05 Apr 2020 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2017 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Bill Bensley

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Bill Bensley

Founder Bensley

Bill Bensley founder Bensley
The Spa Chanterelle is inspired by mushrooms

For his latest grandiose Southeast Asian spa project, designer Bill Bensley has taken his inspiration from an unlikely combination of themes: the work of pioneering French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, the importance of higher education, Lewis Carroll's novel Alice in Wonderland – and mushrooms.

Bensley’s typically whimsical design touches feature throughout the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay resort in the south of Vietnam – a project the designer describes as “perhaps my best.”

The luxury 243-bedroom property is built within the buildings of the 19th century Lamarck University, whose eponymous founder built it to promote study of the natural world. The design concept focuses on the process of learning and discovery and the influence of Lamarck – who laid the groundwork for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Hand-painted walls depict flora and fauna, sculptures of animals are present on the buildings, and objects preserved from the university can be seen throughout the hotel.

A key component of the resort is the Spa Chanterelle, which features six couple’s treatment rooms, a body treatment suite, a hair salon and steam and sauna rooms.

The design is inspired by mushrooms – which Vietnam’s French colonists long believed to have therapeutic properties, and which residents of Phu Quoc traditionally foraged for in the surrounding jungle.

Mushroom shapes are found in the furnishings and hand-drawn artwork on the walls, and biological illustrations adorn the interior ceilings, adding a surreal quality to the space. Bensley himself has collected some 20 samples of dried foraged mushrooms, which are on display at the entry to the spa, in a turn-of-the-century French glass and brass shop cabinet.

References from Alice in Wonderland – in which mushrooms play a key role – also feature heavily; the book was also published the same year – 1865 – as Lamarck University was inaugurated. In one corridor, asymmetric arches curve at mirroring angles to create a layering effect, echoing Alice falling down the rabbit hole at the start of the book.

“Mushrooms provide a historically correct fantasy element that seemed to be a perfect match for this spa on Rue de Lamarck,” Bensley explains. “To coax guests outside of the comfort of our rooms, the spa has to be even more enchanting. Creating layers and layers of stories that our guests can live seems to be a clear way forward.”

Originally published in Spa Business 2017 issue 2

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