Sustainability is at the forefront of Bill Bensley’s work. His latest project, Shinta Mani Mustang in Nepal, slated to open in May 2023, exemplifies the sustainable ethos behind his hospitality design brand. The American architect, landscape architect, and interior designer has designed more than 200 hospitality projects in 30 countries, many of which are in Southeast Asia.
Sensible, Sustainable Solutions
In his recently published whitepaper “Sensible Sustainable Solutions” – written with the aim helping the hotel industry fight climate change – Bensley suggested that hotel developers and designers should build with purpose, keeping the local community and environment in mind at all stages of the development.
In this whitepaper, Bensley, who has been designing luxury hotels for more than three decades, wrote that he was done with designing lavish hotels just to put heads on beds. “We should shoulder more responsibility concerning issues such as education, clean accessible water, alternative energy, energy consumption, food waste, wildlife protection, and conservation. Let’s all lose the greenwash and do something real,” he notes.
Shinta Mani Mustang is a 29-suite resort in the remote Mustang district in Nepal, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, that was guided by this vision. Surrounded by some of the world’s highest and most majestic snow-peaked mountains, the resort is located in a village called Jomson in the Annapurna mountain range in Lower Mustang – an area that serves as the gateway to the Forbidden Kingdom of Upper Mustang. It was commissioned by Nepal’s Sherpa Hospitality Group, which recently launched Mountain Lodges of Nepal (MLNN) – a brand of 15 local family-owned, luxury lodges along the Great Himalaya Trails.
Blueprint for Better Tourism
Bensley worked closely with Thai interior designer Pakheenai Saenharn – one of the heads of interior design at Bensley’s Bangkok office – on the blueprint for the project, which began with the goal of understanding the topography and culture of the Mustang valley where the resort is located.
“With a site that has this much character, the design DNA was just waiting to be explored by the Bensley team,” says Bensley who felt as if he had gone back in time when he first visited the site. “In the north part of Mustang valley, where our site is, there are hardly any TV antennas, few cars, and little electricity. Every day, livestock walk back from the fields into villages, and even down the stairs of some of the homes. The biggest town has just four streets, which wrap around the main fort,” he explains.
His goal with Shinta Mani Mustang was to build a resort that would offer travellers all the comforts one expects of a Bensley Collection hotel – electricity, Internet, plush beds, sublime cocktails etcetera – but still respect the site’s heritage and its sense of remoteness.
The resort is set within an existing local stone building. The Bensley team left the structure of this building unchanged, but significantly altered the layout of the interiors. Their main goal was to create suites and public areas that face the mountains, to make the best of the incredible views, which can be seen from almost every part of the hotel.
The floor plan includes a long central courtyard that leads to the lobby which, consists of a warm and convivial lounge area that extends to an outdoor terrace with fire pits and jaw-dropping views. The lobby is flanked on one side by the Nilgiri Restaurant, and by the Aara bar on the other. The back of house facilities and staff offices are tucked behind the restaurant.
Two wings run alongside the central courtyard – one encompasses the 29 guest suites, which run over two floors, the other contains a multipurpose event hall, a gym, and a spa that includes a stone jacuzzi, steam room, and a sauna that looks out to panoramic mountain vistas. Each of the suites are approximately 231 sqm and designed in the style of traditional Tibetan homes with an open-plan bedroom and living area, and a separate bathroom. All the suites are fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise the views.
The Bensley team scoured local antique shops and junk yards for discarded doors and unique pieces which they then upcycled into beautiful furniture and décor for the interiors. “We used a similar approach for the materials and finishings, which were sourced locally for reasons of both sustainability and accessibility. Every area will be complemented by the artwork of the late artist Robert Powell, a good friend of mine who drew the region’s vernacular architecture in mind-boggling detail,” says Bensley.
Because Jomson is so remote, the biggest challenge with this project was getting the needed materials onto the site. But this worked to Bensley’s advantage as it enabled him to rigorously abide by the guidelines of his white paper and source almost everything locally.
The colour scheme – dove grey, terracotta red and yellowish beige – is symbolic of prosperity, knowledge, and longevity, and reflect the colours of the local clay quarries in the Mustang valley.
“Our approach is always to understand the neighbourhood. This comes to life in every aspect of the interiors and experiences offered at Shinta Mani Mustang, through its detailed design. I am committed not only to creating places of beauty, but also of meaning, places that teach people new things and offer them adventures they have never had before,” says Bensley.