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