Award-winning designer, President of the Design & Objects Association and founder of both an interior design services company and a furniture design, manufacture and export business using natural fibres and environmentally-friendly materials, M.L. Pawinee Santisiri is a driving force when it comes to putting young aspiring Thai designers on the international map and a champion of creativity and selfbetterment among rural Thai communities.
When did you realise you wanted a career in interior design?
I first developed an interest in design after helping a cousin, who was studying architecture, with some rendering work for one of her projects. I must have been 16 at the time.
What makes Thai-designed home décor items unique and how can Thai designers stay competitive?
For centuries Thai people have been producing intricate traditional handicraft products. Our artistic nature, coupled with our historical practical skills and our ability to adapt and mix modern design with local art, are what make us unique and competitive.
You are a pioneer in using water hyacinth as a creative material. How important is environmentally-friendly manufacturing to you?
I like to use materials that negate the use of chemicals. Simply put, chemicals ultimately destroy fibres, wash out colours and end up polluting the environment. That’s very important to me, I don’t like causing problems! Water hyacinth grows in abundance in Thailand and it is a very versatile plant. It seemed logical to use it as a material for arts and crafts and I’m happy to say that many of the products we have designed using water hyacinth have won international awards.
How can rural communities tap into Thailand’s design potential on a global scale?
For Thais to be competitive on global level we have to understand how to design using local materials and local handicraft techniques. This is where the rural communities come in to the picture. They can help contribute their knowledge of local arts and crafts to younger generations. They can also be a great production base.
After all, who else is capable of producing local crafts better?
It is then up to organisations such as the Design & Objects Association and the Department of International Trade Promotion to promote these handicrafts to a global audience.
The best piece of advice you could give an aspiring designer?
Learn by doing… your failures will be your teacher and guide.
How can Thai designers protect their creative and intellectual property both at home and overseas?
They should keep all their design documents, no matter how trivial. These can be used to safeguard intellectual property when someone tries to copy their ideas. It is also a good idea to register all your designs – both in Thailand and overseas, if possible.
Your favourite restaurants & hang-outs in Bangkok in terms of design?
I’m not a “hangout” kind of person. I love entertaining friends at home. That said, I enjoy dining at Ruen Urai – great Thai food in a beautiful traditional Thai house.
Where do you go and what do you do to relax and escape professional life?
At the weekend we go to Hau Hin or Khao Yai, where we have a vacation home. My husband and I also travel abroad twice a year to remote destinations that are rich in art and culture. I find such trips help to inspire me in my work.
Where do you take visitors for a quintessential Bangkok experience?
The Grand Palace and Art of The Kingdom Museum at Anantatsamakom Throne Hall. My company had the opportunity to work on the design of the museum, which displays pieces by Thai artisans under the patronage of HM the Queen.
If you could change one thing about Bangkok, what would it be?
I’d change two things. I’d move all electrical wiring underground and give all the pavements a facelift.