Photos Enrico Conti
Text Antonella Boisi
A few months ago Paola Navone welcomed sector journalists to her studio in Milan on Via Tortona, to show them the compositional range and progress of the work on the COMO Hotels and Resorts, with plans, elevations, sections, material samples, color samples, combination studies, unfurled on long tables.
There was an atmosphere of enthusiasm, optimism, energy. “I’m having lots of fun,” she explained, “because these are two global projects: I have designed everything, from the tables to the chairs, the dishes to the tablecloths, letting each element take part in the importance of the details, to design the architecture and the atmosphere of the spaces, in a rhythmical dynamism of open, semi-open and closed spaces, modulations and games of light, full and empty zones.” Today, after two years of construction, the first of the two international luxury resorts she has designed for the Singapore-based brand guided by Christina Ong, the Point Yamu in Phuket, Thailand, has opened its doors (the Metropolitan at Miami Beach – an urban hotel of smaller size in a Liberty building in the historic district, soon to open, has a completely different mood). And the results meet the expectations. “Simplicity is the form of true luxury,” the architect-designer-trendsetter, “an eclectic dreamer” as she calls herself, once opined. And it is a pleasure, for those of us who can appreciate these evocative images, to realize that the luxury proposed by the Point Yamu resort focuses precisely on that dimension of simplicity, seen as the authenticity of the spirit of the place. Capable of sustaining the value of the relationships between people and spaces, the experience of travel and of wellbeing as the hospitality philosophy of the brand. A sustainable approach to the context, which is a truly special location: Cape Yamu, the peninsula to the east of Phuket, twenty minutes from the airport, a hillside garden overlooking the limestone formations of Phang Nga Bay (a UNESCO world heritage site) and the Andaman Sea, with spectacular 360° views, also of the nearby islands. The resort fits into this landscape without invading it, without erasing what was here before: the skeleton of an unfinished and rather bulky hotel. The existing volumes have been redesigned with clever coverings of metal screen and climbing plants, in tones of gray and green. A changing skin, vibrant in the penetrating local light, that camouflages everything amidst promenades and a 100-meter swimming pool: from the entrance pavilion in a central position that contains the lobby open to the sea and the collective zones (two restaurants, one Thai, the other Italian), to the 106 rooms and private villas (varying in size from 60 to 100 m2, also available for purchase) organized in the volumes to the sides, all the way to the spa conceived as the heart of the complex. Inside, every corner, wall, window, door, ceiling and room conveys the sensation of a range of hybrid, heterogeneous skin-textures. Paola Navone achieves true mastery of sight, of putting things together. She knows the anthropology of places, objects and crafts. And, above all, after having worked and lived in Asia for many years, constantly seeking stimuli and references, she has absorbed the colors of two worlds, Orient and Occident, which she has managed, yet again, to rework in a non-standardized, cool yet emotional way. “For me this was a bit of a homecoming,” she says. “I know and appreciate the dedication and passion of Thai craftsmen. Their savoir-faire. And again in this case, I was not disappointed. I have been able to recover signs and traditions that live again in modern forms, perhaps imperfect but also seductive. This was a new adventure, full of surprises. In the north of the country, for example, I met true artists who have created lace chandeliers that flood the lobby and the restaurant areas like cascades. Then I found a young ceramist who still works with an antique Chinese kiln, the Dragon Kiln, who made all the perforated bricks glazed in white, with which I could create filters to screen off the glare of the intense Thai sunlight in the rooms. Finally, I met a carpenter who did not balk when I asked him to cut tens of thousands of blocks from teak scrap to cover the two walls of the entrance pavilion, each measuring 70 m2.” Cultural heritage as the basis for the construction of a path to contemporary hospitality has implied, first of all, rediscovery of the materic-chromatic DNA of the place. And materials, for Paola Navone, are always a matter of creative tailoring: stones, cement, ceramic blocks, drawn aluminium screens, woven wicker. The colors interpret an iconic palette that covers saturated tones, the contrast between the blue of the sea and the not pearly white of the enclosures: from turquoise (used for the ceramic tiles in the bathrooms and the pools of the suites, but also for the legs of the consoles) to the three nuances of blue, in the spa; from orange (in fabrics, but also painted on tables and chairs) to the rugged reds of tables and benches in solid teak. Other creative touches come from the ‘brushstrokes’ that characterize and personalize the spaces, with specific, unique focal points. Lenses to enhance the gaze, for vivid sensorial effects. Like the mosaic fish that adorn the walls of the Thai restaurant, the geography of plates on the walls of the La Sirena Italian restaurant, the figurative motifs based on Thai calligraphy to decorate the ceilings of the tea room, the bronze hands of antique statues that close the doors of the wellness spaces… all positive encounters with a fairytale location, where indoor-outdoor interaction gradually reveals its subtle charm.