We love how passionate you are about sustainability and that you and your husband Sonu have proven that natural and luxury can go hand in hand. What was your main goal when designing your resorts?
My main goal was that all should be ecological and sustainable. Nothing should come from rain forests or be un-ethical and absolutely no compromises.
Being Swedish, you’ve said “going green” is in your blood! Which aspects of your Scandinavian heritage play the strongest part in the way you live your life?
In Sweden we are taught to respect nature and the animals. We drink the water directly from the lake next to our summer place. No-one would do their “business” in the water, not even the children, because everyone is drinking it.
We pride ourselves on the fact that Dr.Lipp is 100% natural. Having tried it yourself, what are your thoughts?
I am very happy to have found Dr.Lipp because when I fly I always put some oil in the nose to stop bacteria from entering too easily, but oils are usually a bit runny and Dr.Lipp is not. I really love the concept that Dr.Lipp is totally natural.
What in particular is it about leading a natural lifestyle that you feel so passionately about?
Well, I want to be as healthy as possible and that only comes from a healthy lifestyle. I don’t exercise – it’s too boring, but I am never still.
If you could encourage others to make one lifestyle change today, what would it be?
To only use organic products, eat organic food, always keep mobile phones far away and turn off the Wi-Fi when you don’t need it, especially in the night. Sorry, that was 4 things!
It’s incredible what you have achieved with Soneva Resorts, building a successful business without compromising what is important to you. What words of advice would you offer to others with similar ambitions?
Be true to yourself. Don’t compromise, never give in and never stop searching for alternatives for what is wrong, because they are out there. Never support anyone who is doing wrong towards animals and the world. Never give your money to restaurants serving un-ethical food like shark fin soup, blue fin tuna and many other endangered fishes and animals. Never support hotels that make furniture from rainforest woods or teak grade A, use endangered animal skins on furniture and decorations, etc. Ask many, many questions. Boycott companies who destroy the world; if they want your money, they must change.
You’re known for your incredible attention to detail – what is one particular aspect of what you’ve built (big or small) that you’re especially proud of?
I think it’s the ladder to hold the bath towels. 25 years ago when we planned Soneva Fushi, I had a problem with where to hang the towels, as there were not many real walls in the villas. Then one day in Bangkok I walked by a building site and there it was! They used bamboo for the scaffolding and bamboo ladders to climb up and down. I thought: aha! I can use a bamboo ladder to hang the towels on and it can lean against whatever.
Another thing would be the openable TV box. We very often have the bed in the middle of the room with a beautiful view seen from the bed. The front of the room is usually all glass and I didn’t want the classic big TV cupboard in the corner against the glass, blocking the view. So I was thinking what to do. A pop up TV doesn’t work in a saline environment (which we have in the Maldives and Thailand where our resorts are) as it would jam in no time. So I made 3 old-style-looking suitcases piled up on top of each other. The bottom one has an openable drawer, the middle one a flap opening where the “machines” are and the top has a lid that opens towards the bed and the TV is fitted inside the lid.
Then we have the travel trunk I made in leather for Soneva Kiri. It is a vertically standing trunk that is opened up, and it houses the sink, taps, shelves and mirrors. There is also one kept horizontally that is flipped up, and with the same things inside.
Or the enormous chandelier in the villa 1 of Soneva Fushi, made with Lofas because they gave me only 30 KG to “play” with, or the enormous jelly fish with the body made from resin and 100 KG of fishing wire hanging down, fitted high up in the ceiling hanging over the bar at Soneva Jani.
I could go on, but I must stop. I’m having so much fun making a lot of unconventional items.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career as a whole?
I think that was when we had been open only 5 years with Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives and I was invited to the Conde Nast Traveller Reader’s Awards.
Soneva Fushi won first prize for “Resort in the Indian Ocean and Middle East”. Of course I tripped walking up the steps to the stage, got my prize and got back to my seat, exhaled, got comfortable and totally relaxed. In a daze I hear again, “Soneva Fushi!” I think that was the most surrealistic moment of my career
International model, fashion designer, luxury resorts… you’re certainly in the business of making your dreams a reality! What will you set your sights on next?
I am also an amateur photographer. I love taking black and white photos, for example and I used to print them as well. When I met Sonu I had started to take photos of famous men for a book I wanted to make, but being so busy building hotels I could never follow this up. So maybe that is something I will do later in life. For the moment I certainly have enough to do…