A Hotelier’s Majestic Private Sanctuary in Phuket

Perched high on a hill overlooking Layan Bay in Phuket sits the final masterpiece of the late Indonesian design guru, Jaya Ibrahim.

Its owner, the hotelier William E. Heinecke, splits his days between his island retreat and chairing his business empire from an executive suite above the hectic streets of Bangkok. Lofty situations aside, the two settings are worlds apart.

William, who spends most weekends at Villa Similan, knew he had struck gold when he first encountered this piece of land. “It was the view that struck me,” he explains. “I can spend the whole afternoon in my living room – it is both therapeutic and inspiring.”

As the chairman and CEO of Minor International, which counts 150 hotels and resorts within its portfolio, it’s unsurprising that William harbours extravagant tastes. This appreciation of the finer things in life that led him to famed resort designer, Jaya, who was tasked with conceiving the 38,000-sqft, eight-bedroom tropical home. Himself the embodiment of refinement, as the son of a Sumatran diplomat and Javanese princess, Jaya brought to the world spaces that drew from the beauty of their destinations.

William’s brief to Jaya was to ensure the lush jungle and ocean panoramas took centre stage. The designers worked to reveal the site’s beauty, releasing immaculate views in an open-plan design and light natural colours. Jaya’s signature touches add points of intrigue – from the intricately carved wooden claw-foot beds and lattice-decked ceilings to the antique Burmese teak door that marks the residence’s entryway.

While Phuket is no stranger to luxurious villas, the challenge William established for this project was to supercede the levels of splendour in this already mature holiday destination. Lines are sleek, and the rooftops are flat – all the better to maximise the views, keeping them clear and unobstructed while adding more space.

Set at the highest point permitted for residential construction in Phuket, the indoor-outdoor design concept is an artful answer to the island’s building regulations, which limit any single roofed structure on the upper level from exceeding approximately 90 square metres. 

Villa Similan was built for relaxation as well as entertaining. The elevated roof terrace is ideal for sunset cocktail parties has played host to several of William’s soirées. A sprawling 3,700-sqft deck also encompasses an infinity pool tiled in Indonesian sukabumi stone.

William also commissioned sought-after specialists for select spaces in his residence. Hans Brouwer Design created a spa room that rivals the dream worlds of Thailand’s famed surrealist painters. Meanwhile, Karl Princic of Intaran Design shaped the landscape architecture, alternating between subtlety and punctuations of arboreal drama. 

William reveals that he and his wife Kathy agreed to only bring objects that they could really envisage existing in the space. Kathy took the reins, decorating with pieces from their private collection, garnered from their travels as well as five decades of marital bliss in Thailand. Visitors to the abode will come across curiosities such as indigenous sculptural pieces from Papua New Guinea and South America, work by art jewellers Lotus Arts de Vivre and a Zen-expressionist painting by Thailand’s famed artist, Thawan Duchanee.

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A version of this article originally appeared in our December 2017 issue. 

Photography: courtesy of Layan Residences by Anantara