Perched high on a hill overlooking Layan Bay in Phuket, Thailand, sits the last masterpiece of the late Indonesian design guru Jaya Ibrahim. Its lucky owner, hotelier William E. Heinecke, splits his days between its avant-garde island heights and chairing his business empire from an executive suite above the hectic streets of Bangkok. Lofty settings aside, the two worlds could be no more different.
A man who runs some of the world’s most stunning hotels is bound to have extravagant tastes. It’s fitting then that he sought out a famed resort designer to envision his own tropical home. Jaya, as he was known affectionately by those who knew him and who ran in the circles of the resort design world, was himself the embodiment of refinement. Son of a Sumatran diplomat and Javanese princess, Jaya brought to the world spaces that drew from the beauty of their destinations. To make the most of the site’s immaculate vistas, Heinecke instructed Jaya and team to ensure the views of lush jungle and ocean panoramas took centre stage. Like Michelangelo’s famous quip about his sculptural methods, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” the designers worked to reveal the site’s beauty, releasing its divine views in open-plan design, clean lines and a light natural colourscape. Jaya’s signature touches add points of intrigue – from the intricately carved wooden claw-foot beds to lattice-decked ceilings to the antique Burmese teak door that marks the residence’s entryway.
Adding to the luxury, Heinecke also commissioned other sought-after specialists for select one-of-a-kind spaces in his residence. Hans Brouwer Design created a spa room that rivals the dream worlds of Thailand’s famed surrealist painters, and Karl Princic of Intaran Design shaped the landscape architecture, alternating between subtlety and punctuations of arboreal drama.
A World Apart
Phuket is no stranger to luxury villas. The challenge Mr. Heinecke established for this project was to supercede the levels of luxe already in this mature holiday destination. The island’s first high-end resort-style residences, the Amanpuri villas built in 1988, sit a short ride down the beach – or across the bay if you happen to have a private yacht like the 90-foot Sunseeker that Heinecke keeps moored just offshore. Where Aman went quintessentially Thai with temple-style roofs and made its statement with dark woods and tiles, Villa Similan serves up a contemporary contrast. Lines are sleek. The rooftops are flat – all the better to maximise the views, keeping them clear and unobstructed while adding more space to lounge and luxuriate.
Set at the highest point permitted for residential construction on Phuket, the indoor-outdoor design concept is an artful answer to the island’s building regulations, which limit any single roofed structure on the upper level from exceeding approximately 90 sqm. Creatively tackling this embargo and turning it into a benefit, the residence seen from above resembles a collection of modern villas – freestanding bedrooms and indoor areas flowing seamlessly with outdoor living space.
The elevated roof terrace of Villa Similan is ideal for sunset cocktail parties – in addition to the sprawling 350 sqm of decks just below. These main decks are also home to the Villa’s infinity pool. Tiled in Indonesian sukabumi stone, the pool stretches 22 metres and features swim jets, massage jets and a submerged glass panel casting light onto one of the bedrooms below. In total, the Villa boasts eight bedrooms set across two spacious levels totalling 3,600 sqm.
Resting over the pool is the shaded sala with sunken seating around the table and an unmatched vista onto the small full-moon shaped island of Koh Kata that hides away in Layan Bay. Water features extend beyond the sala, stretching the length of the deck to the right, and to the left, cascading in a waterfall into the cool of the swimming pool.
The residence’s most otherworldly space is, without a doubt, the spa area. Conceptualised by renowned spa consultant Farida Brouwer and designed by her husband Hans Brouwer, the Asia-based protégé of Sir Norman Foster, the spa is as sensual as it is fantastical. The space embraces the imagination seen in Farida Brouwer’s other creations that hide away in private islands, residences and resorts worldwide.
In the massage room, light dapples in through small asymmetrically sized holes in a burnished metal wall, looking altogether like a night sky turned vertical. Candles in alcoves add another luminary feature. The wet room, a step away, is where things go from inspired to altered state of consciousness. A golden-tiled foot bath at its entrance leads to a blue iridescent-lit ice fountain and two experience showers. The most extraordinary of the pair is an ‘emotional sensory shower’ offering sensations like massaging water jets, lighting changes and fragrances. At the press of a button, the shower turns into a ‘summer storm’ complete with red LED lighting and passion fruit aromas to refresh and stimulate.
A custom Jacuzzi pool hides away in a grotto-like niche – all straight lines of course – with a night sky feature overhead. Heated marble chaises rest beneath another star-stippled wall.
Toys for Boys
A glass-clad wine room marks the entry to the residence’s sybaritic man cave. This game room, fitted out with masculine leather sofas and recliners, is home to the owner’s richly carved antique custom Thai billiards table and personal treasures like the actual Golden Gun from the 1974 James Bond flick shot in nearby Phang Nga Bay.
The game room, an adjacent gym and private cinema were also all designed by Hans Brouwer.
Lest anyone think the villa is purely a man’s world, Kathy Heinecke – the woman of the house and a former art dealer – has added objets and artefacts from the couple’s private collection. Many of these pieces were gathered on their world travels as well as five decades of marital bliss in Thailand. Visitors to the residence will come across gems such as indigenous sculptural pieces from Papua New Guinea and South America, work by aristocratic art-jewellers Lotus Arts de Vivre and a Zen-expressionist painting by Thailand’s most famous artist, Thawan Duchanee.
Tucked amidst the rainforest canopy, Villa Similan is one of 15 similar villas that make up Phuket’s most distinguished new enclave. Named Layan Residences by Anantara, it is the first branded residential development by Heinecke’s luxury hotel and resort brand Anantara. One of his Anantara resorts, Anantara Layan Phuket, sits just next door for residents who wish to spa, dine, lounge and avail themselves of the resort services. Villa Similan is of course a sprawling tropical sanctuary unto itself – and a fitting finale to the career of one of Asia’s most original designers.