Good Life Gurus: Bill Bensley, world-renowned hotel designer extraordinaire
Bangkok is a city brimming with talented personalities and charming characters who have pushed their way through to really make their mark. There’s no doubt that they’re truly living their best life, and doing it in great style. In our Good Life Gurus series, we explore and ask the city’s millennial tastemakers and cultural arbiters to reveal what the good life means to them, and give us a little insight into how they live it.
There are two kinds of people that make our hearts skip a beat.
The first kind is reserved for our lovers, ex-lovers, and current crushes. The second kind belongs to those artists, creatives, and connoisseurs that evoke something special within us through their work.
Bill Bensley — we hope you guessed it — falls into the latter category.
The architect and interior designer who is known for his “the odder, the better” philosophy, is globally renowned for his work across various hotels (and some palaces). These span everything from The Siam and the Capella Ubud, over to the Four Seasons Tented Camp Chiang Rai, JW Marriott Phu Quoc, and the Rosewood Luang Prabang. More recently, Bill has also unveiled a few hot openings under his very own name, from the Shinta Mani Angkor Resort – Bensley Collection over to the Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection, both in Cambodia.
Here, we chat to the Bangkok-based American architect and designer about his views on living a good life, be it professionally or privately. Read on for some interesting insight, which Bill kindly provided us with all while he was getting a massage on the floor.
[Hero Image: Shinta Mani Wild]
Please give us a little background about yourself and what you do.
I am an architect, interior designer, and a landscape architect that designs high-end hotels worldwide. I have the best job in the world.
Who are your clients? What are they like?
Kings, princes, billionaires, and the occasional queen! For the most part they are charming and interesting. As my practice matures, our reputation of building sustainable hotels with a purpose attracts like-minded owners, which is a joy as they are open to our wildest ideas and allow us bring them to life.
What role do you think hospitality and design play in living a ‘good life’?
Hospitality has the power to change lives, to have a real purpose. We have the ability, in hospitality design, to present our clients with hotel models that have a purpose. In Cambodia’s Shinta Mani hotels a percentage of each guest stay goes back to the Shinta Mani Foundation and funds everything from wells and clean drinking water, to schools, homes, healthcare, micro loans for small businesses, a seed sharing program to help people grow better food, and, of course, our hospitality school. This may be hard to fathom in places that are still on lockdown, but let’s start planning ahead.
Here in Thailand we are almost case free and living normally again — with masks of course — and we continue to pitch hotels with purpose so they are ready to go when the time is right. Good design means living a good life, as one is usually happy when surrounded by things of beauty that work well and tell a story that puts a smile on your face.
What does the good life mean to you? How do you live the good life?
Time. Time to think, paint, and to be with my loved ones.
What are your 5 good life essentials?
- A very happy marriage
- Many dogs
- No Drama
- Time with friends
What is your self-care ritual?
I have a Thai massage on the floor everyday while I answer emails like this one!
What do you do to be more sustainable or eco-friendly (in work and privately)?
At work, we are doing all we can to build the hotels of the future; hotels which are sustainable in as many ways as possible. The next dream I hope to tackle is a hotel that is made of 100% recycled materials. We are constantly trying to come up with new ways to do things that will help lower the carbon footprint and use of natural resources for our clients. We are convincing many to turn to solar power, as we have at our Bangkok office. This is full of mightily strong computers, now totally fuelled by the sun.
At home I have a wild garden which is a pocket of oxygen and green in bustling Bangkok, and a haven for birds, snakes, and creatures of all kinds. It is also a haven for antiques and upcycled pieces, as I believe something need not be new to be luxurious, much the opposite.
What do you do to keep fit?
I run 4-5 kilometres with my 6 Jack Russells every day. Sammy, Bobby, Tommy, Franky, Jessie, and Chucky keep me fit!
Where do you go for… the best breakfast in Bangkok?
Eggs Benedict at the Siam Hotel on the riverside terrace.
Where do you go for… the best date night in Bangkok?
Gosh having been happily married for 35 years …. you got me on this one!
Where do you go for… the best drinks in Bangkok?
Free flow happy hour at the Rosewood Bangkok…. as I have been advised.
Where do you go for… the best place to shop in Bangkok?
The red building across the road from the main Jatuchak market, to shop for antiques.
Where do you go for… the best escape from Bangkok?
Chiang Mai for antique hunting.
Lastly, a word of advice for living the good life in Bangkok?
Adopt the kindhearted Thai mindset of “mai pen rai” and keep smiling.