Creative Curiosity: A Portrait of Bill Bensley
He has furnished luxury establishments, such as those of Four Seasons and Rosewood, and won numerous architectural awards. But for Bill Bensley, these laurels are more motivation to reach new heights than a comfortable resting place.
18 June 2022
Trying to pigeonhole Bill Bensley is an impossibility - the likeable interior designer is too colourful, too versatile and too expressive for that. He has already designed more than 200 hotel projects around the world, including for renowned brands such as Rosewood, Four Seasons, Oberoi and MGallery. He has always focused on environmental protection. With his Bensley Collection, the celebrated US American is now taking an even more consistent approach to sustainability. Because that, he is certain, is the future of travel. "Our best work is still ahead of us," assures Bensley. His vision? A hotel made of 100 percent recycled materials. And he would be willing to take on that challenge.
Style meets sustainability: Bill Bensley is responsible for numerous luxury houses. © Bensley
Mister Bensley, each of your projects is outstanding. How do you approach the planning of a new hotel?
Over the years, I've learned that designing a hotel can be compared to producing a Hollywood movie , because both hotels and movies need a compelling story and without it are often doomed already on premiere night. For a wonderful premiere, we develop a unique DNA that influences everything - the architecture of the house as well as the design of the teaspoons. That's the key to success!
What are the biggest challenges in designing a new resort?
It depends on the project. One of my favourite challenges was to find a way to preserve all 856 coconut trees at the Four Seasons Koh Samui. Otherwise, the terrain could have slipped and the drainage patterns could have been destroyed. To do this, we placed 70 small villas in and over the trees.
Shinta Mani Wild: A portion of the Cambodian hotel's overnight rate goes toward wildlife conservation. © Shinta Mani Wild
How would you describe your interior designs?
Over the years I have become a staunch maximalist - I crave one layer of whimsy and colour after another; the more the better! I'm an enemy of empty spaces and love to stage weirdness. I'm a fan of creating indoor and outdoor spaces where you have to take time to explore them in detail. A successful, truly interesting hotel is one you can spend days in without ever fully finishing exploring.
For me, there is nothing more boring than a white box with white furniture. Instead, I use every shade of the rainbow; any one of them can become a favourite colour if used well. For commissioned projects, I always try not to commit to a particular aesthetic style. Our clients have to come first, and of course, they want their design to be unique.
How important do you think sustainability has become for travellers?
More and more people want to stay in places that do their part to save us from a climate catastrophe. Gone are the days when travellers had to put up with greenwashing - with little cards in the room asking them to reuse their towels: consumers now expect and demand more. Because they know they have the power to influence companies and their actions. To me, sustainability also includes simple ideas such as upcycling, the use of natural light, intelligent building orientation and the use of solar energy.
MGallery Hotel de La Coupole: For the boutique hotel in Vietnam, Bensley drew inspiration from French haute couture of the 1920s. © MGallery Sapa
How important is luxury to you when travelling?
I'm not a fan of hotels that feature tons of flowers and high thread count sheets, but at the same time act completely spineless when it comes to protecting the environment. Just like many other globetrotters, I primarily look for experiences.
What kind of experiences should that ideally be?
The incredible response to our Shinta Mani Wild resort in Cambodia says it all. Guests want to post on Instagram about the unique tented camp in the forest, whose headquarters can only be reached via a 500-meter zipline that leads over a roaring waterfall. That's the kind of travel I'm all about. Material luxury is for the old guard.
MGallery Hotel de la Coupole: glamorous design, Indochina nostalgia and the colorful style of indigenous hill tribes meet in the heart of Sa Pa in Vietnam. © MGallery Sapa
Bill Bensley was born in California in 1959. A Harvard graduate, he is a landscape architect, interior designer and head of the Bensley design studio, based in Bali and Bangkok.
He has received prestigious awards for his work, including the World Travel Award for Outstanding Contribution. Architectural Digest called Bensley a "pioneer of sustainable hotel design" who "anticipated the shift toward sustainability."
To balance his work, Bensley jogs with his Jack Russell terriers and paints. His first art exhibition was recently held in Bangkok.
The "Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park" in Thailand is the Bensley Group's largest upcycling project to date. The resort's suites were created from discarded train wagons.
This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Spring 2022.