ADVERTISEMENT

Couple turns dilapidated Bangkok houseboat into luxury villa

ADVERTISEMENT

Irma Go and her husband, Art Thepsoparn, were on a boat ride on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River in 2015 when they spotted three dilapidated wooden houses on stilts in the water.

“The beauty of old wood paneling immediately struck me,” Go, a former teacher, told Insider. What intrigued her even more was the “for sale” sign on the property.

“I pointed to the house and told Art we should buy it,” Go said. “But he said, ‘Are you crazy? He’s not even on the ground!'”

ADVERTISEMENT

As soon as they got back to their home in Bangkok’s business district, they called the number on the sign, but received no signal.

A year later, Go’s friend mentioned that she had seen a stilt house for sale online. Go arranged to meet the owners of the house. She was led through thick undergrowth to the riverbank, where she found three villas, each on stilts, surrounding a courtyard.

near the wooden house

Close-up of the wooden houses before being renovated.

Courtesy of Irma Go


“Each structure was raised above the water in an elaborate array of broken wooden planks,” Go said. “I could not believe what I was watching”.

Wooden chests and brass scales lined the interior of each villa. Ceramic jugs were scattered throughout the property for rainwater harvesting.

“We walked to the edge of the property where it meets the canal, and my body shuddered as I realized this was the same house I saw the year before,” Go said.

The owners were initially hesitant to sell the house, as it held sentimental value to them. The owner’s ancestor, a former royal palace tax collector, bought the land and built the first villa in 1910, Go said. The second villa was added after the owner got married; the third villa was built at the rear of his property when his own family started. The owner told Go that when she was a child, she would put her books on her head and swim across the river to go to school.

Go was struck by the desire to preserve this piece of history.

“I had been living in Thailand for 15 years, and in that short period of time I had seen so many houses disappear and be replaced by glitzy skyscrapers, hotels and shopping malls,” Go said.

The following Saturday, Go took her husband, who owns a research company, to visit the property. “Somebody had already made a higher offer, but I promised to be a good custodian of this historic land,” she Go said.

The couple created a company for the sole purpose of buying the property. The company obtained a mortgage and the couple injected capital into the company to cover the renovation project. Two months later, in May 2016, they received the keys to the property. Go refused to share the price of the property.

Preserving historical elements, but making them habitable in the modern world

Wood panels with number written on it

Go made sure the panels were marked as disassembled, so they could be reassembled correctly.

Courtesy of Irma Go


At first, the couple tried to leave the house, which is called Siri Sala, as it was, but they soon realized that modern life did not fit in with some traditional architectural elements. Single skin teak wood walls made the house warm during the day and the bathroom was separate from the main house.

Go and Thepsoparn decided to work with a Thai-born architect named Piram Banpabutr, who founded 4b Architects in Bangkok. Banpabutr had worked for Caroe & Partners in London, which specializes in restoring castles and churches.

“At first, I wanted to leave it as it was and add a new bathroom,” said Go. “But the architects talked me out of it because it was a death trap waiting to happen.”

Go said he still had some misgivings about renovating such a traditional property.

“Since I’m from the Philippines, I thought I might be looking at Thai culture from a foreign perspective,” said Go. “And although Art was born in Thailand, he is of Chinese descent. We walked very lightly because we were afraid of making the wrong decisions.”

In search of inspiration, they traveled to the heritage city of Ayutthaya and the riverside town of Ratchaburi to see the works of Thai artisans.

Siri Sala's terrace

Go has since transformed the estate into a luxury villa, where the three houses are connected by a courtyard.

Courtesy of Irma Go


Keeping the spirit of the original design

Go and Thepsoparn began looking to posh hotels for inspiration, but eventually scrapped plans for Western-style fountains, a wine cellar, and an underground spa.

“The project was headed for excessive grandeur, so we had to keep editing and reminding ourselves that we’re building a house and not a hotel,” said Go.

“We struggled to find a balance,” added Go. “Two years were spent debating and editing to arrive at the correct interpretations.”

They decided to keep the spirit of the original design: three Thai structures sharing a raised patio and river views. Eventually, they moved the houses to the mainland.

A bedroom in Siri Room with wooden walls

Each of the renovated rooms features original features.

Courtesy of Irma Go


“We did our best to police ourselves in the decisions we made,” Go said. “We had an architect draw accurate renderings of the houses before they were taken apart; we hired craftsmen from Ayutthaya to mark each plank before taking them apart so the house could be put back together correctly; and we even hired a film crew to interview the mother and son about their memories of growing up in these water houses.

Over the next five months, the builders dismantled the villas, built a flood wall and filled it with earth. They also rebuilt the stilt houses further back from the river to have an elevated view of the river.

The oldest stilt house also showed signs of wear and tear from being in the water for 100 years, so the couple removed it from its stilts and reused it to turn it into a bar, which now stands in the garden.

Siri Sala's heritage bar

The oldest house was transformed into a bar.

Courtesy of Irma Go


Go and Thepsoparn also ensured that no part of the original building went to waste. They converted old floorboards into dining tables, stairs, and benches.

“When they moved in, I told them to leave everything they no longer wanted behind. Their old water pitchers became our treasures,” Go said of the original owners.

Even though they recycled as much as they could, they still went over budget: Go said the five-year renovation cost them three times the amount they paid for the property.

Go now rents the beachfront villa from $3,600 per night

Siri Sala along the Chao Phraya River

The luxury beachfront villa, Siri Sala, now sits on land alongside the Chao Phraya River.

Courtesy of Irma Go


Today, the beachfront villa has five bedrooms, a library, a game room, a 65-foot saltwater pool, and a garden filled with Thai herbs. The private villa is available to rent from $3,600 per night on the official Siri Sala website.

Lucrecia Rodríguez de Acuña from Bangkok, owner of a party decoration company, rented the villa for her three-generation family to celebrate New Year’s Eve in 2021.

“Siri Sala is in the center of the city, but it’s very private,” Acuña said.

As Siri Sala is spread across the three old stilt houses, it gave her family the option to blend in or have their own space. “It’s as luxurious as a hotel, but it has a homey feel to it,” she added.

Go, for her part, said she enjoys entertaining guests at her home and showing a new generation of people a piece of history: “When I look down at the river, I often think of the adventurers, royals and merchants who once crossed its waters”. path.”

sniloans