Architecture / Global Cottage / Thailand

My Love Affair With Jim Thompson

JT

It all began innocently enough 10 years ago. It was our first trip to Bangkok, we were sitting in the hotel looking through all our tourist info, trying to decide what to see, when James said, “Hey, this sounds cool.
It’s some guy’s house who designed Thai silk fabric. Wanna go?”

Of course … he’d said the magic word. Silk. He knew I was addicted to that luscious fabric, so how could I resist. Little did I know that I would fall hopelessly in love with Jim Thompson’s … house.

Now, 10 years later, we revisited the scene of the seduction.

Just a Sky Train Ride Away. It’s hard to believe that a few blocks from Bangkok’s bustling Sky Train is a calm, tropical oasis. You step into another world … and time melts away when you enter the gates of the Jim Thompson House.

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James H.W. Thompson is a legend in Thailand. A former military intelligence officer, he was an American entrepreneur who revitalized the Thai silk industry, founded the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company, then mysteriously disappeared without a trace in 1967 while vacationing in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. He took a walk on Easter Sunday … and never came back!

Thompson’s business was a true cottage industry. His silk was woven by women in their homes in the Bangkok village of Ban Krua. Since he visited the artisans every morning, he decided to buy a piece of land just across the klong (canal) from the village to build his house.

And what a house … not in the grand sense, but in its embrace of elegant simplicity.

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“Thompson was deeply captivated by the nostalgic charm of old, and more simple Bangkok. The enchanting aspects of life along the klong or waterways, fascinated him. Wooden houses, some in the traditional Thai style, in the cool shade of trees lining the river banks, their branches arching over across the klong. The daily traffic – boats plying up and down the waterway selling their wares…With city noises muted by the trees and by the klong, the pace seems visibly slower.” –Thompson Foundation

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Thompson purchased six old Thai wooden houses from around the country, then had them dismantled and shipped to his Bangkok property. Then they were reassembled to form one large house that is open and airy, yet intimate with its oiled teak walls and dark interiors. The supporting columns and walls of the house lean slightly inward, adding to the illusion of height and grace. Thompson then adorned his home with minimal Asian antiques and art, paired with luxurious silk fabrics.

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The Perfect House for a Couple of Nomads. One practical feature of the Thai house is that it can be easily assembled or taken down. The entire house is built in light, pre-fabricated sections – each section forms a wall. Then each wall is fitted together and hung on the superstructure – a frame of wooden pillars – without nails. The fact that the house could be taken down and re-assembled suited the Thai way of life. Families moved often, so the house would be taken down, stacked on a raft and floated down the nearest klong to a new location. Now, that’s my kind of house!

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The tropical landscape surrounding the house is stunning, lush with greenery, patch-worked with koi-laden ponds, and studded with urns full of water lilies and orchids.

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Oh, and I almost forgot about the silk. Well, that’s a whole other story.

Peace and Love,
Terri

If you liked this post, then check these out:

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A Little Jazz in the Jim Thompson Garden

The Constant Gardener

The Fascinating Thai Spirit Houses

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34 thoughts on “My Love Affair With Jim Thompson

  1. Lovely blog, bringing to mind good memories. My first visit at Jim Thompson’s house was over 20 years ago, and the last time this spring. It’s always a pleasure. Thanks Terri.

  2. I’ve never been there, but it seems only fitting that the first house to make silk would be made without nails. Nice post!

  3. Great story – we are looking forward to visiting Thailand, now more than ever. I guess lots of other people are, too. I just read the tourist report on visitors to the world’s top cities – Bangkok is on track to pass London as the most visited city in the world this year based on travelers staying at least one night.
    Every new story I read about Thailand makes it sound that much more appealing. – Mike

    • Thanks Mike. I was just reading that tourist report too. It’s such a transportation hub for that part of the world, and I think many folks just pass through on their way to other destinations. I’ve always been glad we took the time to get to know the city. Other area of Thailand are also fabulous – and not nearly as busy – so hopefully you’ll find something you like. All the best, Terri

  4. There is an excellent book about the unsolved mystery of JIM THOMPSON. It is by William Warren. I have a beautiful collection of silk scarves, purses, pillow covers and so on by Jim Thompson. I collect textiles and the colours of his silk are gorgeous. This man appreciated beauty in all forms. Virginia

    • Virginia, thanks for the book recommendation. I just checked our library, but they don’t have it, so I ordered it from Amazon for a penny – how do they do that! I’m really looking forward to reading it. It sounds like you have a lovely Jim Thompson collection. I’m particularly fond of the pillow covers that I can change out seasonally. ~Terri

      • You are a woman after my own heart. I have a pair of Jim Thompson blue and white elephant pillows that I call my summer pillows. I am besotted with pillows. And, because I love textiles and I sew I am always whipping up a “new look” for my pillow wardrobe. Virginia

  5. Oh, please can I reassemble just a tiny portion of that house here in my backyard? The style is so beautiful. Glad i came back to read this piece. And next the silk? 🙂

    • I’m with you Jo! I would be happy with just 1 of the 6 houses he put together! 🙂 I had never appreciated the “cooling effect” of a dark wood interior until I stepped inside from the intense heat and was instantly soothed. Ahhh! Now I must work on the silk. ~Terri

  6. Well, yes, a portable house is perfect for people like us! I am intrigued by so many aspects of this story, including the silk. I am a bit of a textile addict in general. Thanks for once again bringing an intriguing corner of the world to my little laptop. Life is good.

    • Louise, I think I’ve been a textile addict since birth! My Mom was a wonderful teacher – she’d take me to a fabric store and introduce me to different materials by having me close my eyes and feel the textures. To this day I can’t walk through a fabric store without running my fingers across the bolts. If you and Tom decide to wander that part of the world, you’ll love the Jim Thompson house. So glad to hear that life is good – you both have been through a lot. ~Terri

  7. This post brings back memories of visiting the home — a welcomed oasis in the insanity of Bangkok! I brought back Jim Thompson scarves as gifts for lucky friends. 🙂 —Jadi

  8. OMG Terri, two of my favorite words… Jim Thompson. I, too, am infatuated. And the mystery of his disappearance makes me want to go search the Cameron Highlands. I can’t go to Bangkok without a trip to the outlet! Divine. We have a Jim Thompson Thai restaurant here in Singapore. The interior decor (and food) is exquisite. Thanks for sharing your love affair!

    • Judy, it’s a real gem of a place! We were lucky to stumble across it in some tourist literature, or we would have missed it too. I guess now you’ll just have to go back! 🙂 ~Terri

  9. What a wonderful description of the Jim Thompson House experience. We visited there our first day in Bangkok. It was the perfect place for a jet lagged pair.

    • Thank you so much Shelley! I can definitely imagine that the calming atmosphere of the garden would be soothing to jet lag. I’m so glad you stopped by! All the best, Terri

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