Guests who like the look of the Craftsman hotel in Bangkok can provide feedback direct to the designers. Studio Freehand, which oversaw the interior, has its office in the 70-room hotel, which opened last year.
The repurposing of this abandoned U-shaped building, once a getaway for U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, is the first project by Silpakorn University graduates Sam Limpaphatanavanich and Asi Cherdvivattanasin, but there will be more.
"We see growing interest in restoring and remodeling old buildings, including in cities such as Nan, Chanthaburi and Lopburi," says Sam, who worked in London before returning to the Thai capital and a Bangkok-based New York studio called Avroko.
It's not all hotel renovations though: Freehand is also working on a 200-room resort on Koh Yao Yai in southern Thailand. New or old, the studio's design process is driven by the site. Sam believes that cultural understanding is just as important as spatial perception in an interior designer's toolbox.
His studio's approach can be better understood by considering some of the pair's favorite hotels, such as the Hoshinoya Kyoto and the Geoffrey Bawa-designed Villa Bentota in Sri Lanka. Both let guests experience a little of the country and the context in which they are staying. "Hotel design involves creating experiences and emotions," says Sam.
For Freehand the key to designing a successful hotel lies in understanding the guest, a job made harder by changing tastes. "The sharing economy is affecting design," says Sam. "Today's guest doesn't use a lobby or guest room in the same way their parents did."
But rethinking the mechanics of hospitality shouldn't mean resorting to gimmicks or quirky amenities that will quickly date. After all, younger customers will mature with their preferences. "We don't follow trends," says Sam. "Our approach is to take the trend and turn it into a timeless design."
This report first appeared in Monocle's travel annual The Escapist. To find out more about the magazine and to subscribe, visit monocle.com.