The Bhuthorn continues to lead the preservation of vintage Bangkok style
Back in 2005 the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced plans to turn three of the city’s original phraeng—Phraeng Sapphasat, Phraeng Nara and Phraeng Bhuthorn, lined up behind the Defence Ministry by the Ku Muang canal—into a “cultural tourism” neighbourhood.
In Thai, phraeng once referred to land parcels granted to senior court officials by the King. In the case of these three phraeng (referred to collectively as Sam Phraeng), they were King Rama V’s gifts to three loyal officials named Nara, Sappasart, and Bhuthorn respectively. On the three pieces of land, the officials built two-story European style shophouse/residences, which had become very fashionable around a hundred to 150 years ago. Within each phraeng, the grantees allowed relatives and associates to add on to the property over the years, and because the land has remained in the control of the Crown Property Bureau, the neighbourhood has changed comparatively little over the last century.
Around the same time that the BMA was looking for partners in their quest to preserve Sam Phraeng, architects Chitlada and Direk Senghluang were looking to acquire an historic property in old Bangkok.
“We loved to visit historic districts in old towns in other countries, such as Luang Prabang, Laos,” says Direk. “We’ve always avoided the typical 5-star properties managed by multinational companies, typically choosing to stay at owner-managed bed-and-breakfasts or boutique hotels in such districts.”
When the couple came across Phraeng Bhuthorn they were enchanted not only by the historic architecture, but by the open square in the middle of the block. Originally it had been an outdoor market but as the market became less popular and derelict, the city converted the space into a quiet green area.
“One weekend we found a building fronting the apex of a triangular block. It had been built in 1906 and occupied by Prince Bhuthorn, an official who was also a son of King Rama V. It had been registered with the Fine Arts Department since 1999, and thus couldn’t be remodelled without government approval, which we liked. But it had been used for years as a kitchen for roasting moo daeng (barbecued pork) and was in terrible condition, all smoke-stained and smelly,” says Chitlada.
“Most people weren’t interested in the ruined building. It took an architect’s eye to see the potential,” she says. “The original wooden doors were gone and the wooden upper floor was in dangerous disrepair. But it was a great project for an architect.”
Although the project started out as a cozy home for the couple, as the beauty and elegance of the building came to the fore, they were inspired to share the space with guests from around the world as a boutique hotel they named The Bhuthorn.
The location makes it a perfect choice for anyone wanting to tour the old city—Koh Ratanakosin—on foot. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, National Museum, Wat Pho, Phraeng Nara Theatre, and Khao San Road are all within easy walking distance. Yet as The Bhuthorn faces the interior of the block, fronted by an open green space, it is unusually quiet for this part of the city.
For three years the architect couple collected furniture, art and materials for the renovation, which then took a further two years to complete. They didn’t bother hiring a designer, choosing instead to decorate the hotel to their own tastes.
“We didn’t turn it into a hotel for profit, as that’s hardly possible with only three rooms,” says Direk. “But we really wanted to share the Ratanakosin legacy. We love hearing from guests that they find it unique and charming.”
The impressive renovation includes a new staircase of recycled teak, period-correct floral-pattern floor tiles, old maps and prints, crystal chandeliers and a rotating collection of antique furniture and accessories. They left the old brick walls intact, and where plaster needed to be replaced they used traditional stucco from Ayutthaya, prepared with an archaic filling of molasses and other organic ingredients, to help ventilate heat and moisture.
Wherever possible, the original structures were maintained, including masonry wall bearings, the upper wooden floor and windows, the metal balusters, and the gingerbread roof eaves, all typical of old shophouses in this area. Where necessary they made new replicas of materials from the past, such as the kite tiles for the roof. The electrical system was completely re-wired for safety, and the all-new bathrooms feature vintage-style toilets and sinks paired with modern functionality.
The three guestrooms are named for the three princes who occupied the phraeng. The Salapasart, the only guestroom on the ground floor, features high windows and is decorated in British colonial style with old teak and rattan furniture. The Bhuthorn room, the largest of the three, occupies part of the upper floor overlooking the green space in the centre of Phraeng Bhuthorn and features a blue and white colour scheme, antique four-poster bed, old teak wardrobe and a handmade mosaic lavatory. The Nara, the most lively-looking of the three rooms, is also on the upper floor and is distinguished by a sleeping loft that overlooks the main sitting area. It also has windows overlooking The Bhuthorn’s tiny courtyard below.
Sam Phraeng is well known among Thai street food gourmets, and from The Bhuthorn it’s easy to reach many famed eateries. Nattaphorn, one of the city’s best vendors of homemade coconut ice cream, is next door to the hotel. Close by are Yentafo Nai Ouan (opposite Bangkok Bank), known for rice noodle soup prepared with fermented soy, and Khrua Apsorn (alongside the BMA building), a classic all-around Thai eatery.
By Joe Cummings/CPA Media