Koh Samui was once a destination for backpackers, who flocked to the island to enjoy their freedom while residing in 100 baht per night bungalows on Chaweng Beach. Twenty-five years later, Samui is one of Asia’s trendiest resort destinations, with an abundance of five star hotels, restaurants run by Michelin starred chefs … and luxury properties.
As you drive around the island and look up at the luxury villas nestled in the hillsides, have you ever wondered who might be behind their construction? Well, here you have the chance. We sat down with one of Samui’s property developers to find out what it’s like to build luxury homes on a tropical island, and to get an ‘insider’s perspective’.
The developer in question is Rodney Waller. Recent developments under his belt include The Ridge, ‘an exclusive residential development of luxury pool villas in the prime North East’ (www.theridgesamui.com) and Oasis Samui, ‘a signature collection of pool villas set in a tropical oasis overlooking the ocean in Lamai’ (www.oasissamui.com). Indeed, The Ridge has the distinction of winning the prestigious Thailand Property Awards and the title of ‘Best Residential Development (Koh Samui) 2014 – 2015′. Renowned for the highest quality construction standards and attention to detail, his current portfolio of villas under construction, or for sale off-plan, ranges from 11 million up to 32 million Thai baht (USD 315,000 – 915,000).
Waller is a quiet individual whose relaxed manner belies his creative and intelligent mindset. While he has obviously been successful in his field, he is both down-to-earth and quite unpretentious. If you met him in the street, you might mistake him for a well-dressed tourist instead of the man behind so many successful property developments.
What brought him to Koh Samui? He explains that it was a combination of career choice and circumstance. Previously living and working in Hong Kong, he tired of the frenetic corporate rat-race and pollution, choosing instead the fresh air, beautiful surroundings and ‘more humane’ lifestyle to be found on the island. “I appreciate living somewhere you can simply drive to a restaurant and park outside, without the congestion or parking meters”.
His approach to developing and construction is simple: “We build luxury villas that are beautiful, functional and homely,” he says. “Our architecture is of course modern and contemporary, usually with bold sweeping roofs, angular terraces and well-proportioned usable spaces: but most important, they feel like a home rather than a building. Sometimes developers make the mistake of going too clinical and square, to the point where the house loses its flow, together with its homely feel. With our developments, there is great emphasis on designing homes that are practical, since they are often used as rental
properties, but also welcoming.”
So what are the key factors determining the success of Waller’s developments? First, he is ‘hands-on’. “This is crucial, especially in Thailand,” he says. “You have to be on site every day to supervise every brick, concrete block, steel beam and window panel. There is no other way to ensure you deliver what you have promised.”
Second, durability is a key factor when building homes in such an unforgiving environment; in other words, monsoon rains, fierce tropical sun and – most importantly if properties are rented to tourists on a daily basis – wear and tear from guests. To this end, Waller uses top end powder-coated windows and doors (which don’t expand or contract) and hard-wearing materials such as marble, quartz and granite. The aim is to select materials that fit well with the natural environment and also withstand the wear and tear associated with rental use. He then adds details such as wooden balustrades, feature walls and soft lighting to ensure a property is a place you want to come back to, instead of a generic luxury hotel.
That’s not all. “Third, we plan in extreme detail,” Waller says. “Before we start, not only have architectural and engineering plans been double checked, every material, component and colour has been selected and specified to fit well together. We know the end result we want to achieve and a beautiful house is not something that happens by accident; it’s planned and executed in minute detail. For instance, we design the electrical plans as though we are designing our own homes: the location of light switches, floor sockets, soft lighting – basically the ergonomic flow of the property has to be natural and seamless – no feeling for light switches in the dark or colliding with a piece of furniture blocking a walk-way.”
Fourth, each property is unique, especially in relation to the land it sits on. “As construction proceeds, we will walk around as a team and make minor design modifications based on the topography of the land and its natural features, such as the presence of rocks, which we will try to incorporate into the design. This means that large rocks sometimes appear next to pools, giving the feeling of swimming in nature. Such details can add to the overall design concept. There is also room for flexibility and customers often wish to customize their homes and investments.”
Fifth, when it comes to furniture and finishings, Waller strikes a balance between keeping colours warm and soft, which will appeal to most nationalities, together with a focus on the ‘wow’ factor, i.e. items that surprise in a positive way, and add to the overall aesthetics of the home. For example, the selection of tiles and sanitary accessories to create stunning bathrooms; Jacuzzis incorporated into seating areas within swimming pools; moon terraces where guests can relax in the evening and stargaze. Each detail combines to create the total impression.
“Putting all of this together helps to explain our successful sales record,” he says. “And it also means we have a track record of satisfied customers and villa owners. Our villa buyers are not just investors and owners, they’re friends. There’s usually some level of client involvement during the planning and construction stages and friendships inevitably develop. Since these properties are often rented out after completion and need future care and maintenance, that’s important.”
This leads to Waller’s choice of career in the first place. “For me, property development has always been a passion, because what you build will be standing there for 50, or perhaps 100 years. It’s something tangible you can look at in future and be proud of.”
For further information, telephone 0 629 899 887.