Dao Vichada Sitakalin, Quattro Design in Bangkok
“Dao,” the Thai nickname of Vichada Sitakalin, means “star” in English, and that moniker seems oh-so-apropos for describing her rising status in the design world.
And that status owes a lot to the fact that the woman’s talents are as multifaceted as her résumé: working as the in-house designer for three high-end hotels and properties in Thailand; putting the finishing touches on multiple showrooms for Jim Thompson Home Furnishings, the illustrious Thai silk manufacturer; and more recently, she brought her visual flair and eye for color to bear on Siri House Dempsey in Singapore, the showroom and lifestyle concept store of Sansiri, one of Thailand’s largest residential developers.
This is one industrious lady.
Sitting and chatting with her at Quattro Design, the furniture shop and hospitality design company she cofounded on Bangkok’s ritzy strip of trendy shops known as Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thonglor), provides an atmospheric backdrop for hearing about the life and designs of Vichada.
First she explained how she put her degree in Interior Architecture from an American university to good use, by honing her skills for 11 years with prominent design firms in Boston and New York, before she succumbed to a touch of homesickness and the desire to make her mark in her homeland.
After returning to Thailand, she gravitated towards the hospitality business, which is massive in the tourist-friendly kingdom, becoming the in-house designer for a trio of hotels. This is a demanding job that requires painstaking attention to the minutest details of staff uniforms and hotel amenities, to the big picture of the property’s look and feel, from the artworks in the guest rooms to the furnishings in the lobby.
The Rayavadee in Krabi posed logistical problems too. For one thing, it’s on a headland, crouched beside limestone peaks and the sea in southern Thailand, with no access by car. For another, the concept of down-to-earth luxury had to be emphasized with design elements that blended into the environs.
The watchword in hospitality and tourism these days is sustainable development. That concept requires a naturally sensitive touch on the designer’s part. “My role is that whatever I do in design, it has to be sustainable with nature and help to preserve it,” she said.
Vichada brought that talent to the renovations for Tamarind Village, a 45-room boutique hotel in the northern capital of Chiang Mai. Her team oversaw the renovations and put the finishing touches on the new spa, restaurant and boutique.
One of the most challenging and artistic hotel projects she has worked on was the Raya Heritage on the banks of the Ping River in Chiang Mai. Three years in the making, the concept of the hotel, she said, “is Lanna culture, a mixed culture with roots in Laos and Burma. The concept is that I used all these elements in the hotel. I worked together with an assistant who studied art in Chiang Mai.”
For this project, she spent a lot of time in the north, working with traditional weavers using hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics, and ethnic hill-tribes like the Karen, who designed the pillows, along with local potters and wood carvers.
Such artisans are, sadly, almost anachronisms. They make little money. They receive little acclaim. In addressing these slights and oversights, Vichada and the hotel staff have organized “12 exhibitions at the hotel, related to Lanna culture, about textiles, about tribal arts. Every tribe has a story to tell. It’s spirituality, it’s tradition, it’s all these angles,” she explained.
In doubling down on these altruistic efforts, she and the hotel staff have also set up a contact network so that guests can get in touch with the craftsmen and women to purchase their wares.
For all the design emphasis on the past and using traditional materials, the overall ambience of this heritage hotel feels both fresh and contemporary, with none of the fussy stuffiness that’s a drawback with some of these retro properties.
The same could be said of Vichada, who is both a traditionalist and a modernist. Her work with the Jim Thompson brand radiates this seemingly paradoxical approach to her field.
Most visitors to Bangkok have heard of the so-called “Silk King” whose traditional Thai house is second only to the Grand Palace in the city’s list of the most visited tourism attractions. Because of his nickname and reputation as the man who helped to bring this Thai fabric back from the brink of extinction, some people labor under the misconception that the global string of stores bearing his name are all about silk.
Not so. The owners have hatched new product lines and branched out in many different directions; the Jim Thompson Home Furnishings brand was designed to remind consumers of the brand’s versatility.
“I renovated their showroom, creating several showcases for them last year, six rooms in total. The concept that was given to me was ‘Be You, Be Me’. It was really fun working with them because they gave me the artistic freedom to do what I wanted. My goal for each room was the show off Jim Thompson fabrics, to let people know that the brand is more than Thai silk. Jim Thompson actually has one of the greatest fabric collections in Thailand,” she said.
Each of those six showrooms was unique. “The Forbidden Colors Room,” she explained, “has all these crazy colors, patterns, neon, vibrant, which you wouldn’t expect from Jim Thompson,” whereas the Hampton Dynasty Room looked like a “summerhouse in the Hamptons, mixed with Ming dynasty,” which allowed her to combine all sorts of antiques with vivid colors like gold and fantastical fabrics woven with tigers and dragons for wallpaper.
The diminutive dynamo with the sharp sense of style you would expect from such a cosmopolitan designer has combined many of these experiences and passions in co-founding her own design studio that now boasts 10 employees.
In fact, the impetus for Quattro Design came from the big renovation of that older hotel, the Rayavadee, in southern Thailand. “I realized that hotels really needed someone who could help them with sourcing. Together with a few close friends who also have a design background, we started Quattro Design,” she said.
Nowadays, the studio and shop are run by her partner while Vichada does the “buying trips… the fun part. I do the sourcing and certain projects that really interest me or if there’s been a request that they want me to do the project,” she said.
These trips, through exotic lands with exalted traditions in arts and crafts, like China, Indonesia and the Philippines, also refill her creative wellspring.
By continuing to combine work with travel and international quality with local color, Vichada’s star is sure to shine ever brighter in the cosmos of the design world.