By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
BUILT MORE THAN 100 years ago, the quaint wooden house that sits quietly behind a Hindu temple on Dinso Road of Bangkok has been restored to its former glory after years of being left to suffer the vagaries of the weather.
Previously known as Baan Sao Ching Cha thanks to its proximity to the Giant Swing, the two-storey house has been renamed Baan Kanom Pang Khing – Gingerbread House in English – in a nod to its distinctive architectural style of intricate fretwork, pitched roof, overhanging eaves and louvred shutter windows that were popular in Thailand in the late 19th century among aristocrats and wealthy people as a symbol of high-ranking status.
The century-old, gingerbread-style wooden house Baan Kanom Pang Khing has been given a new lease of life as a cafe.
Though it is far from being the sugar-coated gingerbread home that appears in such classic tales as Hansel and Gretel, the newly renovated house has a new purpose in life – an “olde worlde” cafe serving up drinks and sweet treats.
A former private residence albeit left deserted for several years, Baan Kanom Pang Khing is already welcoming plenty of visitors since its reopening last month. The house is one of a few surviving gingerbread-style architectural buildings in Bangkok to have been restored to its original grandeur.
Among Bangkok’s well-preserved gingerbread buildings are Phra Tamnak Petch (Diamond Hall) of Wat Bovoranives Vihara, the cluster of monk’s chambers at Wat Suan Plu, and the Golden Teak Museum inside Wat Devaraj Kunchorn Varavihara.
Thanpuying Petchara Techakumpuch, the private dentist of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, inherited the property in 1964 from her grandfather Khun Prasert Thabien (Khan) who built the house on a plot of 47-square-wah plot in 1913. Khun Prasert served as an official of the Agricultural Ministry in the reign of King Rama VI.
Thanpuying Petchara never lived in the house herself though she did allow the staff of her dental clinic, most of whom had come to Bangkok from the provinces, to stay there. Today Baan Kanom Pang Khing is owned by her daughter Thanachporn Cunaratana-angkul and her husband Wirat who decided to give it a new life by turning it into an appealing cafe after several months of rejuvenation.
The house’s distinctively intricate fretwork
“We want to preserve the family’s heritage and decided to restore the house to its original condition as far as possible and share its exquisitely carved woodwork that is rarely seen today with the public. Our aim is for Baan Kanom Pang Khing to become a cafe-cum-living museum where visitors can enjoy a good cup of |coffee with sweet treats and admire the distinctive architectural style that blends Western and Thai designs,” says Wirat, owner of the PC Dental Lab, which specialises in prosthetics.
The teak ceiling on the upper floor has been raised to give greater volume to the space.
Renovations began last year and took about four months to complete. The decayed parts of the roofs, |ceilings, walls and floors have been restored though not painted over to showcase their original wooden textures. Outside guttering and the water and electricity supply systems have been redesigned. The teak |ceilings of the open-air upper floor have been raised to give more volume to the space and allow fresh air to |circulate.
Some of the wooden fretwork above the windows was originally carved with letters of the Thai alphabets to read Khan – the common name of Khun Prasert Thabien – the house’s founder. This design is used as the cafe’s logo.
A part of downstairs is used for brewing coffee and displaying the desserts.
The downstairs areas that were previously sectioned into different rooms have been made more open plan, allowing a space to house a coffee bar and seats. Air conditioning has been installed and the original veranda was removed to provide more seating. Antique furniture and several old photographs of the house are displayed.
Antique furniture and vintage-style ornaments recall the past ambience.
“It took time to find skilled artisans who know how to preserve the old woodwork. They told me that their children had no interest in this skill and opted for other occupations. After the renovations were completed, I also asked an architect to draw up plans of the house that will be beneficial in case of rebuilding or reassembling,” he adds.
The family crowds onto a veranda in a vintage snapshot. The veranda has since been removed.
According to Wirat, Baan Kanom Pang Khing underwent its first major renovation in 1990 on the orders of Dr Sith, the late husband of Thanpuying Petchara.
“It took about a year to complete and saw the house raised by some 30 centimetre and the foundations rebuilt with cement and an air passage beneath the floor to prevent humidity damaging the wood. Some of the decayed planks in the walls were replaced with new ones and visitors today can see the different shades of wood that symbolise their different ages.
An old photo of the house after its first major renovation in 1990.
“The windows were built in the style called baan kra thung (awning windows that are hinged on the top and open outward from the bottom, allowing for ventilation and protection from the rain). Dr Sith also renamed the house Baan Kanom Pang Khing and personally carved the wooden nameplate at the front of the house,” says Wirat.
The cafe serves drinks and desserts but no savoury dishes. It can accommodate about 40 people. Visitors can linger in the open-air upstairs gallery and admire the antique furniture or sit alfresco under the shade of a big mango tree that has been part of the garden since the house was built. The air-conditioned dining area downstairs provides limited seats.
Baan kra thung windows allow for ventilation and protection from the rain.
“I saw the attractive pictures of the house in social media and I was hooked by its charming wooden architecture that is rarely seen today,” says Siripapha Jitlamai, a visitor. “I admire the way the owners are trying to preserve the original grandeur and open it to the public. This is a hidden gem of Bangkok.”
Thai-style sweet treats are on offer.
While no gingerbread cookies are available here, visitors can sip coffee and tea while enjoying such traditional Thai desserts as bua loy (rice balls in sweet coconut milk and pandan leaf-infused coconut ice cream), chao guay (grass jelly with Thai tea ice cream topped with sweetened egg threads), and bael fruit cake. Vintage-style brassware and crystalware are used to recall the past dining ambience.
“We don’t provide savoury dishes that require cooking to avoid the risk of fire. There are a lot of eateries serving up good food in the area, so visitors can also stroll around to enjoy local tempting dishes,” adds Wirat.
COFFEE AND CULTURE
Baan Kanom Pang Khing is situated on an alley behind the Hindu Temple, next to the Giant Swing on Dinso Road of Bangkok.
It’s open daily, except Monday, from 11am to 8pm.
Call (097) 229 7021 or search for “@house2456” on Facebook page.