Upaya Life Style Homes is the latest addition to the upscale end of Siem Reap’s property market. A leafy compound of eight villas set around a saltwater lap pool in Salakamreuk Commune, the sleek white houses share a communal dining area with barbecue and a gym.
Upaya is the brainchild of Italian real estate agent Michele Cipriani, who drew upon his experience renovating old apartments in Florence when he moved to Siem Reap in 2012.
“My job was to buy rundown apartments in the city centre, renovate them and then sell or rent them out. The difficulty here was that I didn’t have the walls, like I had in Florence,” he smiles. “Here I just had a field.”
Each of the 175 square metre villas has two double bedrooms with ensuite bathroom upstairs, and an open plan lounge, kitchen and a small toilet downstairs. There are some shared design similarities with Navutu Dreams Resort and Spa – Cipriani is good friends with the owners and employed the same architect. Hence the sparkling white exteriors, small private gardens and something of a Grecian look, while Cipriani has added a unique curved design to the overhang of the flat roofs.
“The rooves might look a bit weird but I designed them so that they block the solar rays and create a shadow on the walls, so they don’t heat up too much,” he says. “I studied a lot about that, the angle of the sun in this part of the world.
“I paid special attention when I was building to the construction method and I also ventilated the roofs. There is a hole in the side of the house under the roof, one on each side, and so in between there is air flowing through.
“Same principle with the windows and doors, they are opposite one another – not on the side – so what little air there is, it changes the pressure between inside and outside and it flows through.”
The Upaya concept, he says, is a kind of upmarket community, mainly aimed at expats or holidaymakers.
“They are houses to rent but instead of dividing with walls, I just divided with plants giving the guests the possibility to create a community,” he explains. “Because newcomers in town for example, they don’t know the place, they don’t know anybody, they might be scared. So the idea is you come here, you find neighbours more or less in your situation and it’s easy to get to know other people and to integrate into the place.”
To this end, Cipriani has built a large barbecue and what he calls a “social table”, a long, slate-grey communal table with two benches, where people have the option of cooking and dining together if they wish.
The verdant setting gives the complex a fresh summery look; rows of green plants standing out against the white villas, while the pea-green sun loungers are in keeping with the colour scheme and behind, the views are of swaying palms.
Cipriani says he grew up in the countryside, and as soon as he found the spot, he knew it was the right place.
“I come from just outside Florence. It’s all hills and vineyards and so I personally need to have green around,” he says. “And when I arrived here and saw this field there was this cow eating grass and I said, ‘Ok, this might work’.”
Inside, the clean curved lines continue, with a large open-plan lounge-kitchen fitted out with all mod-cons including a huge L-shaped sofa almost carved out of the wall. In addition to the windows, columns of glass tiles built into the walls let in plenty of light, and an elegant spiral staircase leads upstairs to the bedrooms.
“The whole house is built around this staircase,” Cipriani says. “I started from this staircase and then I projected the rest, because I saw something like this once and promised myself I would do something similar.”
The villas are being eagerly snapped up, even before Upaya’s official opening last Friday. Cipriani has rented out six already, three of those for long-term rental and the others as holiday lets.
“We have Australians, Italian, Japanese, French, a South African and then a Khmer couple,” he says. “I’m very happy for that because I think having locals coming here is a good combination.”