Cover Story: Dao Vichada Sitakalin's Modern Design Eye Is Guided By Tradition
Ask Vichada Sitakalin, or Dao as she is known, to describe herself and somewhere in her reply you will probably hear the phrase ‘home-bird’ or something similar. For the mother of two family is everything. “I grew up in a very large and warm family,” she says. “My father Visit Pongsathorn has 11 siblings, so you can imagine the cousins—and we are all very close, always meeting up at the grandparents’ at the weekend.” Spending her formative years in such a clan-like environment was a valuable experience and Dao admits that it is something she wants for her children too.
Learning to find her personality and voice among her boisterous contemporaries, the Bangkok native attended Mater Dei School until her sophomore year and then relocated to San Francisco to continue her studies at the Convent of the Sacred Heart high school. “I already had an interest in interior design by then and when I realised I could make a career out of it there was nothing else I wanted to do,” she explains. “My art teacher in San Francisco helped me put together a portfolio and I managed to get a place at the Rhode Island School of Design studying interior architecture.”
After graduation Dao found work at prominent design firms in Boston, where she spent three happy years before moving to New York to work at BBGM Architects and Interiors. Her two years in the Big Apple were among her best in the States and they were important too because it was during this time that she was introduced to designing for hospitality projects. “I really enjoyed being in New York. It is the state for design. I also had all the freedom of being away from home and being young I loved all the challenges,” she laughs. It wasn’t until she was offered a project to renovate her family’s Premier Group’s Rayavadee Resort in Krabi that she considered it might be time to come home. “Although I loved life in New York I eventually took up the offer and flew back to Bangkok in early September 2001. It was a great opportunity for me to do what I really loved.”
Mustering all her experience gained in America, Dao began by forming a team of interior designers, graphic artists and landscape architects and then, as she puts it, “We just jumped right in…we redid all the interiors, gave the resort a new look and feel, even the staff uniforms and logos. I was really hands on about it.” Revamping the resort was an altogether new undertaking but one she relished. “In the States I was often office-bound, despite working on global projects. Here, right off the bat I got to visit the suppliers and go to the provinces to source materials. That was the fun part,” she smiles.
The Rayavadee experience opened up a new world for Dao. “After the job was finished I noticed that Thailand was fairly limited when it came to sourcing for hotel projects, so some friends and I decided to open Quattro Design in 2006,” she says. Specialising in designing and outfitting for the hotel sector, the firm was in demand from the beginning and grew rapidly. “We got quite big quite quickly. I began travelling not only in Thailand but overseas to import items.” Today Quattro Design offers one-stop full-service interior and construction consultancy. It also retails furniture and housing accessories from top international brands.
Related: Behind The Scenes With Dao Vichada Sitakalin, Our September Cover Lady
Busy in business and life, it was during the period Quattro was conceived that Dao met and married husband Tinnakorn Sitakalin. A year later their son Krin was born and three years after that daughter Nirin arrived. Fast forward a decade and the 45-year-old has been kept busy juggling a professional career and motherhood. Ever the workaholic she also admits to taking on freelance interior projects, “limiting them to things I am passionate about.” One such project came about in 2017 when Dao was approached to redesign the Jim Thompson home furnishing showroom in Surawong. “I had so much fun and the freedom to decide how I wanted to highlight the famous fabrics,” she says and giggles with delight as she recalls memories of working with renowned designers such as Ed Tuttle and Gert Voorjans on the showcase.
Around the time Dao was working on the Jim Thompson project she took on another hotel renovation at Tamarind Village in Chiang Mai and after that in 2018 the task of outfitting sister hotel Raya Heritage, the Premier Group’s newest outlet. “Raya Heritage is a project I’m really proud of,” she says. “The goal was to highlight the ancient Lanna culture of the area. I was on the road for around two years, going back and forth between Lamphun, Lampang, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to meet with local craftspeople—pottery makers, carpenters, weavers, dyers and so on.” Getting to know these local communities by working closely with them was an eye-opener and she quickly became a champion of their traditions and artisanal skills. At the hotel, for example, she has organised numerous projects dedicated to Lanna culture, holding exhibitions and talks on mural paintings, flower cultivation, tribal costumes and the hill tribes.
One memorable exhibition at Raya Heritage was titled Tracing the Fading Legacy. Dao explains, “We used it to tell the stories of the living legends, the local craftsmen and artisans who are the last of their kind. It was really touching because university students and people from many different backgrounds came to view it.” The exhibition raised topics ranging from the effects of technology on the local artisans to their capacity to earn a living. Dao continues, “These old crafts are really dying away because there are so many alternatives that pay better. The youngest of the artisans that I know is around 60 years old.” Hence she has teamed up with locals to open a boutique at the hotel called Him Gong, through which they can retail their produce and spread knowledge of their crafts. “I do all the curating, personally selecting what goes into the boutique,” she says, adding, “The idea is to eventually turn it into a lifestyle shop, implementing a more contemporary side to the age-old crafts.”
While her interior designs largely depend on the needs of her clients, Dao describes her style as eclectic. “I love juxtaposing the old and the new, mixing antiques and the modern. If I am working on a contemporary space, sometimes including an artefact with history and a story gives it more life.” A space she recently designed with this in mind is the Tropical Colonial room at Jim Thompson’s Bangkok fabric showroom. “It is based on my perception of what his house would be like today, incorporating his identity and unique style,” she says.
In her capacity as design director of the Premier Resorts and Hotels Group Dao has a busy professional life ahead. However, she has taken advantage of the lull in business caused by the coronavirus to spend time with her son and daughter. “Krin and Nirin are 13 and 10 respectively and they are growing up so fast. I have been frustrated in the past trying to accommodate work and doing what is best for them. Being a good mother is really a full-time occupation. But they are maturing and I am learning to turn a blind eye,” Dao laughs. “We don’t own our children after all; we’re here to guide them.”
More covers: Marisa Chearavanont And The Art of Caring
- Photography Chaiwat Kangsamrith
- Styling Aruchan Phanpat
- Make-Up Nontalee Wongpeng
- Hair Phichet Poobanthat
- Jewellery Bulgari
- Outfit Fendi, Maticevski, Victoria Beckham, Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta
- Location The Monument Thong Lo