Hailing from a political family on his father's side (his paternal great grandfather was head of the Thai military in the 1900s) and a creative family on his mother's side (his maternal grandfather designed the house where he grew up), Ou Baholyodhin spent his formative years in London, first in school and then as a prolific designer. His CV lists the design of trendy nightspots K-Bars throughout the United Kingdom, a spell as creative director of Jim Thompson, and glamorous residential interiors around the globe. After a six-year hiatus on a Thai coconut plantation, he returned to his hometown, Bangkok. In his current role as chief creative officer for Sansiri, one of the largest real- estate developers in Thailand, he talks about bringing international style to luxury Thai residences.
Where does your creative side come from?
My mother's side of the family was very artistic. My grandparents and father imported furniture from Europe that they mixed with Thai designs. They paid attention to interior design. At the age of 10, I left Bangkok for boarding school in the Midlands [UK]. It was very English: traditional and sporty. It taught me to be independent, strong and tough. After secondary school, my mother insisted that I get a sensible degree, and then do whatever I liked. I graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in international relations, and then I went to Kingston University to study furniture design.
Why did you stay in London after graduation?
All my other friends went back to Thailand. Instead, I chose to be a nobody in England. I wanted to make it without any help from my family. I started my own design studio at the age of 30 in 1996. I wanted to do my own thing.
How did you get involved with designing K-Bars?
I designed a window display for Joseph at Brompton Cross, the most influential fashion store in London. It led to many jobs, including K-Bars throughout the UK during 1996 and '97. I see myself as a curator of experiences. My projects included more than interiors; they were about arrival, details, fragrance, lighting – interiors were just part of it. Most of my jobs were about creating events. I did a lot of work for music labels such as Sony Music and its after-parties.
Then Jim Thompson came calling…
About 20 years ago, Jim Thompson was expanding abroad and wanted a Thai person with an international outlook. It was ideal for me, and led to a long and fruitful relationship. I left the company as how Jim would have wanted it if he remained alive – I never wanted to make my own mark. It was like polishing a gem. I see my job at Sansiri now as the same thing.
You retired at the age of 40. Tell us about that.
I made a pact with friends to retire when we turned 40. I was the only one who kept my word! A lot of people retire too late, when they are bed-bound or without their wits and can't do anything. I wanted to retire when I could enjoy it. My family had property on a private island and I spent years there cooking, farming and hanging with loved ones. It gave me time to think and breathe. But after five-and-a-half years, I got bored.
And you returned to Jim Thompson…
In 2013, I became its creative director for home furnishings. It was a full-time job to bring back the brand's authentic spirit, working with collections dating back four decades. After six years there, I pretty much fulfilled my role. I had closure and was ready to move on.
Is that when Sansiri knocked on your door?
The timing was right. Sansiri offered me a chief creative officer position, something that was never offered before in the development industry.
When I was still with Jim Thompson, I worked in its office on the outskirts of the city, an area that was fairly rough. I needed a place to live nearby and the only decent place was a Sansiri development. I lived there for a year and grew to like it. The facilities were great, I had good neighbours, and it felt safe. It was well-maintained, with well-trained housekeeping and concierge. Like many Thais, I heard that Sansiri was known for quality, design and innovation. But it is not the same as my first-hand experience living in one of its residences.
What are your responsibilities at Sansiri?
Sansiri develops around 30 projects each year and they range from gated communities to detached homes. Every property goes through me, especially the upper-end ones. I bring an international style that helps improve the company's design, tastes and services. I am the custodian of Sansiri's pillars for its luxury collection and help to refine them. These include uncompromising quality and excellent materials sourced from all over the world.
Tell us about Sansiri's latest development: KHUN by YOO, Inspired by Starck.
It is a single tower with 148 units and will be complete by November. KHUN offers curated experiences with a concierge similar to a hotel one. There is a key person that will book residents into popular bars and restaurants. While for Bangkok the size may be considered small, there is a good shower and good bedroom. The property is in the centre of town where there are both great restaurants and street food; there is no need for a huge kitchen. Life is bigger outside. The development is in the heart of Bangkok's CBD, at Thong Lo BTS station, in a residential part of town. The district has a lot of smaller independent boutique hotels and stand-alone Michelin- starred restaurants. It is eclectic and savvy.
Photos. Photography courtesy of Delivery Asia