Sitting in the dining room of the Rachamankha Hotel in Chiang Mai, Rooj Changtrakul may not fit the typical image of an interior designer. He said he doesn’t like to be called that because he is a businessman—an entrepreneur and now a hotelier. In daily life his personal style is unassuming, donning a polo shirt and crisply-pressed trousers. At parties, he can dress up to the nines either in a white dinner jacket or in sumptuous antique textiles. He is soft-spoken and happily recounts his early days in business.
“After graduated in business management in the States, I returned to Bangkok and worked with my family,” he begins. “We were one of the dealers for Peugeot cars and had some real estate projects such as condominiums where I did some interior design for both show spaces and some rooms. Then, after my family had retired from these businesses, I wanted to work on my own. I dreamt about building a hotel because I enjoy staying in historical or unique hotels in various cities around the world. This was when the term ‘boutique hotel’ came into fashion, and I created the Rachamankha.”
The architectural design of the hotel was perfectly executed by Rooj’s stepfather, Prof. Ong-ard Satrabhandhu, who received the National Artist of Thailand Award in Architecture in 2009. One of its buildings, where the lounging area is situated, was inspired and modelled after a hall in Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang. Although to most guests, Rachamankha is a beautifully proportioned sanctuary in the middle of Chiang Mai, Rooj—who is a perfectionist—is not quite satisfied.
“I’ve never been happy with any projects that I accomplished. I always see the flaws in them because I know where they are! Nothing is perfect.”
About Rooj’s first foray in the interior design, he noted, “I can’t really recall the very first interior space that I furnished. I am not able to draw in perfect perspective, but I can work with draftsmen. Generally, I don’t want to deal with clients. I have my own style so I don’t want the clients’ influences. I enjoy mixing antiques and classic furniture together. I like things that are timeless. I despise trendy and fanciful things.
“My look is eclectic. I mix and match African, Asian, and European antiques together with modern furniture with clean and pure lines. They may look boxy because they are not over-designed. I’m influenced and inspired by a few people such as Charles Pfister, an American interior and furniture designer whose works are produced by Knoll, and some Dutch designers, because their works are minimal, but not too sparse.”
Along with his stepfather’s architectural creations, Rooj has created the interior design for an entertainment mogul by synthesizing Christian Liaigre’s furniture with Chinese furniture.
“Sometimes I have to deal with some clients who don’t fully understand about the arts and culture. They don’t know why I combine antiques such as Chinese and Japanese cupboards and consoles into the space. I try to educate them but don’t want to bore them. These pieces are classics with original designs and stories. I only want to create the interior in the style that I want. I also like French furniture with good design, not too ornate or opulent, and definitely not some awful reproductions! The same things go for African icons and carvings or blue-and-white china. I want authenticity or stories, not some fakes. Some may be folk products but they are genuine. At least, the clients should understand that what I want is the best for them. I don’t follow their demands too much because I have my own style. Some want to hire me because of my fame, but not my styles or visions. It’s like buying paintings or artworks for the artist’s names but not their values.
“I enjoy searching for antiques. They give me a lot of inspirations. Then I learn more about them from reading history, folktales, and even cartoon strips. Sometimes I find out interesting information from Kabuki posters or Ramayana characters in a painting.
“Look at these tiles along the walls outside the dining room,” he says with a gesture. “They are blue-and-white Chinese tiles that I was inspired by the tiles along the main hall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the ones in Spain. I like it when things can complement and contrast. I have a taste for classics and timelessness such as combining Chinese, Japanese, and Thai flair and flavours together—like these bonsais and potted plants in these spaces. So when you mix these together, they last forever.”
Rooj Changtrakul has proven that he is the true arbiter of taste. He hints that he has a new and exciting hospitality project that fuses the arts and culture. We can’t wait to witness what will be unveiled.