20 Dec The Evolution of the Innspire Bangkok
Sometime curiosity takes you to discoveries that lead to great stories. One such story is that of the Innspire Bangkok, a beautiful, old and once abandoned house in a forgotten corner of Bangkok…
A letter from Pai to us…
My mother was pregnant with me while the house was built. She said that I was born shortly after they moved in. That would be around June 1976. My grandfather designed the whole house himself which is the main building today. . Although he was my father’s uncle, he was a like a father to him, so we called him grandfather. He was about 56 years old at the time. His name was Vijit Prongmanee. He was a natural-born artist. He was a supporting actor in movies and later on became a men costume designer at various movie productions. He was also a scout for new actors and actress. He was one of the people who introduced Sorapong Chatree and Chaiya Suriyan into acting. My grandmother was also an actress on stage and movies.
The second building was added in later on for my aunt to live, it was built roughly in the late 1980s. The nickname of the main house was “Baan Si tab Si – House 4/4″. From what my father told me, the design was a mix between European/Spanish style. There was nothing like it at the time in the area. Most houses surrounding the area were mostly wooden houses.
We were one of the few houses that changed from traditional bell to door bells and I remembered that kids will play pranks by ringing the door bell and running away or even stole some of the mangoes hanging by the gate. We had lots of mango trees, banana trees and various plants and trees. I found it amusing that the neighborhood kids never got tired of hearing my grandfather yelling at them for playing the prank, he would laugh after yelling at them. I remembered that the water in the canal in front of our house was clean enough that we could celebrate Loi krathong right in front of our house. We would set up little firecrackers and fireworks on that bridge in front of our house. Also, our house was the main gathering for Father’s day festivals. We would decorate our house with Christmas lights and decorate it with both Thai flags and King’s flags. But the Thai flag was always raised on the dome on top of our house. I had seen many tourists took picture of our house on many occasions when I was young. The third floor would be the hanging out place for my family and relatives to watch the firework on Father’s day. There were not many tall building in our area back then, so we were able to see it clearly from our rooftop. There was a monkey ladder that you can climb up to 3.5 floor where the dome was located. My brother and I climbed up there to watch people play kites at the royal square at Sanam Luang. It is one of lost traditions in Sanam Luang that you won’t see anywhere anymore. There were many kite vendors, food vendors and people hanging out there for picnic. The air was cleaner and there was less pollution as well.
The house was designed and built with love, ingenuity and creativity from my grandfather who only received 4th grade education. He had to work in his early age to support his mother and young siblings. He did not go to school for art but he followed his dream and passion. He did what he loved even though back in the days being an artist was deemed to be less popular and for sure it was not a great way to make a living comparing to other career choices. As he got older, he became an avid antique collector and he loved his plants and trees. Our house was like a forest from what I remember growing up there. It was always green and full of love. My grandfather would ask my brother and I to play in the rain in that court yard, that was his favorite thing to play with us. We know that he loved us very much and that he expressed his love to us unconditionally. He was our inspiration. Our family of four lived in the main house with grandfather until 1990. My family decided then to move to the United States for our future. My brother is following our grandfather’s footstep as an artist. He graduated in Interior Architecture and he is currently working as a graphic designer in various games and movies in San Francisco. Regretfully we had to leave our grandfather behind even though we loved him dearly. However, my aunt and my grandfather continued to live there until my grandfather passed away around Thai New Year in 2003. He was in his late 80. The house was then sold without our knowledge when grandmother passed away. My family was deeply saddened because we would have love to keep my grandfather’s memory if we could.
Before my grandfather passed away, I was able to see visit him multiple times every 3-5 years and I saw significant changes in our neighborhood and the house itself. I visited just outside of the house after the house no longer belonged to us and I was in shock to see that the trees had taken over the house and it was painful to see how the house deteriorated. Just recently I was looking on Google maps since my family was planning to go back to Bangkok in October of this year and I saw Innspire Bangkok on Google Maps and I recognized my old house right away! I showed it to my family and they were very excited and happy to see the house came back to life again. It was the most wonderful feeling for us and I even asked my mom if she want to stay in her old room. She had tears in her eyes because we missed the house and it brings back memory of my grandfather. We decided that we will visit the house when we are in Thailand. I contacted Michael via Facebook Message and he was very gracious and even offered the VDO tour for us.
We truly appreciate how Michael and his team kept the buildings and renovated it with great vision. We were afraid that the new owner would tear down the house since it has been sitting emptied for so long. I am sure that my grandfather’s soul is very happy to see how his house has become a center for a group of people who appreciate local art and culture. I love how his group accepted and embraced the scenery of a true urban experience and showed visitors how locals really live in their raw settings. It can be a bit crowded, small canals, old and crowded houses, dirty streets, but that’s the true beauty of it all. I feel Michael passion feeds into the place and brings it back to vibrant cultural space. So, we would like to urge you to follow your dream, be kind to each other and always be Inspired! We wish him all the best.
June 18, 2014 was the first time we set a foot into the compound of Baan 4/4.
As Pai described it in his letter, the building deteriorated and fell into decay but it was not too late to save it. It was sitting there for many years, the legacy of Pai,s grandfather and I first noticed the house during the Bangkok Three Sixty, a walking tour where we delve beneath the skin of Bangkok. In my curiosity I returned. I peeked over the wall. A forgotten plot with a beautiful but decrepit house deep inside Troskin alley. I didn’t have a clue who built it, where it came from and how long it’s been around. The crumbling dome, towering over the neighboring wooden houses, the old beauty of European architecture almost camouflaged by plants hanging down and crawling up, a jungle intent to keep the structure and compound from public gaze. For some this legacy gave inspiration to whisper ghost stories, for those with a knack for the morbid urban, like myself, it had a great appeal. I know it could be our salvation from working from cafes and upgrade to a proper office but it couldn’t be any office. It had to fit the DNA of Vanguards. This was the place but the project was to large for us to take on as Gift had to leave for her studies in the U.S. in 2014..
Fast forward two years, in 2016, inspired by our conversation, the owners (Kru Lee and her family) decided to fix up the place and here we were, marveling at the structural revival of House 4/4. Guesthouse managers from the nearby backpacker mile Khaosan Road were ready to take over. Kru Lee however gave us first choice since we ignited the idea of renovating the house. I knew I’d bite my ass every time I’d walk pass, seeing someone else running this place. We took over through a 10-year lease, the beginning of a one year journey to get it operational, to create a base for bangkokvanguards and to evolve from there.
The attempt to co-design the space with our friends unfortunately didn’t work out due time and budget constraints but the spirit of co-creating lives on. After a year of juggling renovation work and our full time jobs we started operations of our guesthouse/homestay in April 2017 which we named in Innspire Bangkok. In the midst of getting the place ready we organized gatherings and brainstorm session, talks and meetings to pursue the question of preserving Bangkok’s old-town communities and heritage. The environment in which the Innspire is based doesn’t resemble anything but a megacity. Its charming wooden houses date back almost a century and the feel and culture here is very rural but the physical condition is deteriorating. These urban villages are becoming extinct not just in Thailand but globally, will it be possible to preserve them, a question that we in tourism and hospitality ought to ask ourselves more urgent than ever.
The opening party was set for June 18th, 2017. Only later did we see on the picture’s properties that it was exactly four years ago when we first entered the house. We had to stick to that opening date and when the day came we welcomed many familiar and also new faces. We brought back the art and started an exhibition on the urban villages around our house that are disappearing. We shared Pai’s story and read his letter to our guests as well as connecting with him through video call all the way from the States to be part of the opening of his house. It was a memorable evening and we’re proud we were able to reconnect to carry forward the legacy of this place.
Today, we’re fully operational with currently 7 but soon 8 rooms available for rent, air-conditioned with private bathrooms, wifi and breakfast. A great outdoor and common area, space for exhibitions and activities, an adventure travel resource center for sustainable and community based travel (in the making), office of bangkokvanguards travel operations, great networks, projects and a team you can address all your needs and questions.
Additionally, visitors will find an idea book in the lobby where we encourage people to write their ideas on how we can make this house even more awesome and impactful. Since the beginnings nearly 50 years ago, it’s been a place of love and creativity. It belonged to a special family and now the legacy has been passed to us. We will carry this legacy into the future to develop the house’s full potential in becoming a meaningful guesthouse and cultural space full of inspiring stories, creativity, adventures and initiatives to connect you to Thailand on a deeper level. Creating a space for travelers and locals, for the curious, the creatives and adventurous to celebrate our city, its people, its communities and changemakers would be the way forward to give this place a purpose and to honor the legacy of its founder Vijit Prongmanee.