Place of Peace
An Ed Tuttle-designed villa on Phuket gives two fashion designers a well-deserved respite.
Suzanne Trocmé -- Interior Design, 10/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The British fashion designers known affectionately as the Byblos Boys—Keith Varty and Alan Cleaver—made the Italian label a household name in the 1980s and '90s. Nowadays, they have their own knitwear line, Varty Cleaver, and live on the Adriatic coast of Italy, with a pied-à-terre in London. "We've worked hard," says Cleaver, "and we need some time for rest and reflection." Which is why they spend three months a year on Phuket, Thailand's largest island.
The experience begins at the airport, where a pale gray car picks up Varty and Cleaver and whisks them to the Amanpuri, a former coconut plantation on Phuket's west coast. Named for the Sanskrit word meaning "place of peace," the resort comprises a hotel and 30 private residences, created under the watchful eye of Paris-based architect Ed Tuttle. The first impression is one of bougainvillea, orchids, and gloriously perfumed trees. "It doesn't even seem to belong on earth," says Cleaver.
Huge natural rocks set in a high stone wall mark the entrance of the property he shares with Varty. Inside stand ten separate single-purpose structures constructed primarily of an indigenous Thai hardwood in the teak family, with tile roofs in traditional silhouettes. Pebble-wash steps connect the buildings to one another: the kitchen and staff quarters at the front by a massive mango tree, the primary living pavilion to the left, the dining pavilion in the center, flanked by three guest pavilions. At the rear, near the 75-ft. pool, buildings include a meditation sala, or open-sided shelter, the master suite, and a smaller kitchen. Below lies the Andaman Sea—the precise location, in fact, of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach. (Leo liked Varty and Cleaver's place enough to rent it for the duration of the shoot. Other renters have included Boris Becker, Naomi Campbell, Charles Saatchi, and Elizabeth Taylor.)
Six years ago, Varty and Cleaver chose the plot of land they wanted and began working with Tuttle on a personalized vision within the architect's overall concept. Of course, continuity with the development as a whole was essential. Materials had to be uniform, not to mention able to withstand extreme heat and lashing rain; shapes had to be traditionally Thai. "Still," says Cleaver, "we were able to work out a configuration to suit us." The main objectives were to establish an axis and preserve symmetry and purity of line, always keeping the view of the sea in mind.
Conferring with Tuttle by fax and phone, the two flew back and forth to Thailand to watch the work evolve under the management of Project Solutions International, headquartered in Bangkok. "I nearly had a nervous breakdown seeing hundreds of people putting in thousands of tiny mirrors—it seemed so chaotic," says Tuttle. "And there were some snags because everything is done by hand, but you expect that in a place that's far away, where customs are different."
Meanwhile, Tuttle, Varty, and Cleaver collected objects and artifacts to decorate the interiors. "Our favorite place to shop is called Neold, in Bangkok," says Varty. Gilded chofars, decorative elements that extend from the edges of temple roofs, become pure sculpture. Fabrics are from Jim Thompson, the Thai silk company. In the dining pavilion, kitted out in triangular quilted floor cushions, a Buddha's head from Myanmar receives daily offerings of marigolds and jasmine. "His eyes watch you wherever you go. It's a bit eerie," says interior designer Jonathan Reed, a recent guest.
Shoes must be removed upon entering the pavilions, enhancing the gentleness of this jasmine-and-lily world. At twilight, when lotus flowers are floated on the surface of the swimming pool, the picture of tranquillity is finally complete.