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the new luxury

The MahaNakhon tower in Bangkok has 209 luxury residences, ranging from two to five bedrooms, but also a range of amenities, from a rooftop bar to a Dean & DeLuca restaurant.Pace Development

For those able to afford them, the new Ritz-Carlton Residences in the upper portion of Bangkok's highest tower, the 77-storey MahaNakhon, will offer unobstructed views of the city and the Chao Phraya River.

Turn toward the building's interior, though, and the view is equally opulent. High-end interior design is a hallmark of the project, where residences start from 65-million baht ($2.4-million Canadian) with an average price of 450,000 baht ($17,000) per square metre – about triple the price of the mid-range domestic market.

Fuelled partly by interest from foreign buyers, particularly those from China and Japan, the luxury condominium market in the capital of Thailand has picked up steam as wealthy prospective home owners turn their attention from suburban mansions to downtown residences. While foreigners are barred from owning land, the Thai government is looking to help fuel the property price boom; non-residents are currently allowed to own up to 49 per cent of a condominium building's units.

While those calling the Ritz-Carlton home later this year will be able to enjoy a world-class slate of amenities, including a rooftop bar and restaurants such as Dean & DeLuca, the interior fitting of the 209 units, which range from two to five bedrooms, have been designed with luxury top of mind.

London design firm David Collins Studio, which has 32 years of experience working on iconic projects such as London's Claridge's Hotel or the Nobu group of Japanese restaurants, took on the venture, its first with Ritz-Carlton.

Simon Rawlings, the company's creative director, says that when it comes to high-end interior design, clients are asking for a level of engagement and a design that evokes a certain mood, rather than onyx countertops or walnut panelling.

"People are coming to us saying, 'I sat at the Connaught Bar in London and I fell in love with that shimmering wall finish that you created. I want you to do that to my home,'" he says.

Whether it's a feeling evoked by a home, a store, a bar or a restaurant, Mr. Rawlings says this is always the start of the creative process, and then he builds a story around that. For example, a dining room might have a sense of glamour, while a den would be imbued with a feeling of coziness.

"We've just done a den for somebody where we completely lined the whole room in cashmere wall panels," he says. "I don't know anyone who has a TV room lined in cashmere, but it's just that lovely feeling that it gives off."

While even luxury projects have to be comfortable and homey, he also likes to add something striking and unexpected to push the boundaries. In addition, he wants many of his interior designs to have a sense of place.

"I like people to wake up in the morning, whether it be in their home or in a hotel and kind of know where they are. That can be as subtle as a silk wall in Thailand or a piece of art in Seoul," he adds.

Closer to home, luxury interior design is no less worldly. While the interior design sector as a whole is a $1-billion industry in Canada, it is also on the rise, showing annual growth of 2.6 per cent between 2011-16, according to IBISWorld, an industry market researcher.

"Interior design I would say is definitely a lifestyle, more of a luxury thing to afford for a home," says Geele Soroka, principal interior designer at Sublime Interior Design Ltd. in Vancouver.

Not only are the projects time-consuming – Ms. Soroka estimates many take a minimum of 18 months on average – they can also often come with complications, such as dealing with low ceilings and intricate staircases, or sourcing a certain type of marble.

Taking care of all eventualities seamlessly is just part of the service, but ultimately it comes down to creating a good living environment for the client.

"Comfort is really No. 1 and comfort comes from the design," says Keren Blankrot, the founder of Upstage Interior Design in Montreal. "All of the other things like colour and texture and aesthetic and style, those help to create the mood, but those are secondary."

From dealing with large-scale retirement homes to cottages valued at $18-million, John David Edison at Toronto's John David Edison Interior Design Inc. generally has three or four projects on the go at any one time. He doesn't like to take on too many lest he fail to give each client the appropriate level of care and consideration.

Toronto clients often have cottages and they want all the toys that go along with that, including movie theatres and boat houses, he says.

One recent project involved trying to fit three styles of design, ranging from rustic to modern, to suit three generations of one family, all under one roof.

But building a design to suit both the family and the architecture is all part of his job.

"Good design isn't a trend," Mr. Edison says. "The proper designer has to listen to the client and be like a psychologist and then you're bringing out what they want and you flavour it by how you approach it and the combination of the two is what makes a long-lasting interior."

The individual objects within a luxury design are almost always bespoke, and often come with a price tag to match. However, it's not simply a case of buying a load of expensive stuff just for the sake of it.

For instance, whether a piece was handmade, constructed of fine materials or imported from abroad, clients are more willing to pay the price if they can see the reasoning behind it.

"No matter how much money you have, if it's not of value to you, you're not going to spend a dime on it," says Laura Stein of Toronto's Laura Stein Interiors Inc.

However, the advent of HGTV shows has been a double-edged sword for luxury interior designers. While it has helped to raise the bar in terms of people's knowledge of the industry, it sometimes gives clients unrealistic expectations of timeline and cost. In that situation, Ms. Stein isn't afraid to refer people to other designers, adding she probably turns away 80 per cent of the people who call her.

"It's sort of the champagne on a beer budget kind of thing," she says, "so very often I end up disappointing people because we basically serve champagne. … If they have a beer budget, I might send them to someone who can serve them a nice glass of prosecco."