Posted in Projects on 8 May, 2023

Blink Design Group’s renovation of JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa ensures its enduring appeal. Carole Annett heads to Thailand to see how the grande dame looks post face-lift.

An aerial view of JW Marriott Khao Lak is like looking down on a game of Monopoly—the board edged by Andaman  coast, dwellings and restaurants enjoying coveted plots interspersed with sand, lagoon and greenery. Its location is just one of many highlights at this renowned resort⁠—a family-friendly go-to for holidaymakers, conference-goers and lovers seeking rest, relaxation,  and a place to play. In order to encourage a new generation of guests and to ensure the resort retains its  prestige status, JW Marriott Khao Lak has recently undergone a refresh. With the last paintbrush put aside, pillows freshly plumped and gardens planted, a new era has begun.

Blink Design Group, based in Singapore with 16 years  know-how in the luxury hospitality sector, was tasked with the redesign. The brief included renovating all 293 existing guestrooms  and adding 127 new ones ( including pool villas), a new restaurant and pool bar, a  beach bar and grill,  and a grand ballroom. Whether a new addition or part of the revamp, it was essential the resort’s stylish DNA ran seamlessly throughout. Blink founder and creative partner Clint Nagata observes the ‘thrilling challenge’ of the just-completed three-year project which allowed the design group to develop its philosophy of placemaking on a grand scale. “You have a very large and much-loved property that is famously successful, so there’s an element of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’,” he says.

JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa, Thailand

Upon arrival, welcomed into a vast reception hall with steps leading down into the resort and sea beyond, one gets a tingle of anticipation. The scene is magnificent and it’s clear the redesign has been both subtle and sensational. From a vantage point at the top of a reception staircase,  the eye is drawn down a sequence of pools fringed by traditional Thai architecture—curved, multi-tiered rooftops reflected in indigo-tiled pools dotted here and there with fallen frangipani petals. The scale of JW Marriott Khao Lak is breath-taking  and at night, with candles lit and moon aglow, it has movie-set glamour. While you drink in the view, smartly dressed staff proffer cold hand towels and fruit punch while registration is completed. Returning guests will recognise the reception hall,  as Blink’s only intervention is a gentle injection of colour and life. “We repainted and reupholstered all the original furniture mixing shades of green and using a tropical pattern inspired by local palm trees and the vivid blue palette of the bay,” explains Nagata.

I was staying in one of the new family-oriented two-bedroom Resort Suites. Modern and spacious, the ground floor rooms have direct access to a lagoon via individual garden gates. A nice touch and perfect for children when a trip to the pool can involve armloads of swimming paraphernalia. Here you can simply unlock the gate and slide into a meandering lagoon, stopping off at a wave pool or an inflated bouncy hillock, like a giant’s belly (which spouted water and was a big hit with old and young alike) or perhaps the Rubik’s cube-like climbing structure.

The look and feel of the Resort Suites are  inspired by Thailand’s Lanna heritage—a kingdom dominating northern Thailand over 700 years ago favouring simple dwellings with steeply pitched, multi-tiered roofs. Here it’s combined with local southern styling. “We established an architectural palette of red clay roof tiles and red clay corridor floorings, which was used throughout,” explains Nagata. Traditional Lanna textiles with repeating floral and leaf pattern in gold, monochrome and red, were recreated for cushions, rain drums custom-cast from brass as coffee tables,  and vintage silk spindles taken from weaving looms mounted as artwork. The bathrooms are spacious and luxurious, robed in local granite. Vanity sinks with wooden bases which were  part of the original design, have been updated with stone tops and locally crafted handles double as towel rails.

Three new beachfront villas opening to private garden and pools, sit between the new residential family block and the beach. Their bold, linear architecture makes them stand out, like head waiters aside from the crowd at a fancy party. During my stay they were inhabited by an extended Indian family, gathered at the resort for a wedding, which had most other guests, me included, agape during a spectacular beach-side ceremony (the resort is renowned as a venue for nuptials.)  The villas are beautifully appointed with relaxed interiors featuring natural textures including golden-hued teak and bespoke furniture. They offer another level of hospitality for those preferring isolation from other guests while enjoying the benefits of five-star food and service.

The average length of stay for a guest at JW Marriott Khao Lak is 14 nights. A lot of eating time. With the recent addition of two new restaurants, the resort now boasts 11 venues, ranging from Italian cuisine to Japanese as well as a deli and, I hardly need add, a Thai restaurant. Tastebuds never get bored and each one I tried was top-notch . The new venues designed by Blink include a speciality grill, Drift, which has a relaxed coastal vibe, while the Pool Bar is a vibrant, tropical space with suspended hammock chairs encouraging guests to unwind and enjoy the beachfront. The setting sun acts as a magnet drawing people towards the sea for pre-dinner cocktails at the bar and many, especially those with young families, tended to stay and eat with feet in the sand and little ones running free.

Of the original restaurants, Ta-Krai (Thai) and Sakura (Japanese), twin buildings at the centre of the resort’s Monopoly board layout, have been updated. Sakura is named after Japan’s iconic cherry blossom—its rooftop skylights decorated with the help of a local tattoo artist. Nagata explains:  “We commissioned Luke Satoru, who is inspired by Japanese art, and he has turned the skylights into a stunning mural. He took something very feminine and gave it a more masculine vibe.” In other areas, cherry blossom pink is woven into the fabrics and accents, while the teppanyaki grill was also given a makeover with pink tinted glass and accents of rose gold.

Ta-Krai’s canopy is derived from the step design of traditional Thai design, creating a sense of place. Broken down by a pattern of open slatted squares, the exterior becomes an extension of the interior. The aim for Ta-Krai was to instil the ambience of a typical Thai house. “We kept all the ceiling and windows, and added H-frame wall panels,” explains  Nagata. “Rattan baskets and decorative objects were sourced from local markets, a mix of blue and white ceramic works chosen for a showpiece display cabinet and we added a raised seating area featuring custom mosaic in colourful local patterns.” Guests can choose to eat sitting on the floor on a triangular Thai cushion (tricky to endure for an entire meal but it adds to the ambience), inside at a brasserie-style  table,  or out on the terrace (all with chairs, thankfully).

These much-loved restaurants, Ta-Krai and Sakura, labours of love according to Nagata, still have a familiarity for loyal customers yet are infused with unique new touches. Another noteworthy addition is the JW Garden, which grows organic herbs and ingredients for the restaurants, cookery classes and spa treatments.  Clever intertwining of old and new, north and south, heritage and modernity is at the heart of the renovation project. “Timeless was our watchword,” explains Nagata. “We were very conscious of marrying the interiors with the architecture of the resort, celebrating Thailand’s rich heritage through design. The ultimate purpose, is  to provide a remarkable experience for the guest, for many years to come.”  It’s a winner for me, I’d say they’ve nailed it.


Owner: Legacy Venture Company Limited, trading as JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort Suites
Operator: Luxury Hotels & Resorts (Thailand) Limited
Original Architecture: Duangrit Bunnag
Extension and renovation: BLINK Design Group
Keys: 420, plus 52 Resort Suites




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