Design Focus: House on Sathorn, Bangkok
From an upmarket hotel and a diplomatic office, this historic colonial mansion in downtown Bangkok reopens its door as hub for dining and entertainment.
In July last year, following a three-year restoration and a soft opening that saw the hosting of some of Bangkok’s swankiest parties, The House On Sathorn was officially launched. A familiar landmark that has had at least a couple of significant resurrections in the past, The House On Sathorn is at the same time lauded as a successful renovation for adaptive reuse.
W Bangkok general manager Tina Liu describes the project as a “sensory-rich, multi-venue complex, offering artisanal, Asian-inspired cuisine, creative cocktails, and spectacular restored artwork”.
W Hotel commissioned AvroKO to undertake the full renovation, in consultation with a government body as required for any gazetted historical property, Liu explains. The international firm’s ‘design through storytelling’ approach was applied well to project in an instance of a perfect match. On the one hand is a heritage building that was completed around the late 1880s and, after over 15 years of abandonment, was identified for a revival. On the other is an award-winning architecture and interior design practice, based in New York City but with an office in Bangkok, and renowned for hospitality-centred projects.
AvroKO encompasses the design and branding outfit Brand Bureau, custom furniture and lighting designer Goodshop, and hospitality services provider Avroko Hospitality Group. Its knowledge and expertise in the areas of design, especially for hospitality and F&B, is top-notch. Add to this equation the client comprising proprietors of upmarket hotel W Bangkok and you get an exciting prospect for beautiful design.
The House On Sathorn was originally the residence of wealthy Chinese immigrant Chai Sua Yom, owner of an engineering company that was responsible for digging the Sathorn canal for public transportation. For his work, he was bestowed the title Luang Sathorn Racha Yutka by King Chulalongkorn. Although the canal had not been used according to intended purpose for decades, the name Sathorn has come to identify the stretch through which it ran.
Consisting of four separate buildings that enclose a courtyard, and surrounded by a garden in a spacious compound, the colonial mansion boasts the original three-storey structure with a hexagonal portico at the centre of the façade. It was originally painted two shades of yellow, which the recent restoration brought back. On the left side of the portico is another box-like projection that terminates with the attic windows.
The façade is decorated with a series of cornices relieved by graceful half-arch mouldings that crown each window on the ground floor. These large, tall and shuttered windows reinforce an upward sweep that gives the building an illusion of height while providing sufficient light and ventilation to the interiors. Pig’s heads, an unlikely motif for a stately home, decorate the pillars in reference to the owner’s Chinese zodiac symbol. On top of the building is a gracefully sloped hipped roof.
In the 1920s, with the owner’s fortune in decline, the property changed hands and was converted into the upmarket Hotel Royal. From 1948 to 1999, it was leased out and became the Embassy of the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation. Its latest reinvention is that of a hub of upmarket F&B establishments owned and operated by W Bangkok, its immediate neighbour in the same compound. The extensive renovation of the structure was done in consultation with the Thai government’s Department of Fine Arts. This ensured the faithful restoration of the building to its original, and approval of changes and additions.
“The renovation also called for meticulous upgrading work,” Liu shares. “This encompassed everything from matching new tiles with the original to replacing missing hardware on doors and windows— some of which were no longer available.” Parts of the old building were extensively repaired, and with the plan to covert the entire building into bars and restaurants, a complex retrofit programme was implemented. Utilities, from HVAC to power and water supplies, were installed; rooms were refurnished and refinished according to their new functions. Meanwhile, the intricate wooden staircases and the frescoes commissioned by the owner, both of which are original to the house, have all been meticulously restored.
The result is a building with four distinct areas that have been identified as The Dining Room, The Bar, The Courtyard, and The Conservatory, which includes The Loft that houses an event space as well as four hospitality suites. This became the platform for AvroKO to tell The House On Sathorn’s new story.
Surrounded by period architectural ornaments, the designers assembled a collection of contemporary artworks—paintings, installations, and sculpture, modern light fixtures, as well as custom and original pieces of furniture. Colours were reimagined for each room with paint, wallpaper and carpets until the layers what is old and new are meshed completely
Text by Marc Almagro
Images by W Bangkok
This story first appeared in Form Magazine.