Laemsingh Villa

Laemsingh Villa No. 1 is a stunning vacation home located above a precipitous rocky headland on the west coast of Phuket Island facing the Andaman Sea. It is the holiday home of Australian Julien Reis and his Singaporean wife Yen. Th e couple are the proprietors of the Gallery Reis located in the Palais Renaissance retail mall in Singapore that is ‘committed to introducing outstanding contemporary art by established and emerging artists globally’.

The house is one of a group of five villas designed by the Singapore-based Argentinean architect Ernesto Bedmar, a consummate master of sophisticated design in the tropics. Bedmar, a graduate of the University of Architecture and Planning at Cordoba, arrived in Singapore in 1984 via Hong Kong where he worked with compatriot Miguel Angel Roca. Three years later, in 1987, he founded Bedmar and Shi Design Studio with interior designer Patti Shi.

Alighting near the top of the site at a flat-roofed carport with a planted sedum grass roof, the entrance to Laemsingh Villa No. 1 is signaled by a sharply pointed double-pitched Thai-style roof above an open-sided pavilion that affords a framed view of the ocean before descending a relatively narrow stone staircase alongside a tumbling water feature to a pivoted timber door. A sharp right turn brings visitors to the main living area, which has a broad timber deck, a frangipani tree and a panoramic view of the ocean beyond. A shaded outdoor breakfast area and a sun deck overlook a dazzling green infinity swimming pool.

To the right is a pavilion for dining and entertaining, extending out to a timber balcony cantilevered over the cliff. At first the pavilion appears to be open-sided but closer inspection reveals frameless glass windows that permit it to be air-conditioned when the days are particularly humid. Stairs descend from the dining room to the master bedroom and a second bedroom below and to another lap pool at the lower level. Family photographs complete the picture of a family home away from home.

A second staircase descends from the pool deck to another master bedroom suite, while another flight of stairs ascends to two bedrooms above. In this way, Bedmar has ingeniously created a residence that, not unlike a traditional Thai house, permits two or three generations to occupy the dwelling and to share core activities on a communal deck while maintaining a degree of privacy.

Bedmar’s skill lies in the orchestration of views and arrangement of spaces as one moves through the house. His architecture is choreographed in a dramatic sequence of vistas that alternate between specific controlled views as, for example, in the descent to the entrance door, to wide panoramas such as the view from the pool terrace. Th e views shift from compressed spaces to explosive vistas of the horizon, from foreground to horizon.

For much of the day, the principal rooms are in shade, and consequently the house is deliciously cool. The architect has integrated numerous places to sit and relax verandas, balconies and projecting decks, in effect outdoor rooms orientated west that provide vantage points from which to view the ocean and the setting sun. Th ere are also nearvertical views down through trees to the rocks below. The sound of waves crashing over the headland is ever present, together with the intermittent buzz of cicadas. The ocean is almost deserted save for solitary white sails on the horizon a silence that is occasionally broken as a speedboat full of laughing holidaymakers powers by from nearby Surin Beach.

Bedmar has created a strong split-slate podium upon which are placed timber and glass pavilions on slender columns topped by projecting pitched roofs that capture the essence of traditional Thai forms. The design is confidently proportioned and Bedmar knows instinctively where to place objects in the landscape. Materials include highly textured gray split slate, gray-brushed concrete, copper and timber. The surface of the main roof is naturally finished Canadian cedar strips above a layer of insulation. The underside of the roof is also timber.

Bedmar has a body of work that extends throughout Southeast Asia. He has also received commissions in India, New Zealand and New York. Two monographs of his work have been published acknowledging his recognition on the international stage.

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