Royal Residence in Luang Prabang to open as Villa Maly
8 September 2008 — Villa Maly, the scrupulously refurbished former residence of a Laotian prince and princess, opens Oct. 1 as the royal capital’s most discriminating new hotel.
The 33-room boutique property is anchored by the 1938-built residence of Princess Khampieng and Prince Khamtan, a grandson of the 19th century’s King Zakarine. The residence is located in a neighborhood of garden homes that was once a royal enclave and today ranks as one of Luang Prabang’s most exclusive development zones.
“The pulse of history beats firmly in this grand old residence,” said Eric Merlin, CEO of the hotel’s owner, the Apple Tree Group. “We’ve honored the provenance of this old home by calling in one of Indochina’s foremost interior designers to creatively reinterpret Maly as a hotel that feels more like a residence.”
To manage the transition, Eric Verschelden moved from Saigon to Luang Prabang for on-site development work that lasted more than a year. Around the anchoring historic home, now known as Plumeria (frangipani), he grouped six, additional buildings – each as intimate and comfortable as the annexes of a family compound.
Like Verschelden’s favorite European hotels, each room will stand as an individual testament to continental aesthetics that reigned in the 1930s and 1940s. The style trades on a melding of familiar, classic lines and the panache of vibrant tropical colors and appeal.
“Above all, we’ve strived for a singular, contemplative experience that aspires to great durability,” said Verschelden. “We’ve imagined Villa Maly as the place Hemingway would have stayed had he journeyed to Luang Prabang, or Marguerite Duras. We’ve got great literary ambitions.”
At the entrance, a stylized jasmine lotus bloom serves as both a fountain and a harbinger of the profuse gardens cultivated about the compound. Each of the buildings are named for a flower — Plumeria, Lotus, Heliconia, Hibiscus, Passiflore, Gardenia, Amarante, Orchide.
The royal family’s pool remains in its original location, imagined anew with alternating swaths of black and white mosaic tile and framed by an exquisite deck of tropical hardwood.
Verschelden designed the furnishings for each of the rooms and sourced their construction at his own shop in Vietnam.
“The idea was to create a hotel that defies labeling,” he said. “It’s not merely colonial, or merely art deco, or merely tropical Asian. It’s more distinctive, a place we hope our guests won’t confuse with any other place they’ve ever stayed.”
The bathrooms’ walls and floors, surfaced in squares of black slate, provide a dramatic counterpoint to the softer tones of the rooms. The mouths of big bellied jars hold the sinks against boldly colored consoles for mirrors and fixtures.
The hotel features four classes of rooms, with the 28 superior rooms and five deluxe rooms giving up views of either the pool or garden. The amenities cater to very sophisticated expectations. Flat screen TVs and WiFi connections are de rigueur in every room.
The hotel’s distinctive character merges effortlessly into this singular city and a country that the New York Times called out as the hottest travel destination for 2008. As the residence of a notable colonial era official, the hotel’s appeal extends beyond its exquisite aesthetics to the historical.