Before Phuket, Thailand earned its reputation as a world-class beach holiday destination, for centuries it called to fortune-seekers, workers and traders from Asia, Arabia and Europe. This interesting convergence of cultures is reflected in the island’s architecture. We take a look at how luxury villa design has evolved in Phuket over the last 150 years or so.
Back in Phuket’s booming tin-mining days in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the island’s emerging wealthy class built luxury mansions of Sino-Colonial design, in a fashion that reflected the tastes of the tin-mine barons of the time, who were largely descendants of Hokkien Chinese immigrants with family ties stretching from Phuket to Penang, Malacca and Singapore.
A handful of these mansions still stand today in Phuket Town, including the old governor’s residence, now home to the Blue Elephant restaurant (pictured above), and next door Baan Chinpracha mansion (below), which is now part family home, part museum.
European influences are seen in the homes’ elaborate porticos (arched windows and doorways), neo-classical pillars and Italian marble floor tiles with intricate designs. Thick walls and inner courtyards helped protect the mansions’ residents from the sweltering heat, and air circulated through rows of elegantly arched louvred windows.
These luxury villas of the past were largely found in the island’s interior near Phuket’s commercial centres – all the fabulous beaches lining its coast were not considered desirable places to live for anyone but fisher-folk. But once travellers discovered the beaches and tourism replaced tin mining as the economic driving force in the 1980s, visions of luxury living shifted to the coastlines.
In 1988, a coconut plantation on a headland near Surin Beach became home to the Amanpuri, an exclusive resort built to a level of luxury unheard of at the time on Phuket. Designed by architect Edward Tuttle as a collection of elegant pavilions spilling over the hillside, it was a ground-breaking style that came about after his extensive travels around Thailand.
His main inspiration was the ancient Ayutthaya architecture of central Thailand (above), characterised by steep multi-tiered roofs and elevated pavilions set around a central platform.
Aman’s iconic black-tile swimming pools, peak-roofed lounging salas and grey stone walls have been copied many times over in villa designs ever since. Another shift in design was to forego importing construction materials in favour of using local resources such as tebak and maka, sturdy local woods used for flooring, mouldings and veneers.
Over the next three decades, the hillsides and headlands up and down Phuket’s coast evolved into luxury enclaves, with many innovative and striking villa designs mixing with those Aman-inspired roofs.
Two outstanding Phuket villas built in recent years exemplify the island’s myriad design influences, bringing together art, architectural features, feng shui principles, and furnishings from around Thailand and across the world.
Baan Paa Talee Estate and Villa Minh, two dazzling villas on the Kamala headland, were both designed by Paris-based architects Arte Charpentier with many Thai and Asian design features incorporated to create bright, vivid open spaces and nature-infused luxury. Both villas cascade down the hillside to offer panoramic views with a seamless connection between their expansive indoor and outdoor living areas.
With these breathtaking villas setting the standard for today’s luxury homes in Phuket, it seems certain that architects and design alchemists will bring more fresh and exciting ideas to the island for many years to come, continuing the ever-evolving design of Phuket villas.