Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Thailand, a 65,000 square foot Phuket Beach House


James Robert Fuller for The New York Times

Beyond Villa is a sprawling 65,000-square-foot house near Phuket, Thailand. Its owner is Eric Levine describes the place as "James Bond meets Asia."

Published: September 15, 2009

NATAI BEACH, Thailand

James Robert Fuller for The New York Times

The dining room, which seats 16.

Parked in the garage of Beyond, Eric Levine’s oceanfront home just north of Phuket, is a racing-red Ferrari and a Jet Ski. There are two golf holes on the front lawn, a two-lane bowling alley below the tennis court and table games ranging from Foosball to air hockey.

There’s even an office with a leather swivel chair that could have come from the lair of Scaramanga, the villain in “The Man With The Golden Gun,” which was famously filmed in nearby Phang Nga Bay.

“It’s basically a party house,” Mr. Levine said of his 6,000-square-meter (64,580 square feet) concrete and glass home. “I like to say it’s James Bond meets Asia. It has a very modern, Miami Vice-type feeling.”

Mr. Levine, who was born in Montreal, made his name as the founder of California Fitness, a gym chain that now is part of the 24 Hour Fitness group. After selling his interest in 24 Hour Fitness almost three years ago, Mr. Levine started another gym and yoga company, California WOW Experience, which is listed on the Thai stock exchange and has about 200,000 members at gyms in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Australia.

Mr. Levine, 53, lives with Varaluck Vanichkul, 38, a model who is also in the spa business. Ms. Vanichkul, who goes by the nickname Joy, owns three spas in Bangkok called Zense of Joy. The couple use Beyond as a holiday home, heading down from their riverside condominium in Bangkok whenever they need a break, usually about five or six days a month.

The heart of the home is the gym, a sprawling facility on the lower level that Mr. Levine says is one of the best private gyms in the world. There are about 80 pieces of equipment, as well as a yoga area and free weights. As a kind of skirting, the higher parts of the walls are decorated with posters and news stories that show Mr. Levine in various bodybuilding poses, with slogans like “I Will Eat You!” and “Wild Man.”

“I put them up to remind met that I can’t look worse than that,” Mr. Levine said. “They’re just words you would say when you’re working out hard, just inspirational things, Muscle Beach-type words.”

The couple loves to travel. Mr. Levine recently accompanied Buddhist monks on a meditation quest in Mongolia. They have made repeat visits to spots like the Maldives, India and Paris. That international flavor is reflected in the three guest suites at Beyond. Each guest bedroom has its own living room, dressing area, bathroom and distinct style. One is Japanese, with samurai armor at the entrance; one is Hindu-inspired, and the third, Thai.

The home sits on 10 rai of land (four acres) along Natai Beach, giving most rooms a view that sweeps over the lawn and its coconut palms down to the sea. The master bedroom, like the guest suites, has floor-to-ceiling windows looking west. “You wake up, and the first thing you see is the ocean” Mr. Levine said. “So we try to maximize the beach, the ocean, the sun.”

Mr. Levine acquired the site eight years ago when, as a speculative investment. He paid 6 million Thai baht (almost $168,000 at the time) per rai for a large tract. At the time, there was little more than buffalo pastures and shrimp farms along this section of the coast, about 15 minutes north of the causeway to Phuket island.

“I thought I was going to be a Davy Crockett and make a lot of money, or I was just going to live there with the shrimp farms and it would just be me,” he said. He has sold off two parcels in recent years.

Planning for the home began in early 2005. Mr. Levine had read a newspaper article about the Phuket home of Allan Zeman, a Hong-Kong based businessman, and realized that Mr. Zeman had used the architect who designed Mr. Levin’s first California Fitness gym in Lan Kwai Fong, an entertainment area in Hong Kong.

Mr. Levin later ran into the architect, Branko Pahor, in the airport, and asked him and Mr. Zeman’s company, Paradise Properties, to help build the house. It took a year to design and three years to build.

Ms. Vanichkul suggested the name. “We said we should call this house Beyond, because it is beyond anything we expected, or beyond anything we had had hoped for,” Mr. Levine said.

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