The buzzing resort island of Phuket in Thailand isn't the first place you might expect to find a remote holiday home. However, head to the east coast and five-star developments eventually give way to a spectacular, undeveloped area, where part-time resident Stephen James has made a home. The British-born interior architect with Plan 3/Asia (tel: 2525 3037), who arrived in Hong Kong in 1976, planned his weekend retreat in Phuket long before it became fashionable. Along with his Swiss-German friend Alfons Grieb, a recently retired trader, James discovered the isolated spot facing Phang Nga Bay in 1989, about the same time as the deluxe resort Aman Puri opened. Two years later, the former rubber plantation was theirs and they set about building a pair of modern Thai villas where they could spend time relaxing away from Hong Kong. One of the first to develop a Thai beach-front property, James was faced with a steep learning curve and, so challenging was the project, that it was not until almost a decade later, in August 1998, that James was able to spend a night there. 'It was a very difficult site [owing to the slope],' recalls James. 'Then we had the Thai financial crisis, then the contractor went bust. I learned a lot about designing in the tropics.' Although experienced in remodelling other people's homes in Hong Kong, he usually focuses on the interior rather than building from scratch. Finding local craftsmen and tradesmen was easy, he maintains, 'but getting anything done properly was another matter'. He describes the process as lots of compromise and lots of mai ben rai. (the Thai equivalent of 'never mind'). Apart from the Aman Puri, there were no role models on the island and James does not deny that the hotel's chic architecture was a source of inspiration. He was working with the resort's architect Ed Tuttle on a project in Hong Kong at the time and his influence inevitably rubbed off. '[The Aman Puri] had an influence on all Phuket and Thai architecture following it - it set the standards,' says James. James' home is topsy-turvy. The top of the house is at ground level and although the building cascades four storeys down the slope, there are a further two flights down to the swimming pool and beach. 'Everybody who comes to the house is surprised when they see this little single-storey entrance and then discover what is actually beyond it,' James says. Considering it was designed 10 years ago the house has not aged aesthetically, but James says he deliberately took a modern Thai approach. 'The site didn't lend itself to a dinky Thai timber house. [The house] is a reinforced concrete structure and had to be very robust given the site problems.' There are four floors of accommodation (a total of 6,000 square feet), beginning at street level with an expansive living and dining area. The floor below houses the master bedroom, a study area and outdoor jacuzzi; the 'third' floor comprises two guest rooms, which flank a large landing used by James as gallery space. On the lowest level, a casual TV/sitting room and another bedroom overlook a lotus pond and lush gardens, two flights down from which is a swimming pool built into the sea wall. While most people in Phuket experience dramatic sunsets, water and endless horizons, James enjoys mesmerising sunrises and views of the mountains across the bay. Friends who visit automatically gravitate to his elevated look-out on the upper terrace, he says. 'In any weather you sit on this balcony, whether it's sunshine or rain clouds and just watch it.' James' only concern is that he does not escape to his beach haven often enough. 1. The TV room is flanked by an outdoor terrace, which has a Thai lotus pond partially shaded by a hardwood loggia canopy. The oversized Vietnamese ceramic pot is from Four Seas Ceramics in Phuket, ( www.4seas.com ) and the timber armchairs are made from an old ox cart found in Chiang Mai. 2. Stephen James steps from the beach to his 20-metre pool with aquamarine ceramic tiles, handmade in Chiang Mai. They are used to match the colour of the ocean and give an impression of infinity. The shape of the pool was partly dictated by the position of a number of trees. 3. After James changed apartments in Hong Kong in 1997, the furniture he had amassed in 20 years was divided between his Hong Kong base and Phuket retreat. The dining chairs were James' first purchase. Having arrived in Hong Kong with #26 ($319) in his pocket, he spent $200 on four Indonesian teak and rattan 'Raffles' chairs he found at the now-defunct Expat Junk on Robinson Road, Mid-Levels. The dining table was custom-designed by James from polished black granite and the cylindrical teak table base was made by Island Furniture in Phuket (tel: 667 626 3707; www.thecourtyard-phuket.com ). To one side is a large Choafa, a decorative end-piece from a Thai temple roof, which he bought from Sanpranon Antiques (Hangdong Road, Chiang Mai, tel: 665 327 2698). Behind the console table (from Burmese furniture specialists House of Chao, Decho Road, Silom, Bangkok, tel: 662 635 7191), hangs a Burmese temple painting. 4. The living room is elegantly comfortable with custom-designed sofas made in Bangkok. They are in the vein of French designer Christian Liagre and upholstered in cream cotton by Jagtar and Sons (37 Soi 11, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, tel: 662 255 7380; www.thai-info.net ). The nest of Burmese tables is from House of Chao and the timber blinds are from MCS (46/1 Prabareamee Road, Patong, Katu, Phuket, tel: 667 632 1774; www.phuket-stone.com ). Floors throughout the house are decked in local deang hardwood, which has been stained and lacquered. 5. Stained timber-framed glass doors take the place of walls on the upper terrace, which adjoins the living and dining room, and open the house to the elements. Seating comprises elegant Burmese timber lounge chairs with adjustable reclining backs from House of Chao. The bronze rain drum used as a small coffee table is from Bangkok's Chatuchak weekend market (section 22, Soi 4). 6. Outside the guest rooms a gallery showcases a black and white triptych of canvases titled Here, There And Everywhere, painted in Bangkok by Australian artist Stephen Eastaugh (from John Batten Gallery, 64 Peel Street, Central, tel: 2854 1018). An old silk spinning bench was bought from House of Chao and the modern Vietnamese ceramic pot was found at Four Seas Ceramics. The rug, like others scattered around the house, was bought from Inside (231 Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2537 6298; prices range from $120 for a 90cm x 60cm to $2,900 for a 240cm x 300cm). 7. In the master bedroom, the custom-designed timber-framed bed is by Island Furniture.The bed linen was made by Saharoj Weaving Factory in Bangkok (tel: 66 2 535960). The matching pair of bedside tables and accompanying lounge chair and stool came from Shambala (2/F, Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 1340). The bronze rain drum is from Chatuchak weekend market. Tried and tested: SIAM SELECTION Stephen James patronised a range of outlets to give his home a distinctly modern Thai atmosphere. He recom-mends Chatuchak weekend market (Saturday/Sunday, 7am-6pm) in Bangkok as a great one-stop 'shop' with nearly 9,000 vendors spread over 14 hectares. The market is accessible from Skytrain station Mo Chit on the Sukhumvit Line - just follow the masses. The market is well organised, with areas categorised by product. Maps are available. Oversized pots are a recurring theme in James' house and garden and he found Four Seas Ceramics had an enormous selection. The 15-year-old company is based in Vietnam ( www.4seas.com ) and specialises in ceramics, exporting them worldwide. James is a regular customer of Saharoj Weaving Factory in Bangkok (tel: 66 2 535960), which makes high-quality linen and towels for most of Thailand's luxury hotels but will sell small quantities from stock. Other Thai furniture-dealers that James frequents in Bangkok are the newly opened Panta boutique in the Siam Discovery Centre, plus Lamont Design in Gaysorn Plaza ( www.gaysornplaza.com ).