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Review: Paradise by Design

Updated on July 19, 2016
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A 1984 graduate of the Harvard School of Design, Bill Bensley was listed as one of the “Top 100 Architects of 2007” by Architectural Digest magazine. Initially trained as a landscape designer, Mr. Bensley has long since migrated his practice to include aspects of architectural design, interior design and decoration. His design motto — “The odder the better.” — readily manifests itself in his exuberant and sensual style, enlivened by a certain playfulness and over-the-top flamboyance. His work incorporates influences and elements of not only traditional Far Eastern cultures but also crisp and lush modern sensibilities.

His book, Paradise by Design: Tropical Residences and Resorts, is structured as successive photo essays on each of 20 different tropical resort hotels and 4 unique residences (including the author’s own). The properties profiled include many in Thailand, plus others in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Mauritius. Each new locale is displayed across six to ten pages of the book, in varied arrays of photographs interspersed with the occasional design drawing or sketch.

Mr. Bensley’s background in landscape design is evidenced by the numerous exterior spaces depicted: staircases, terraces, gardens, allées, bridges, pavilions and follies. His obvious fondness for, and facility with, water as a signature restorative design element are also extensively surveyed in the many pools, spas, fountains, sprays, urns and reflective features shown.

Despite the inclusion of so many photographs, now and then supplemented by a particular facility’s plan or section diagram, the reader never gains a holistic concept of any individual residence or resort. Rather, the sensual overload of images provides only brief and near-hallucinogenic experiences of individual set pieces, each more luscious than the last. The book therefore may serve best as a sampler kit or resource guide to the interested designer, hotelier or property owner. For it is not every pictorial guide that presents lanterns and lily pads, tesserae and thatch, arcades and balustrades, mosaics and medallions, statuary and torchieres, drum towers and man-made caves in such varied abundance.

Furthermore, the properties included range from those that are decidedly naturalistic and traditional, with culturally correct precedents, to those having the highly honed sheen of modernistic opulence, where money and taste (and even excess) can meet or collide. In fact, a leisurely perusal of this book from cover to cover can stand in good stead of one’s own personal physical journey through these higher-priced haunts of the Asian Pacific.

The book is a firm paperbound book in slightly vertical format, 9” wide x 9.75” high, consisting of 240 pages. Sensuous color photographs proliferate, with every page bearing at least one, and the vast majority of pages bearing multiples. Photographs of design elements are repeatedly collaged for maximum aesthetic impact and effect.

This book is published by Periplus Editions, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia. It is available in North America, Latin America, Europe, Pacific Asia and Japan from Tuttle Publishing and its affiliates.

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