A couple transforms a dilapidated floating house in Bangkok into a luxury villa

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

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

“I showed the house and told Art we should buy it,” Go said. “But he said, ‘You crazy, that’s not even on earth!'”

As soon as they got home to Bangkok’s business district, they called the number on the panel, but received a dead signal.

A year later, Go’s friend mentioned she saw a stilt house for sale online. Appointment organized to meet the owners of the house. They led her past thick vegetation to the edge of the river, where she found three villas, each on stilts, surrounding a courtyard.

Close up of wooden house

Close-up of wooden houses before renovation.

Courtesy of Irma Go

“Each structure was lifted above the water in an elaborate matrix of broken wooden planks,” Go said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

Wooden chests and brass scales lined the interior of each villa. Ceramic jars have been scattered throughout the property for rainwater collection.

“We walked to the edge of the property where it met the canal, and my body pricked realizing it was the same house I had seen the year before,” Go said.

The owners were initially hesitant to sell the house, as it had 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 married; the third villa was built at the back of her property when she started her own family. The landlady told Go that as a child she put her books on her head and swam across the river to go to school.

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

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

The following Saturday, Go brought her husband, owner of a research company, to visit the property. “Someone had already bid higher, but I swore to be a good guardian for this legendary land,” Go said.

The couple set up a company for the sole purpose of buying the property. The business took out a mortgage and the couple injected capital into the business 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.

Preserve historic elements — but make them livable in the modern world

Wooden signs with number written on them

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

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 living didn’t sit well with some traditional architectural elements. The single skin teak 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 specialized in restoring castles and churches.

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

Go said she still had qualms about renovating such a traditional property.

“Being from the Philippines, I thought I might look at Thai culture with a foreign lens,” Go said. “And although Art was born in Thailand, he is of Chinese descent. that we were afraid of making the wrong decisions.”

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

The terrace of Siri Sala

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 layout

Go and Thepsoparn began looking for inspiration in fine hotels, but eventually abandoned plans for Western-style fountains, a wine cellar, and an underground spa.

“The project was heading towards excessive grandeur, so we had to keep editing and remembering that we’re building a house, not a hotel,” Go said.

“We struggled to find a balance,” Go added. “Two years of debating and editing to find the right interpretations.”

They decided to retain the spirit of the original layout: three Thai structures sharing an elevated courtyard and river views. Eventually they moved the houses to dry land.

A bedroom in Siri Sala with wooden walls

Each of the refurbished rooms has original features.

Courtesy of Irma Go

“We tried very hard to control ourselves in the decisions we made,” Go said. “We had an architect sketch accurate representations of the houses before they were taken down; of Ayutthaya to mark each plank before it was taken down, so the house could be reassembled properly; and we even hired a film crew to interview the mother and son about their memories of growing up in these houses on the water.”

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 after being in the water for 100 years, so the couple pulled it off its stilts and reused it in a bar, which now sits in the garden.

The Siri Sala Heritage Bar

The oldest house has been transformed into a bar.

Courtesy of Irma Go

Go and Thepsoparn have also ensured that no part of the original building is lost. They transformed old floors into dining tables, stairs and benches.

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

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

Go now rents the waterfront villa from $3,600 a night

Siri Sala along the Chao Phraya River

The luxury waterfront villa, Siri Sala, now sits on land by the Chao Phraya River.

Courtesy of Irma Go

Today, the waterfront villa has five bedrooms, a library, a games room, a 65-foot saltwater swimming pool and a garden full of Thai herbs . The private villa is available for rent starting at $3,600 a night on the official Siri Sala website.

Lucrecia Rodríguez de Acuña from Bangkok, who owns a party decorations business, rented the villa for her three-generation family to celebrate the New Year in 2021.

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

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

Go, for her part, said she enjoys welcoming guests into her home and showing a new generation of people a slice of history: “When I look down the river, I often think of adventurers. , to the royals and merchants who once roamed its path.”

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