On the eve of his company’s latest rock-star condominium opening in Bangkok, Matthew Scott sat down with OU BAHOLYODHIN, chief creative officer for Sansiri, one of Thailand’s largest real estate developers.
The wanderer in Ou Baholyodhin took him around the world as he sought to expand his horizons, both figuratively and creatively. But Thailand was always calling. “Coconut trees, sandy beaches and gentle people,” says the designer, when asked what it was that brought him back home after a career in the United Kingdom and beyond – a career that saw him lend his talents to furniture, architecture, cooking and writing.
Born in Thailand and schooled in the UK, Baholyodhin’s creative journey started more by chance – but he suggests that sometimes in life, things seem meant to be. “While still at university, I entered the Muji international design competition,” he recalls. “Out of 5,000 entries from over 50 countries, I was one of only a handful who received an award. It may not have affirmed that I had a talent for design but it was a much-needed morale booster, which has kept me going until today.”
The 52-year-old first carved a niche for himself among the world’s creatives through the Ou Baholyodhin Studio (OBS) he opened in London in 1997. Through OBS, the Baholyodhin touch could soon be found through the re-imaging of the K-Bars brand, at destinations such as its club on Wardour Street in London’s Soho, and the K-Bar Chelsea. Later would come Mayfair’s first Patara Fine Dining Restaurant, which helped bring modern Thai dining into the collective culinary consciousness.
There was also work on the restoration of one of London’s most acclaimed private residences. Baholyodhin bought and then helped return to its full glory the “Penthouse at Highpoint” that modernist pioneer Berthold Lubetkin had built in the 1930s. The 1,550-square-foot apartment had become known as a classic example of the very best in British pre-war architecture.
“I learnt so much from 10 years of living in London,” he says. “Firstly, that design isn’t just about style but rather about substance, about sensitivity and sensibility. I learnt how to be soulful and at the same time whimsical.”
Jim Thompson, Thailand’s silk manufacturing giant, brought Baholyodhin on as creative director in 2000, and allowed his talents to flourish. There were acclaimed moves into literature – with Living with Zen (2000) and Being with Flowers (2001) – and then, after seven years of driving the ambitions of the design and manufacturing giants, there was a retreat back from London and to the south of Thailand.
Some time to rest and to reflect followed, and when Jim Thompson called again in 2013, Baholyodhin helped recreate and redirect the company’s luxury textile business. There were eight collections.
Since February 2018, his attentions have been fully focused on a new role, that of chief creative officer for Sansiri, among Thailand’s largest real estate developers. It’s a different life entirely, given the fact that Sansiri is currently driving dozens of projects across the nation, with a combined worth of more than 46.6 billion Baht. “Office hours at Sansiri are extremely intense as we tend to work on about 30 projects a year,” says Baholyodhin. “Having said that, I don’t get to spend much time in the office since work takes me away almost half the time. During these frequent trips, I tend to have much more of a work-life balance, jet lag aside …”
Pride of place is taken by the Sansiri Luxury Collection residences in Bangkok and the Khun by Yoo flagship project (which is officially titled “Khun by Yoo, Inspired by Starck”, as it takes its inspiration from global design doyen Philippe Starck), opening in November.
Set against the backdrop of the capital’s trendy Soi Thonglor district, these residential spaces have been designed with “industrial heritage” as their motif, using naked concrete, copper, whetstone and marble to capture the area’s “contemporary spirit”, according to Sansiri. The 27-storey landmark will features 148 residences, along with a swimming pool, library, rooftop garden and movie theatre. These are some very modern touches in a city rich with history, and Baholyodhin reveals in closing how his inspirations come from projects that show a similar inventiveness.
Asked to look back through history, and nominate one property or building anywhere in the world that he wishes he could have been involved in, Baholyodhin opts for a famed residence in Beverly Hills, one that showcases its creator’s pure passion. “There are so many very impressive buildings in the world by great architects and developers, but if I had to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty I would choose Dawnridge, the home of artist and decorator Tony Duquette,” he says. “It’s a testimony to the creativity and intricacy an artistic, inventive and resourceful mind can achieve.”