Creative genius Bill Bensley lives one half of his life in imagina on and the other in reality. ‘Escapism’, his recent design tome, showcases bits of life me work; manifesting the fact that the hotel designer has no problem crossing the line between real life and colourful fantasies. Bensley outs convention and inspires our writer. Her takeaway? Blue sky thinking.
Photos Suwit Kittitien, Bensley Design Studio
Words Sirin P Wongpanit
If life is about setting records, Bill Bensley is certainly intent on breaking a good run with new ones. Known for his new explorations in resort designs,Bensley is easily one of the world’s most prolific hotel architects who has designed over 200 resorts in 30 countries. Among his long list of projects, many of which are located in pristine and remote areas, is a palace – a real one. He has two offices, one in Bangkok, the other in Bali. On average, he and his 200-manned dream team would work on about 45 different projects at the same time. When I met him the first time, Bensley was sitting in on five different meetings, his two dogs slumbering at his feet. It is a known fact that Bensley travels most of the time. His schedule is crazy, as his secretary will readily confirm. And when we talked for the second time for the interview, the seemingly indefatigable man had just unpacked from a month-long trip to Eastern Europe.
“Now we have made it to 92 countries,” says the larger- than-life architect on the number of countries he travelled. “My plan is when I turn 60, which is about one and half years from now, we will land on a new, uncharted country and make it our 100th.”
His younger days meant numerous summertime road trips and camping and being very comfortable with trudging into lands unknown. Bensley recalls seeing new places with a fresh pair of eyes, a necessity to stay on the alert and have fun. “I grew up travelling constantly. Every summer, we went on a big tour all over America, we went to Mexico, we went to Canada. And when I graduated from school, I went on for four months to Europe, using the money my sister gave me for my Harvard (class) ring to purchase the rail pass and took a detour to Europe before eventually landing in Asia.” The year was 1984, Bensley was 24 years old, and the travel that originated from his home in Anaheim, California to Asia took four and a half months.
Dubbed the ‘King of Exotic Luxury Resorts’ by Time magazine and the ‘craziest sane hotel designer in the world’ by Vanity Fair; Bensley – while still planning to traverse from one place to another – always picks up new ideas at every moment in his journeys. “It goes directly from vacation to designs,” he says. “In Krakow, Poland for example; I got excellent ideas for our villa project in Halong Bay. My memories are all photographed and some are translated into tiny details of whatever we are doing. When we were in Dubrovnik, Croatia, our room with the balcony overlooking the stone staircase where Game of Thrones’ Cersei walked in shame got me so inspired – and now we are making the sketch I did back right then and there into a 6 by 1.5 metre drawing, for the Four Seasons Chiang Mai renovation.”