It’s not every day that I have the urge to scream, “Tiger!” But then again it’s not every day that I find myself wandering around the teeming gardens of architect Bill Bensley’s Bangkok home, in the middle of a pandemic. It is Saturday afternoon and the American-born architect and interior designer of 200-plus resorts and hotels across the globe is shirtless, and spirited. Working from home during the lockdown has filled him with enthusiasm because he’s been more productive in the past few weeks than in the previous six months, he says, adding: “This is the first time in 30 years I haven’t travelled for two weeks out of every month.” So at a leisurely pace, he and horticulturist Jirachai Rengthong guide Post Magazine virtually around Baan Botanica, their sprawling home designed for alfresco living across three plots of land. “The spaces are more like outdoor rooms,” Jirachai says. “The garden is many times bigger than the house.” Eco architect Bill Bensley on his wild Asian luxury resorts Labyrinthine even when not viewed through a small screen, the grounds accommodate 12 courtyards and 11 stand-alone structures, including guest rooms, helpers’ quarters and work areas. Twenty-three years ago, after Bensley’s stints in Singapore and Hong Kong, he and Jirachai moved into the main house, a two-storey, three-bedroom, colonial-style dwelling. They’ve been “titivating” ever since, Bensley says. Little at their home remains the same for long because the buildings and gardens are used as mood boards for the commercial projects of his eponymous atelier: in the main house a column that appears to float, owing to recessed illumination at its base, found its way conceptually into the Anantara hotel in Hua Hin, Thailand. Another, a bromeliad fountain, looks likely to be incorporated into the gardens at The Sukhothai Bangkok and the Capella Chiang Mai, due to open in 2022. “Whoever would have thought to put bromeliads into a turn-of-the-century cast-iron fountain,” Bensley says, pointing to Jirachai’s epiphyte pyramid with cascading water. A more playful idea could see the redeployment of male mannequins similar to those already in “The Courtyard of the Bad Hair Day”. Flanking an outdoor passage, these ex-fashion dummies wear Medusa-like wigs of tumbling succulents. Another phalanx will soon stand to attention in a courtyard still being created beside a small, new-ish wrought-iron-and-glass painting studio that is Bensley’s man cave. “As they go down the line, they will have one piece of clothing removed,” he says. “If it looks great, you might see it at a beach resort, where one mannequin ends up in a pair of Speedos.” Bensley’s design DNA encodes irrepressible cheekiness and colour schemes: yellow-and-black chequerboard floor tiles sing against blue gateways, while dark-striped curtains flirt with garden greenery. And everywhere possible, trusses of orchids, Petrea volubilis and other flowers compete for compliments. The more-is-more aesthetic sits comfortably alongside Bensley’s conservation principles, he says, because “everything is upcycled”. “That’s an important ethos in our work and even in our hotels, we want to bring in more and more recycled materials,” he says. At Baan Botanica, they include antiques and artefacts put together in myriad ways inside and out: near the entrance, a Balinese gateway incorporates a Chinese door; and indoors, a carved Rajasthani door opens into an “African bathroom” decorated with keepsakes from Congo and Benin. In a nearby sitting room, samurai armour is dressed today in sunglasses and a crossbody bag. “I put a purse on him because I wanted to gay him up,” Bensley says. Elsewhere, statues of lions, elephants and horses join figurines of Thai monarchs and wall-hung works by Bensley and his favourite artists, among them the English-Caribbean painter Kate Spencer and Dutch portraitist Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978), who lived in Bali for most of his life. Although appearing party-ready, the rooms and spaces are also intimate, including the veranda, which wraps around the house on the ground floor. A garden bedroom flows into this liminal area and onto a breakfast spot with views of the grounds. “We sleep in the house but we hang out outside,” says Bensley, moving towards lush shrubbery and an enchanting pool, enjoyed also by their six Jack Russells. While the dogs consider whether to jump in, giant webbed feet at the bottom draw the eye along its organic shape to reveal a frog on the floor. “The drawing was actually done by my father,” says Bensley. “That was his big contribution to the house which we put on the bottom of the pool in mosaic.” The experience is magical – something not lost on Bensley, who credits Jirachai for the experience. “Jirachai gets up at six o’clock every single morning, seven days a week,” Bensley says. “He’s out here working all the time because to do a garden like this is constant work.” Which is when a shadow behind Bensley slinks into my make-believe world. “Oh my God,” I say, eyes rounding into orbs. “I thought I saw a …” Bensley chuckles, acknowledging that Baan Botanica’s undergrowth can disorient visitors. “Anyone who comes here for more than a few hours …” he says. “We’ve got to put a tracer around their neck.” Veranda Decorating the veranda is a collection of wooden finials (from Lincoln Antiques and Collectables in Britain), displayed beside a wooden deer head with real antlers bought in Myanmar. Illuminating the table is an oversized glass pendant found in Bangkok, and beside it, on the wall, is a cho fah ornament, found on temple roofs in Thailand. “There were a couple of dealers who would have them in Chiang Mai, but you can’t find them any more. I was fortunate to hoard some in the late 1980s and 90s,” says Bill Bensley . Swimming pool The saltwater pool, added to the property by Bill Bensley and Jirachai Rengthong, features a frog motif taken from a drawing by Bill Bensley’s father, Kenneth. The bronze leapfrogging frogs were custom made in Thailand. Outdoor entrance One of many dramatic outdoor gateways, this blue portal allows entry into a courtyard with matching wrought-iron furniture. The bench was among items bought from a junk shop near Chatuchak market. “We had to replace all the wood and paint them but they look good now,” says Bensley. “We love upcycling.” The cast-bronze lanterns were made to Bensley and Jirachai’s specifications. Guest bedroom On the first floor, the “Bonnet Room” is named after Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet, one of whose portraits hangs on the wall to the right. In the middle of the layered lighting is a 1950s chandelier and below it a bed made from an old pool table bought at an antiques store in Thailand. Behind the bed is a painting of a whippet by Scottish artist Whyn Lewis . The bedside lamps were fashioned from Burmese mannequins and the shades were made by a member of staff, who took apart a feather duster and glued individual feathers to the surface. Also on the bedside tables are Burmese puppet heads. To the left, the table, with money slot and lock, was originally a cabinet probably used in a restaurant, Bensley says. The other cabinet and furniture at the foot of the bed are from Galle, Sri Lanka. On top of the hat boxes, all from Britain, is a doctor’s case. The pillows came from Peru. Courtyard Near the entrance, this courtyard features a Mexican-inspired wall with niches and a central seat. The pair dress it up to suit their mood, painting the structure in different hues. “If you blink, it changes,” says Bensley. Monsteras, bromeliads, ferns and orchids make up the tropical backdrop. Bathroom The African bathroom is decorated with objets mostly from Congo and Benin. “We have added so much to it, and it may all disappear in the coming days,” says Bensley. “The nature of the house is that it is ever changing.” At the back is a hide from South Africa, in front of which is handmade armour – made from bamboo and jacaranda seed pods – from the Indonesian island of Nias. The window pane was from Rajasthan, India. Hallway A painting by Filipino artist Bernard Vista hangs in a hallway above vintage cabinet drawers accommodating a collection of glove moulds. The figurines are of Thai monarchs, arranged in order, with Bhumibol Adulyadej to the far right and Rama V, in red, in the middle. Wooden finials are set on turn-of-the-century English plant stands. The oars are from Oxford, Britain. Doggy picnic Near the pool is the smallest courtyard, perfect for picnics. Pictured are Chuck, Champ and Bobby, three of Bensley and Jirachai’s six Jack Russells Games area Part of the veranda is a games area featuring furniture bought in Bangkok. Above the leather sofa, from Pagoda&Co , in Bangkok, is a suit of samurai armour. The snooker table came from Pattanakarn Billiard (tel: +662 2355411) and the high-back armchair from One-D Studio . The pendant lamps were picked up a decade ago from Chatuchak market. Painting studio Completed at the start of the year, the four metre by eight metre wrought-iron studio is a light-filled space for painting, and parties. The chandelier came from Pagoda&Co. Bromeliad fountain The bromeliad fountain, with plants from Jirachai’s nursery in Chiang Mai, has inspired the landscaping at The Sukhothai Bangkok and the Capella Chiang Mai.