Iniala Beach House, an eclectic ten-suite residence that opened at Natai Beach in Phuket, Thailand, in December 2013, and combines the talents of some of the world’s best designers, has the ultimate wow factor when it comes to design.

Its Collector’s Villa – created by Brazil’s Campana Brothers, Spain’s Jamie Hayon, Ireland’s Joseph Walsh and New Zealand’s Mark Brazier-Jones – includes, among many other quirky design features, a wall covered in 1,000 porcelain plates and a clown door, while in Iniala’s surreal, futuristic penthouse, a collaboration between Iniala founder Mark Weingard and the project’s design director Graham Lamb, the bed hangs from the ceiling and the sofa is built into the contours of the living room itself.

At Iniala, of which the designers hail variously from Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, the UK, the US and Thailand, you will see influences from all over the world, and materials and artwork shipped from regions as diverse as Yogyakarta in Indonesia and northern Thailand.

Functionality, it might seem, is far from the top of the exclusive residence’s priority list – certainly playing second fiddle to incredible design. Indeed, when briefing the designers he found only after scouring the planet for two years, Weingard wanted – first and foremost – for them to push their boundaries, let their imaginations run wild and create something the likes of which had never been seen within the hospitality industry before.

"Lamb’s penthouse even includes a giant whale tail sculpture, which is meant to look as if it has jumped out of the sea, straight into the penthouse’s pool."

Each designer was given carte blanche, and there’s no space in Iniala where this isn’t clear. Lamb’s penthouse, for example, is designed as one holistic piece of furniture with everything either carved out of the floor or hanging from the ceiling, and even includes a giant whale tail sculpture, which is meant to look as if it has jumped out of the sea, straight into the penthouse’s pool.

Moreover, as well as the Island of Iniala, the first kids’ hotel in Asia, Iniala also houses a playhouse for the adult members of the family, which includes a fully equipped gym, complete with four Andy Warhol Muhammad Ali prints, and a bar designed by Ramón Úbeda where guests can play pool on a limited edition, 25-piece pool table decorated with no fewer than 500,000 Swarovski crystals.

A work of art

The artwork throughout the property was just as thoroughly researched as the designers were – by Iniala’s art curator Steven Pettifor. In Aziamendi, the property’s restaurant, created by three-Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa, is the Iniala Art Gallery, featuring brass sculptures by Indonesian sculptor Entang Wiharso and paintings by Thai artist Krissadank Intasorn, among others. Pettifor also worked closely with the designers of every room in the residence to choose pieces of artwork that fit their concepts.

But Iniala is also designed to be used, as Lamb is keen to emphasise.

"Functionality was actually number one; it was the first thing we really set in the brief," he says. "All the designers had to use Antonio Lupi bathrooms, as we felt that it was a brand that would work with our brand, and it was also essential that the designers gave us x amount of pieces of furniture.

"We went into as much detail as possible with the fabrics too – the fabrics the designers used had to be durable and they also had to consider that the place is next to the beach, and that it’s going to be sandy, salty and humid."

Moving forward, Lamb and his team have put together a comprehensive manual to hand over to the operations team, to ensure they are able to maintain the many different materials and surfaces that make up Iniala.

"We also have additional things coming in, such as throws for the pieces around the pool in the penthouse," Lamb adds. "There will be elements that I will be able to drop onto the existing pieces to protect them."

"The architecture of Iniala’s other villas also take inspiration from their environment with their carved roofs clad in teak, which was chosen to reflect Thai traditions."

The contractors involved in the project are on hand to help, too, in the event that any refinishing is required.

"There’s an advantage to having built a lot of the tailor-made pieces in Thailand; we can refinish them whenever we want to," Lamb notes. "But even Joseph Walsh’s team in Ireland have said that they’re happy to come over and assist with maintenance, so I think we have that under control.

"Of course, there are some spaces that are a little more delicate than others, but I think it’s important for Iniala to have these spaces as well. I know operations have been a challenge in previous design hotels around the world, but I think we have the functionality addressed and in place; the rooms really work as hotel suites."

"Most of the designs are quite rugged, but still look beautiful," adds general manager Danny Drinkwater. "They have to be; in six months’ time, they can’t be looking shabby. They have to keep their polish and their shine."

Different dimensions

Striking a balance between Iniala’s obvious diversity in terms of its designs and influences, and the feel that it is – overall – in sync with its environment, was another challenge faced by Lamb. But, he believes he’s achieved it, pulling everything together through the property’s exterior design, which reflects local traditions and culture.

For example, Iniala’s central villa – the Collector’s Villa – is a contemporary take on a traditional southern Thai beach house and, from outward appearances, has changed little since it was Weingard’s own beach house, in which he survived the 2004 tsunami in Phuket.

Of course, the beach house has been entirely remodelled.

"We did a lot of work on the structure; we basically knocked the whole thing down and rebuilt it, although when you look at it now, it doesn’t look that different," Lamb says. "We dramatised the shaping of the roof though; because Mark survived the tsunami here, we really wanted to take it back to its glory."

The architecture of Iniala’s other villas also take inspiration from their environment with their carved roofs clad in teak, which was chosen to reflect Thai traditions. Moreover, the property is brought together by the Thai healing hands motif, which Lamb used to represent Iniala’s charitable philosophy. (10% of all room revenues and 5% of other revenues go to health, disability and education projects in Thailand, Indonesia and India.)

"The property is brought together by the Thai healing hands motif, which Lamb used to represent Iniala’s charitable philosophy."

Many of the villas’ interiors were also influenced by Thai design and culture. For example, the dining area in Lamb’s penthouse references traditional Thai dining, and the Campana Brothers found much of their inspiration from visiting cultural spots in Thailand.

"We wanted to make a fusion between Brazil and Thailand," the brothers explain. One way in which they did this was by travelling to Thailand before beginning their design to gain inspiration. "We wanted to be inspired by the country and one of the spots that did this was Wat Arun, a temple near the Chao Phraya River. It was fantastic, and used broken pieces of porcelain – we wanted to bring the spirit of this temple inside our living room."

Wongcharit’s Villa Siam, too, is essentially a shrine to Buddhist philosophy, designed to show off all that is good about Thai design.

"I’m a Buddhist, and I believe that it’s Buddhism that creates all innovative architecture, arts and crafts here in this region of South East Asia – especially here in Thailand," Wongcharit says. "And, as a design promoter – I always bring Thai designers to exhibit their work in Milan – I think this space should show the wisdom of the artisans of Thailand so the world can understand our arts and culture – culture through arts and crafts."

Iniala’s vast design team may have succeeded at step one, creating an eclectic but functional space, that is international and grounded in its environment, but the work is far from over, with Lamb anticipating much more tweaking as time goes on, particularly in the complex, delicate spaces like Walsh’s.

"It will always be a bit of a work in progress, in the way that it will grow and change, and I think that’s a good thing," Lamb concludes. "It’s very organic, just like Mark."