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Ayesha Khan | Photo: Courtesy of The Siam | January 17, 2014
On Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, The Siam hotel merges traditional Thai elements with Art Deco design.
Nestled in the royal Dusit District in Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River, or “River of Kings,” The Siam is the first hotel venture for 43-year-old indie-rock star and actor Krissada Sukosol Clapp—though his family, owners of four hotels and resorts located around Bangkok and the seaside town of Pattaya, are hardly new to the hospitality scene. But the design story of The Siam is truly unique, one written by both Bill Bensley, the renowned architect and designer, and Sukosol Clapp himself, with his vast historical knowledge and penchant for antiques.
The Siam is comprised of 39 rooms, 11 of which are exclusive pool villas, with the remaining 28 luxury suites set in the main house around a sprawling atrium. According to Bensley, this triple-height space is “where the excitement is.” Its designer, lead architect Khemvadee Paopanlerd, drew inspiration for the atrium, which boasts a long fountain, serving as both a visual and auditory focal point for guests of the main house, from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. Suites all look inward, rather than out toward less picturesque surrounds of the hotel (although occupying a sought-after site by the river, the property is flanked by a firehouse on one side and a hospital on the other).
“It’s all about building visual containments and getting people to look only to the places that will be beautiful forever,” explains Bensley, who, along with his team, aimed to encourage a more social vacation atmosphere by creating common seating areas along the perimeter of the main courtyard—a gesture inspired by a 1908 hotel in nearby Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “I’m hoping that it will be a place where guests can meet each other. That’s unusual for hotels today. When you go out of your room, no one looks at each other.” One of the most fascinating spaces in the main house is the library and adjoining screening room, where a veritable archive of Thai history, from old newspaper clippings to precious artifacts, lines omnipresent cabinets and vitrines. It also happens to be Sukosol Clapp’s favorite space. “The greatest challenge for any architect and designer is to find that soul within the rooms and spaces they’ve built,” he explains. “I admit it’s not easy to get it right in every single dimension of a hotel, but that’s what we all strive for. I believe we’ve gotten it right at our library and screening room. With the antique books, centuries-old Thai earthenware all around and natural lighting, these spaces truly work for me.”
Suite interiors—replete, of course, with Sukosol Clapp’s antiques—all follow themes. So while you may find old pageant sashes and perfume bottles in the Beauty Queen suite, you will encounter military attire, vintage maps, medals and swords in its Military counterpart. Of these themed spaces, Sukosol Clapp’s favorite is the Expatriate suite. “It’s a room where our guests get to see how a variety of travelers settled into Siam,” he shares. “I display original photographs of English schoolteachers and Japanese barbers who made their livelihoods here. Also on the walls are local advertisements from vintage expat magazines that help explain their everyday activities. And there are 1930s Siamese postcards and an original Thai theater playbill welcoming U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Basically, it’s all about storytelling throughout the entire hotel.”
Away from the main house, for guests who prefer seclusion, there are 10 riverside villas with themes including Chinese, Thai colonial and midcentury Thai art, featuring individual pools, lushly landscaped courtyards and rooftop terraces overlooking the Chao Phraya. Although the array of themes may seem like a hodgepodge of design ideas, a monochromatic color scheme recurs throughout each suite and pool villa. “The one unifying element is the black-and-white theme,” Bensley explains. “With this pared-down color palette, the antiques look even better.” Another unifying factor is the hotel’s historical inspiration, which pays homage to the illustrious rule of King Rama V from 1868 to 1910, the period of Bangkok’s belle epoque.
The most unique lodging option offers a rare insight into Thai history. Connie’s Cottage—among the largest of the rooms at The Siam, with a generous 1,800 square feet—is an original teakwood home brought down the Chao Phraya from Ayutthaya. Named for its former owner, antiques collector Connie Mangskau, the cottage was sourced by American silk magnate Jim Thompson, and played host to the likes of Jackie Kennedy, John Rockefeller and Henry Ford. “Thai teak homes, for hundreds of years, have been designed to be movable as wars with neighboring kingdoms, floods, etcetera, made mobility in a home design preferred,” Bensley explains. “A Thai teak home is 100 percent wood. No nails were ever used, just wood pegs. This doesn’t damage the wood when they are assembled or disassembled.” Now, Connie’s Cottage is being completely redesigned in collaboration with a luxury fashion house. Although mum about the details, Sukosol Clapp says with a coy smile, “Their head of exhibit and archives recently stayed with us. It’s looking good, and I’m very excited!”
As for the challenges involved with bringing this design dream to fruition, both Bensley and Sukosol Clapp are quick to admit that achieving a time-weathered look on a new structure was not always easy. But a happy accident with the flooring actually eased the “aging process” along. “After just a year, some of our terrazzo floors began to crack,” Sukosol Clapp exclaims. “We were going to change them, until guests started to ask how we achieved such beautifully aged patina on our floors. Somehow they worked perfectly with the style and mood of the hotel. In fact, a lot of people think that our building is an original 1940s structure, when, in fact, it’s only a year and a half old.”
The Siam’s premises also feature a Thai restaurant and cooking school, an art deco-style bar and bistro, a deckside cafe, a rooftop conservatory, a spa and bathhouse, and even a Muay Thai boxing ring set inside a well-equipped state-of-the-art fitness center. These abundant amenities make skipping Bangkok’s traffic and pollution worthwhile. But should guests long for the city, it’s just a short boat ride off the hotel’s own riverside pier. Although, once settled in, it’s hard to leave. Rates from $500