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RECENTLY in Krabi, almost every hotel and resort, be it newly built or carrying out a refurbishment, has gone for what is usually described as a "contemporary Thai style". Indeed this type of interior design has become so trendy, that most private property developments are now also choosing their decor according to its simple principles.
The style is particularly attractive to western eyes, with its restrained use of rich colour and emphasis on natural materials that give a luxurious yet uncluttered feel.
This harmony of colours and materials is key in the contemporary Thai look. Striking the right balance is more difficult than simply buying some silk scatter cushions and painting one wall red. Below we offer some advice on getting the look right for your home, as well as a list of places where you can find the materials you need to do it.
You don't need a huge tropical villa to adopt the contemporary Thai-style look - it has been adopted quite successfully in boxy hotel rooms, after all. If your space is small, however, you will need to make sure that colours don't overwhelm the room. Follow the hotels' lead and use neutral shades for the walls and floors: cream, greys and browns; then brighten with splashes of colour from traditional Thai fabrics used on the wall, or in the soft furnishings. Principal pieces of furniture should be made from natural materials such as wood, rattan or bamboo.
A mix of modern and traditional Thai furniture often works well, with the clean lines of the contemporary designs blending with the more elaborate work of an antique piece, through the use of the same material, usually wood. Too much wood in a small space, be it in the walls, floors or furniture can make a room look dull, or dark, however.
In a bigger house, such as the ones being built in Krabi now, you have a lot more freedom to experiment. Most developers will guide you, or offer a standard set of "contemporary Thai" furniture that you can see in the show home or on the computer designs. Dark wood is a favourite, to be used against pale ivory walls, or perhaps an accent wall in rich ochre, olive green or red.
In these homes, the entire design may be "contemporary Thai", using elements from traditional Thai wooden houses - open plan and multi-purpose public spaces, interior-exterior rooms or folding interior walls - and updating them with high ceilings or expanses of glass.
The idea of indoor-outdoor living is key to the contemporary Thai look. Most new homes in Krabi will have a lot of outdoor living space - essential in this climate - as well as living areas that open on to the garden, which should also be designed to provide refreshing shade, colour, fragrance and texture.
Decks and patios are very popular, as many people like to eat or relax outdoors; small shop-bought or purpose-built pavilions, called sala, are also a typical way to increase your living space out of doors.
It is interesting to note that 'nature' stops at the door in Thai houses, however. You will rarely see a houseplant inside here - although there are often cut flowers - Thai people preferring to keep their interiors clean and their plants in the garden or balcony.
Water features, be they a simple overflowing earthen jar, or a full-blown fountain and pool are an integral part of the Thai style home, regardless of the size. The overall impression you want to have is of cool and calm - both classic Thai traits.
Bancha Sriwongrat, an interior designer from Bangkok, offers this advice: "two things to consider are pattern and space. They must be kept in balance. Remember that too many patterns are nothing but a disorderly mess. They actually go well with empty space. For example, a bright yellow wall needs only a Chinese-patterned chair or two, that's enough. Let's put it this way: too much empty space makes you feel lonely, while too many patterns confine you. Our task is to find the balance between these two extremes."
Get the look
In Krabi Town, there are several shops selling solid wood furniture, mostly in traditional designs, that can work well in gardens or outdoor dining areas. One of the best is in Talaat Kao, on the main road out of town towards Phuket. Krabi Town's standard furniture shops are also offering more modern, if lightweight, pieces, such as beds and wardrobes. Look in the shops around Krabi Hospital, or in RQ Furniture on Krabi Rd, going out to the Ao Nang turn-off. The new Home Pro store in the Big C shopping mall (Route 4, on the way to the airport) stocks a good range of kitchen / bathroom fittings, as well as decent lighting and florring materials.
You can also custom-make rattan and bamboo furniture, according to your own design, or those they have in the shop - a great idea if you need an oversized sofa, or narrow shelves. Bring a photo of something you have seen elsewhere and they can also copy the style. Look for these shops in Sai Thai village, on the main road between Ao Nang and Krabi Town. Cushions for chairs and sofas can also be custom made in the villages, though it is a wise idea to provide your own material, as the selection on offer is not very good.
Antique and second-hand furniture can be found in Sai Thai village on the main road, just before the petrol pump heading into Ao Nang. This small shop, Baan Kum, sources and restores old wood furniture, as well as offering new items for sale.
Decorative objects and soft furnishings are best sought in the tourist shops around the beach in Ao Nang, or in Krabi Town. Nati-Shop in Center Point Plaza in Ao Nang has some of the best Thai silk cushion covers we have seen here, while Yada Thai Silk on the beach road is another good place to source fabric, which comes direct from the producers in the Isan region.
To truly achieve the contemporary Thai-style look, however, it will be necessary to make a trip to Phuket, the birthplace of the contemporary tropical villa. Here the furniture choice and quality are excellent. There are two main areas in which shops are concentrated, although you will find others in the town (especially antiques) and also in The Courtyard mall, where the well-reputed Island Furniture has a showroom.
The first area is easy to find, along the bypass road towards Tesco Lotus. Chain stores, plus local boutiques offer a vast range of furniture, lighting and other interior products. The second, more upmarket area can be found near the entrance to the Laguna in Bang Tao. Boutiques such as Zee Zee Interior sell beautiful one-off pieces on Srisoontorn Rd.
Above, from top: The contemporary Thai style look at Krabi La Playa Resort; a 'modern classic' patio from Island Furniture in Phuket
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