Modern Villa on a Thai Island
Modern Villa on a Thai Island
Mrs. Grebstadt and Mr. Hicks,
own the public relations agency Grebstadt Hicks Communications. They
teamed with Mr. Grebstadt's company, MAP Architecture & Planning
Ltd., to create a Thai company so they could buy a half-acre building
site. Generally, foreigners are not allowed to own property in
Thailand. Mr. Grebstadt's company also designed the house. More Photos Â»
Lynn Grebstad of Hong Kong first thought about building a villa in
Thailand, she was set on Phuket, the grande dame of Southeast Asian
resorts. But Mrs. Grebstad was persuaded to shift her attention to
Thailandâ€'s other coast, to the lesser-known island of Koh Samui, by a
friend who owns a holiday house here.
247-square-kilometer (95-square-mile) island in the Gulf of Thailand
was shaking off its backpacker past and going upmarket. Bangkok Airways
was also planning to start direct service between the island and Hong
Kong. (The island is far from the protests that have engulfed the
country in recent days.)
So, in 2005, Mrs. Grebstad decided to
buy a 1.3-rai (half-acre) plot on a hillside on Samuiâ€'s northeast
corner with her business partner, Paul Hicks. The two own Grebstad
Hicks Communications, a public relations firm based in Hong Kong that
represents luxury hotels and other high-end brands.
architect to design and build the house was easy. Mrs. Grebstadâ€'s
husband, Karl, is a partner at MAP, an architectural company that
designs hotels and commercial buildings in Asia, as well as luxury
Together, the three built a modern, glass-and-concrete
villa with six bedrooms that measures 1,180 square meters (12,700
square feet) of indoor and outdoor space, with 650 square meters (7,000
square feet) divided among three separate structures and the rest in a
pool and terrace area.
â€œThis is the reward of us working like
dogs,â€ said Mrs. Grebstad, 56, sipping a glass of rosÃ© while gazing
into the valley below. â€œThis is our treat to ourselves.â€
villa, which they named Baan Suralai, or Home of the Angels, was
designed to maximize its location in Bophut Hills. Each room has a wall
of glass facing the lush jungle to the west, and the beaches and towns
to the north.
â€œItâ€'s a million-dollar view,â€ said Patrick
Caviness, executive director of Samui Custom Homes, a project
management company hired to touch up the villa.
Actually, it is
a $1.8 million view, totaling the cost of the land, construction and
the furnishings that were installed when the house was completed early
According to the local branch of the CB Richard Ellis
real estate agency, prime beachfront land on Koh Samui costs around 17
million baht per rai ($27.90 per square foot), while the hillside land
can be as little as 4 million baht per rai ($6.55 per square foot). The
rai is a local unit that is equivalent to 17,222 square feet.
villa has three buildings and a sala, a kind of open-air pavilion, next
to a 25-meter (82-foot) infinity pool and a wide terrace. The main
structure houses a living and dining room measuring 180 square meters
(1,937-square-foot) in all, with an open kitchen at its heart. There
are three guest bedrooms on the level below, facing the sea.
walkways on each side of the house lead, in one direction, to an annex
with three master bedrooms and, on the other side, to the staff
quarters. Each of the bedrooms has its own bathroom, and all the rooms
have floor-to-ceiling windows.
While life in the tropics may
look easy, building a home here is not. For one thing, only Thais are
allowed to own land in Thailand so the Grebstads and Mr. Hicks used
their companies to form a joint venture, Samui Concepts, which formally
owns the property. To comply with the law, the venture has Thais as
silent majority partners.
The Thai government has tried to
combat these arrangements from time to time, so some real estate agents
advise foreigners to lease or to buy condominiums, which they can own
because no land is involved. The Grebstads and Mr. Hicks, however, say
they are confident that their method of ownership will not be
challenged, and that the political unrest that has disrupted Bangkok
recently will not become a danger.
Construction was a greater
headache. â€œI am really quite amazed that Karl and I are still married,â€
Mrs. Grebstad said jokingly. â€œAs a client you blame the architect, and
as the architect, they blame you.â€
Mr. Hicks, 43, took charge of
the furnishings, favoring an understated contemporary look, like the
oversized white leather sectional sofa in the living area. â€œI think
something always has to have a sense of place,â€ he said. â€œBut do you
want it be slavishly traditional?â€ The villa has a live-in staff of
three, a manager and a married couple who tend to the complex. Wages
and utility costs are low in Thailand but the owners plan on renting
out the property when they are not using it to help with expenses. They
have not set prices yet but say it could command $1,500 to $2,000 a
day, depending on the season.
A property like Baan Suralai costs
$4,000 to $5,000 a month to run, according to Marc Ribail, the chief
operating officer of Samui Villas & Homes, which now rents out 45
villas on the island and 15 in Phuket. Generally, he said, villa owners
are happy if their property rents a few days a month.
people arenâ€'t that concerned with occupancy,â€ Mr. Ribail said. â€œThey
concentrate instead on revenue, or just want to make sure they cover