Alisa & Landry's Modern Meets Traditional Thai Retreat

Alisa & Landry's Modern Meets Traditional Thai Retreat

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Dabney Frake
Mar 31, 2015
(Image credit: Dabney Frake)
Name: Alisa Tang & Landry Dunand
Location: Bangkok, Thailand

I recently traveled to Thailand and, while there, visited an area nicknamed the "Green Lung" of Bangkok — an island of sorts formed by a horseshoe bend in the Chao Phraya (Bangkok's major river). Unlike the congestion of the city, Bang Krachao is lush, green and filled with farmland and wildlife. It's on this island that my friends Alisa, Landry (and their daughter Luciole) just built a home — a welcome retreat and far cry from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.

Pardon some of the photos; most were taken on the fly with my iPhone and aren't the greatest....

(Image credit: Tang/Dunand)

From Alisa: We live in a neighborhood where most people live off the land, gathering their coconuts, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and fish from the orchards and canals on their land, or even on government lands that they keep manicured and rich with fruiting trees in exchange for a few ingredients. The villagers here actually organize their land into irrigation canals with planted mounds of coconut, mango, banana and other trees. Some canals are overgrown with duckweed.

(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

We designed the house ourselves, opting to make it as small as possible, yet comfortable, airy and livable. Knowing that we would spend most of our time home indoors, away from mosquitoes and other jungle critters, we decided that 40 square meters would be spacious enough — 10 meters long, 4 meters wide.

(Image credit: Tang/Dunand)

We drew, debated and leafed through lots of books and web pages, and then the artist half of this couple made a balsa wood model, so we could consider what it looked like and where we would want windows and spaces with respect to the tropical winds and sun. Our friends at Site-Specific, who design and build environmentally friendly homes and shipping container homes in Thailand, helped enormously with the technical drawings and tips on building in the tropics.

We then shopped around — a lot — for reclaimed wood. Many Thais are taking down their old wooden homes, built of strong hardwoods, to replace them with modern cement homes. We wanted wood because it is cooler, aesthetically gentler, and it blends in with our neighbors' homes. Reclaimed wood means we won't chop down another forest, and the wood has already stood the test of time, shrinking, expanding with decades of tropical weather.

A modern glass version of traditional Thai kitchens found under the house.
(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

We built our traditional Thai kitchen under the house — the area known in Thai as the "tai thoon." Most Thais living in homes on raised stilts keep their pigs and chickens in the tai thoon , as well as their outdoor cooking area. When their kids grow up, the pigs move out to make way for the adult kids' room. The tai thoon, underneath the house, is typically cooler, and it is where Thais spend the hot tropical days. Also, as I learned from the Barefoot Architect, it is typical in the tropics to build the upper floor first with a good sturdy roof to protect from the rains, and then when budget permits, expand under the house with a floor and walls.

DIY shelves and kitchen cart were added for storage.
(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

Our neighborhood does have electricity (mainly for playing good ol' Thai country "luuk thung" music), phone lines and water, though our neighbors have for decades collected rainwater for drinking — it tastes immaculately soft and pure. We plan to do the same, though the enormous old urns that Thais use are much harder to find these days.

The bathroom with concrete tiles and outdoor shower.
(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

After months of mulling how to put up our sink, we found a nice cabinet with mirror at Wat Suan Kaew (an antiques market temple that supports homeless people) and then punched a hole into to fit the sink. The plumbing took Landry a good day of tinkering around with pipes.

Thanks, Alisa & Landry! See lots more of photos and info about their house on their blog.

And! If you want to see how Alisa and Landry commute into the city, take a look:

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