Cover Story: In Discussion With Kantaluk Hongladarom
KPN land’s former chief operating officer ying Kantaluk Hongladarom, the mastermind behind luxury condominium The Diplomat 39, brings to mind the famous words of Coco Chanel: “A girl should be two things—classy and fabulous.” Well-versed and eloquent, Kantaluk exudes a grace and confidence that reflect her upbringing. She attended boarding school in Australia from the age of seven before heading to a Swiss finishing school and later the United States, earning a degree in economics at Boston University before a second degree in business at Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration. From a young age she has travelled the world—experiences that have helped to form her perspectives on aesthetics and style and her sense of independence. Here she muses on her philosophies and the life journey she has taken to become the person she is today.
Kantaluk showed her independent nature by following her own path into high finance. “After graduating, I began my career at Goldman Sachs and later moved to SGV-Arthur Andersen in Bangkok as a consultant,” she says. In fact, she spent the best part of a decade honing her management skills and acquiring corporate experience before returning to help with family business interests, taking care of golf courses and a hotel under the Siam Motors Group, which is part of the wider family conglomerate. It wasn’t until four years ago that she finally joined KPN Land. Within a year and a half she was promoted to the position of chief operating officer.
When talking about her business philosophy and management style, Kantaluk’s forward-thinking shows through. “I always encourage my teams to think outside the box—beyond simply their individual roles and scope of work—and I believe it’s okay to make mistakes. You can’t move forward thinking ‘if only I’d known this, I would have done that’. What is important is that you’ve taken into account all the information available and you’ve tried to come up with the best solution. So for me, with both life and work there should be no regrets. You make the most informed decision you can at the time and you move on.”
An avid lover of art and design, the 47-year-old’s passion spans both her work and private life. Whether it is for her own living space or real estate projects under her care, Kantaluk’s eye for tasteful décor is reflected in every detail—from ornate patterned wallpaper to lush materials and pieces of art and antiques hand-picked by the lady herself. This is particularly evident at The Diplomat 39, which exudes a classic, timeless style. “When it comes to design, I always aim for something that’s classic but modern enough so that one wouldn’t feel that the design is dated,” she explains. As its name suggests, The Diplomat 39 oozes understated charm, eschewing brashness for a more urbane feel—indeed, the luxury condominium could be a metaphor for Kantaluk herself.
A perfectionist who embraces the imperfections in life, Kantaluk believes that interior decoration is a personal and organic process. “It’s like creating a private collection of the things one loves. Whether you are decorating your own home or a project like The Diplomat 39, it is never a finished product—it’s organic and ever-growing, with things always being added or removed as tastes and practicalities change. A home, after all, should be lived in. It’s very personal,” she smiles. “The same applies to the art that I’ve bought. I buy pieces because they are beautiful, rather than because I need them for a particular space.” In terms of approach she adds, “I don’t have a particular style. In fact, I used to think of myself as a mixed salad—when you pick all the vegetables that you like and mix them up. I believe in metamorphosis and the synchronicity of different designs. Because I’ve travelled quite a lot, I tend to draw inspiration from what I’ve seen—from my own memories and experiences.”
Certainly something of a globetrotter, Kantaluk loves to visit art fairs to select pieces both for herself and her projects. “My cousin and I visit the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht almost every year. Then I take some time to travel around Europe, visiting different art centres and my favourite antique stores. I love art and architecture. People who create things inspire me. The ability of human beings to create is a wonder to me. I’m a firm believer in expressing oneself and with art and architecture, one feels like they are sharing part of their experience and life with you through their work.”
When speaking about art, her eyes seem to light up. “I can recall exactly how I felt when I purchased a particular piece of art, so in a way collecting has become like a photo album for me. What I love about art is that it sparks discussion, and it’s such a great way to engage and interact with people. Art can be so subjective and the diversity of opinions is what makes it so beautiful. I also love to visit museums and galleries, especially the smaller ones.” Some of her favourites include The Frick Collection in New York and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.
Her career aside, Kantaluk is a doting mother to her 17-year-old daughter Kaye and the two have a close relationship. “I admit I can be a workaholic at times but I do try to balance it with my personal life. My daughter and I have an agreement that I take her to school myself. That means every day I drive her across town, which gives us time to talk. In addition we try to have dinner together every evening, which is why I don’t attend that many social gatherings and evening events.” The pair also make ideal travel companions. “I often take Kaye with me when I go overseas. She loves looking round museums and galleries too. The first time I took her to Paris, she ended up visiting the Louvre for five days in a row,” Kantaluk laughs.
As a mother and a busy female executive, one wonders what her perspective is on gender equality. “I think it is more relevant now than it has ever been. Despite the fact that we’ve moved forward and the feminist movement is increasingly active, the challenges of gender inequality still remain and I see this in my work every day. I think it has to do with the industry itself because real estate is such a male-dominated field—especially the construction and engineering sides of it.”
Add to this Kantaluk’s background and she points out that the challenge doubles. “What I’ve discovered, especially here in Asia, is that when you come from a more privileged background there will always be the notion that you have succeeded primarily because of your family name—your credibility is called into question. And so you end up having to work harder to prove yourself, much more so than other people. It is a constant theme in what I do…saying ‘no, actually I know what I’m doing’. It does make life more challenging, but it’s a challenge that I’m happy to take on.”
Photography: Chaiwat Kangsamrith
Style: Sachon Kunajiramedt
Makeup: Jiranat Tangpaisalkij
Hair: Pichet Poobanthat
Venue: The Diplomat 39
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