of the bed. It’s really very cool, very different.”

“In the lobby we’re going to use some rich material. Lots of marble but in a way that you haven’t seen it used before. With mirrors in half of the rooms and then silk panels in half the rooms, and the mirrors have been scarified on the back – scratched in an artistic manner – to represent things Cambodian and things Angkor.”

Bensley says it’s very experimental for him, something of a departure from his usual style, partly because the guests want and expect to see new things.

Shinta Mani was conceived as the ‘little sister’ to Hotel de la Paix in that both used what Bensley describes as “a simplistic architectural language of line.” Now that Hotel de la Paix is being re-born as Park Hyatt Siem Reap, Bensley says the look will be luxe to the extreme.

A stunning example of Bensley’s inspiration – poolside at the Shinta Mani bar. Photograph Miranda Glasser
The former Arts Lounge will be turned into a porch that wraps around the room, a kind of “indoor outdoor space.”

The sunken middle section of the room will be air-conditioned, while the outside bit will be, “A big breezeway with ‘punkah wallah’ fans – old-fashioned fans that used to be pulled by men. We’ve got huge Cambodian fans made out of gold and silver. Very posh.”

As for the colour scheme, Bensley is using a personal inspiration. “I have this very old, very beautiful piece of Cambodian lacquerware, one of my favourite pieces. It’s black with a very interesting, almost pinky, watermelon purple stripe, and the entire lounge is based on this one 200 year old piece of enamel.

“I’ve got giant white elephant cabinets – 3.5 metres high – and we’re going to fill them full of books,” he continues animatedly. “I’ve got eight of them that march along this procession in the sunken area.

These big elephants will form nine different individual spaces, like individual living-rooms. They’ve got mother-of-pearl trunks, and lights hanging from them.”

Bensley, who has designed over 100 properties in 26 countries, is excited about his newest Cambodian project: a luxury tented camp near Kirirom National Park, two hours from Phnom Penh.

Having created the Botswanan safari-inspired, world-renowned Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai, this camp will feature fifteen tents amongst the abundant wildlife of Kirirom.

Park Hyatt Siem Reap will open in April 2013, and the tented camp is set to open in autumn 2013.

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