‘Imagination plays a huge role here,’ asserts interior designer Pisit Aongskultong who, together with Thai firm Architect Space, is responsible for the creation of Keemala, a luxury eco-conscious resort on the west coast of Phuket in Thailand.
The concept – which pushes the boundaries of design to new heights – began with an extensive study of the island’s ancient cultures and people, and from this an imaginary story was crafted of four distinct tribes, which in turn inspired the overall design, and in particular the 38 villas – the ‘homes’ of these fictitious natives. The thatched Clay Pool Cottages were created for the Pa-ta-Pea clan, who had a strong connection to the earth and lived off the land. The Tent Pool Villas were designed to mimic the semi-permanent homes of the second clan, the Khon-Jorn, who were traders and merchants. The Tree Pool Houses are inspired by the artistic We-Ha people who lived in homes suspended from trees. Lastly, the Bird’s Nest Villas are the conceptual dwellings of the Rung-Nok clan, who enjoyed an opulent lifestyle and lived in treetop homes with far-reaching views.
The materials used for the four villa styles, together with the interior design of each, further underpin these fictional people’s lives, trades and interests, and the public areas are no less impressive and rich in detail. The welcoming lobby is dominated by a mural created by Chiang Mai-based artist Surachai Sripaiboon depicting the tale of Keemala’s ‘tribes’, while the spa’s treatment rooms include outdoor showers and terrazzo plunge pools embellished with delicate shell.
In a considered nod to Phuket’s people, Aongskultong’s team commissioned all the textiles throughout the resort from ethnic minorities under the Doi Tung Development Project, which sustains alternative livelihoods for these people in order to combat illicit crop cultivation.
In both the construction and operation of Keemala, an eco-conscious approach has been at the forefront, as the architect Sermsuk Kitcharoenwong explains. ‘To minimise impact, we used environmentally friendly synthetic materials instead of their natural counterparts to minimise the impact on deforestation, and reduce the need for long-term maintenance because of their durability.’ In addition, factors that help to minimise energy consumption and potential pollution, such as natural airflow, sunlight and heat reduction, have also been an intrinsic aspect of the overall design.
While the natural beauty of Keemala’s tropical location is undoubtedly a blessing, it also proved taxing during the actual construction. ‘Building on a hillside was the biggest challenge, especially in the monsoon season,’ says the resort’s owner Tanapong Somnam. ‘Setting up a water-filtration system while water was streaming down the site was tricky, but now – with the implementation of streams, waterfalls and landscaping – we have achieved it.’ Aongskultong agrees, ‘Nothing about the construction process, the materials, the design or the approach was standard, or had been done in Phuket before. The architecture is so unique, we were constantly considering how best to adapt the ideas to make the building of the resort possible. It was challenging, but my favourite part of the project.’
In perfect harmony with its idyllic surroundings, Keemala – a three-year labour of love – has already received critical plaudits since it opened last December. The inspiration behind its creation may be largely one of fiction, but for those lucky enough to stay here, it’s surely a fairy tale come true.