Tatler Home Tour: The View From Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz's New Bangkok Condo
This month we have the pleasure of visiting the recently acquired Bangkok pied-a-terre of Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz. A descendant of a Belgian adviser to King Rama V and member of the aristocratic family that founded brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, the billionaire philanthropist’s new 326 sqm residence is located on the 53rd floor of Magnolias Ratchadamri Boulevard, part of a mixed-used project comprising the super luxury condominium and the plush Waldorf Astoria Bangkok.
Count Gerald is the founder of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, a charitable organisation named after the aforementioned Belgian ancestor who advised King Chulalongkorn between 1892 and 1901. A resident of Thailand for over two decades now, he is already the proud owner of another luxury apartment in the Ratchadamri area and a uniquely beautiful all-wooden property in Chiang Rai. “I really like this part of town and I wanted a bigger place that I could also use as an office for the foundation. This apartment is perfect for entertaining friends informally and for meeting visitors who come on foundation business. My first guest was Princess Lea of Belgium, so I got off to an auspicious start,” he chuckles.
A dramatic sweep of floor-to-ceiling windows greets arrivals, curving away to the left as the largely open-plan apartment unfolds following the building’s oval contouring. “It’s an interesting shape and allows for a spectacular balcony that runs almost the full curve of the unit’s facade,” Count Gerald explains. “That said, the shape made it a challenge to decorate.” In this regard he was assisted by FridayStudio Interior Design who created a series of ‘islands’ within the unit, each with its own purpose or function.
The first welcomes visitors opposite the entrance, a comfy area with an off-white marble-clad coffee table surrounded by grey couches sporting throw cushions in pale silks in front of a flat-screen television. A contrast of textures is provided by a plush carpet with a pale blue tree of life pattern over black marble flooring. Beneath the television stands an antique-looking Oriental lacquered wooden commode on which a framed image of the late King Rama IX, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother and King Baudouin I of Belgium has pride of place. “I have to admit, I am a bit of a royalist,” laughs the Count. “I’m fond of this particular picture [taken during the late King Bhumibol’s visit to Brussels in 1960] because it illustrates the strong relationship between Thailand and Belgium, which began over 150 years ago. You’ll find many photos of different royals about the place.”
Viewed as a whole this is a contemporary apartment with touches of the classic. Which is a puzzle at first because the owner confesses he initially told the interior designer he didn’t want any wood at all. “The house in Chiang Rai has all the wood I need. A property like that requires constant maintenance. This time I wanted a contemporary hotel-like style but once the decor was completed I felt something was missing. Everything was a bit too gleamy,” he chuckles. Using this as a good excuse for a shopping spree the Count headed to Chatuchack market. The result? The tasteful wooden commode underneath the television, retro-looking golden fans and various other decorative Asian wood carvings and objets d’art.
To the right of the comfy area is a guest bedroom with its own en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet. The décor is kept simple. Blue sheets and covers on the bed are just a few of the numerous items in the room sporting the hue, one of the owner’s favourite colours. Back in the body of the apartment the open-floor plan sweeps left with the next ‘island’ centred on a large oval column decorated with Russian dolls and other miniature decorative items. This is Count Gerald’s preferred spot, a bright nook where a small desk faces the window. “The view is marvelous and I like to keep the windows wide open because the fresh breeze is wonderful. You see an expanse of blue up here and great city silhouettes at sunset.” An elegant stone dining table comes next, beyond which is a white marble-topped bar with three stools. “Because the family is in the beer industry, you will always find a bar on my boat and in my houses,” he laughs.
The bar area gives way to another workstation originally intended as the owner’s home office. Slim flat decorative pillars demarcate the space. A dark wooden desk looks out from the centre and behind it a bust of King Chulalongkorn stands on a low cabinet. Here glassed shelves display a small collection the Count’s many accolades, awards and medals and more photographs of him with royalty and internationally recognised figures.
Reaching the final section of the apartment we come to another comfy area with a small grey couch facing another TV. The cosy niche leads to a short corridor off which is the master bedroom. Much like the guest bedroom the décor is simple and again navy blue abounds. What is unusual here is that there is more to the corridor than meets the eye. What appears to be a dead end—a built-in white shelving unit—is in fact a concealed door. “This is our office proper, where we do much of the admin work for the foundation. Initially it was another bedroom,” Count Gerry explains. A large conference table and a small kitchenette take up most of room.
While the apartment’s interior is complete, the balcony has yet to be decorated with plants or outdoor furniture. “I haven’t had time to do it yet but I will,” sighs the Count. “I still split my time between the two apartments in Bangkok and I go to Chiang Rai twice a month—more when the weather is nice and cool. There’s really no place in Thailand quite like my home in Chiang Rai. This new residence is a work in process though. Comfortable and inviting already but not yet the finished article. Perhaps I need to visit Chatuchack again.”
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