Turning the corner out of a hot non-descript alleyway in a residential area of Vibhavadi Rangsit, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to a set of high, matching wooden gates; faded and weathered rectangular canvases framed by neat white gateposts, a pleasing anomaly in the surrounding environment. The gates give access to the home of renowned architect Duangrit Bunnag, or Duang, and speak of his desire for privacy.
On entering the premise one emerges into an airy and spacious decked courtyard reminiscent of the atrium in an ancient Roman villa, except where one would expect to find the villa’s impluvium (rainwater pool), here the central feature is a single large Bignonieae, 0r "Kae-na" tree, a living, breathing sculpture that rises above the building.
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Connected to the deck and uninterrupted, save for a wooden door that leads to the interior, glass-panelled walls take up the length of the house. It is through this transparent screen that the interior and the exterior are connected, allowing residents and visitors to take in the full expanse of the view from indoors. Although Duangrit’s house seems to reflect the oft-quoted expression of less is more, the architect isn’t a purist who neglects the necessities of a comfortable home. The transparent floor to ceiling facade, though a perfect display of life within, does not render its inhabitant into feeling like a prowling animal surrounded by glass walls.
The clean, simple line of the ascending staircase allows natural light to flow in while acting as a partition that keeps the kitchen hidden away from view, so that from outside the house appears as a modular capsule divided between the living room, the staircase and the entrance. The entry hall is free from adornment, save for a bench and two framed vintage cartoon posters. To the left is a passageway, lined with worktops and cabinets that comprise the galley-style kitchen. Although it may seem strange, it is only through the kitchen that one can access the dining and living room. “It is quite a practical circulation,” Duangrit explains. “When you come home with groceries and so on, you can drop them off as you enter the house instead of having to carry them to the back.”
Through the kitchen the space widens into the dining and living room areas. An oversized Pallucco lamp is placed at one end of the Porro dining table, its warm yellow light providing a mellow addition to the natural light from outside. The furniture in the room is a tasteful assortment of minimalistic pieces and market finds. No jarring, loud pieces; each item complements the other, creating a harmonious balance between the architecture and the interior of the house. “For me there is no separation between architecture and interiors, it’s about the whole spatial design. When you draw up an architectural plan without thinking about the interior, it won’t work. You have to consider every single aspect of form and function; from interior to architecture to landscape,” says Duangrit.
Modern and timeless in its appearance, it is hard to believe that the house has been built over 17 years ago. “It was designed with moderation. Many architects don’t have much funding at the beginning of their careers, and I too was in that boat. So I had to think of a way to construct the home within budget and I realised it was all about moderation. Moderate in the sense of appearance, the way the house was going to be built, and moderate in terms of cost,” he explains. The project was a valuable exercise. “Designing the house was a very good experience for me. Back then I was just starting out and I’d never designed an actual house before. This property was my first and I learnt a lot from it. It provided fundamental aspects that could be used in later projects for my clients.”
When the original house was first built, it was a simple two storey and courtyard scheme that later expanded. “The original home took only 14-16 months to build, while the rest has been added over the years. I think I renovated and extended twice in the first 10 years but stopped expanding about seven years ago. It was initially just this dining room and the upper floor—very simple. Later I added the private living room and more storage space. I also designed my sister’s house next door, which is more like an extension of this home.” The buildings weren’t the only things that expanded over time, as Duangrit points out. “The tree in the courtyard also grew bigger and bigger. We’ve even had a problem with the deck exploding,” he laughs. Wood was also an issue when Duangrit discovered that the beachwood floors throughout the house were swelling due to moisture and humidity, necessitating their replacement with teak.
Upstairs a long, bright corridor leads to a spacious living room-cum-study where Duangrit spends much of his free time. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves take up an entire wall, filled with reading matter ranging from coffee-table books on design to sciencefiction paperbacks. A large glass-topped table where the architect writes his online blog and occasional newspaper articles sits in front of the bookshelves. In one corner are guitars and a drum kit, both of which Duangrit plays. Though he enjoys spending time in this room, he also likes to use the other corners in his house. “On weekdays I usually go straight to my bedroom after work. However, at the weekends I always spend time in either the downstairs living room or up here. Sometimes when the weather is nice, I like to sit outside and have dinner in the courtyard. Every part of the house is my favourite, I would say.”
When asked about his design principles, the architect explains. “I always keep things simple. I have never designed houses, whether my own or for my clients, to be a homage to my profession. I design homes within the context of the people who will live in them, conscious of the budget, of the location.”