After the pandemic, many travelers seek a "maximalist," or more-is-more, aesthetic, immersing all their senses in a profusion of color, pattern, and texture. Designer Bill Bensley captures this look at a new Thai resort. Expect to see maximalism at more hotels.
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Bill Bensley strives to press all the right buttons when designing hotels and resorts. The New York-based architect, landscape architect, and interior designer is well known for being a “maximalist” — or “more is more” — aesthetic. The “Bensley look” for hotels sits in the sweet spot of what many guests say they crave today.
Social media giant TikTok recently worked with Airbnb to create a design trends report highlighting the emergence of a “maximalist” aesthetic. The report noted that interior design trends have notably shifted in emphasis from minimalism, which had been hip for more than a decade, to maximalist styles, which have drawn 693 million views on TikTok to date.
Many independent hotels and brands have been experimenting with maximalism. Designer Natalia Miyar has imbued The Twenty-Two hotel in London with a theatrical profusion of materials, from bronze to papier mache to wood. Accor’s 25hours brand of hotels features lobbies crammed wall-to-wall with bric-a-brac.
Bensley isn’t following the maximalist trend, however. Society is instead catching up to him. Bensley’s use of color, plant life, and pattern has always been part of his design DNA. Park Hyatt Siem Reap combines Khmer architecture with Art Deco influences. InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula took its inspiration from the resplendent colors and shapes of Vietnamese temples.
Bensley’s vibrant Belle Mont Farm, a sustainability-themed hotel on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, features arguably the world’s first and most abundant “resort garden,” along with a golf course seeded with edible plants sustainably tended by goats.
Khao Yai Resort Embraces Maximalism
One of Benlsey’s latest projects is a case in point of maximalism in action. In Thailand, Bensley recently wrapped up an upcycling project at the new InterContinental Khao Yai Resort. The property — an escape from the heat and hustle of Bangkok — has 45 rooms, in addition to 19 suites and villas housed within repurposed heritage train cars.
The original plan for traditional lodgings evoking the era of King Rama V throughout the resort was scrapped when Bensley saw an abandoned train carriage en route from the grounds to the airport. Channeling a “Willy Wonka” vibe into the hotel design, the designer invented a narrative of train conductor Somsak as a guiding theme for the property, set among forested mountains and waterfalls.
The main hotel complements the train cars, with gleaming touches from the golden age of travel woven throughout. In the guestrooms, this includes station signboards, antique luggage racks, and (in some guestrooms) bunk beds.
The bar is named the Caboose, the spa is called Back on Track, and Somying’s Kitchen restaurant interiors are half provincial railway station and half American diner.
Each of the painstakingly revitalized luxury carriages evokes an adventure of Somsak’s, with destinations including Luang Prabang, Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Chiang Rai coming to life in vibrant colors and textures.
Another one-bedroom railcar pops with Art Deco-style emerald fabric that pops against fresh white paint and dark-wood trim Vertical stripes extend a feeling of spaciousness.
Bensley said another obstacle was sourcing the train cars themselves because the trainsets have a passionate group of collectors reluctant to give them up.
Biophilic Design as Signature
One of Bensley’s signatures is biophilia, meaning he tries to evoke natural elements in his designs. In the case of the train cars, his team added either real or simulated plants and ensured lots of lake views. The bountiful and often wayward energy of natural forms, shapes, and patterns helps keep a maximalist aesthetic anchored to a sense of order.
“Bringing the outside in” is a pillar of his portfolio, given Bensley’s university training as a landscape architect.
Creating nature-themed illusions within confined spaces was challenging at the Khao Yai resort. Bensley’s team incorporated natural lighting wherever possible and added or kept walkthrough space in each carriage, whose best suites are 2.5 meters by 30 meters, or roughly 500 square feet.
Designing a hotel is akin to producing a Hollywood movie. Both need a compelling storyline and without it are often faded by opening night. … That main DNA is woven through every aspect of the hotel, from the interiors to signage to uniforms – everything follows our narrative. And then it really comes alive!”—Bill Bensley