BANGKOK — A century-old home in the city’s old quarter was given a new lease on life when its owner recently opened it to the public as a cafe.
Sitting in an alley a few hundred meters from the Giant Swing, the 106-year-old “Gingerbread House” opened its doors earlier this month for visitors to peek into every corner of the historic house and sip cups of coffee.
Despite being a weekday, a recent visit saw the 140sqm complex packed with people. Under the shade of a majestic, 80-year-old mango tree, they walked in, ordered at the bar, then looked for a seat to enjoy a rare, breezy afternoon.
The home’s origins trace back to 1913 when Khun Prasert Tabien, a nobleman in the reign of King Rama VI, built the wooden two-story residence.
It gained the name Gingerbread House for the Victorian-era architectural style it resembles after passing on to the third generation of Sith Techakampuch and Petchara Techakampuch.
It’s characterized by detailed, carved wooden latticework, high ceilings and turret roofs. Other venues with similar styles can be seen at Bangkok’s Vimanmek Mansion, Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall and the Golden Teak Museum.
Now the home-turned-cafe belongs to the fourth generation, the married couple of Wirat Cunaratana-Angkul and Thanachporn Cunaratana-Angkul. Renovation started in 2017, with “95 percent” kept original. Only the front porch was eliminated to make way for the cafe’s entrance.
Both floors of the home are furnished with antiques accumulated over the generations, including, to mention but a few, rusty clothes irons, porcelain bowls, vintage dressers and light switches.
The first proprietor – Prasert Tabien – left his personal sigil at several spots around the house. Look for round, carved wooden pieces combining two Thai consonants and a vowel overlapping each other. They form his nickname, “Khan.”
Wirat said he refused to paint over the wooden tiles where scratches and faded colors are visible. He prefers to keep them the way they have been.
“Making it new is easy, but making it old is difficult,” he said.
The cafe, managed by Wirat’s nephew Keerathi Cunaratana-Angkul, serves a variety of dishes.
Drinks range from a signature iced coffee, an iced mint macchiato, mint lime soda and Japanese yuzu soda. Many come for the Thai desserts, highlights of which include black jelly served with Thai tea ice cream and bua loi rice balls topped with pandan-flavored ice cream and foi thong.
Big profits are not the primary mission for the cafe though, Wirat said. He said he already got “the highest profit” on its first day, when the cafe opened and all his living phoo yai relatives visited.
“All of them smiled, reminiscing on their childhoods. One of them told me, ‘I was born in this room,’ and another said ‘I used to sleep in that room.’” Wirat said, pointing to two upstairs rooms.
Wirat said he hopes his house-turned-cafe will help inspire other old home owners to keep their properties and raise their value instead of demolishing them.
“Don’t underestimate old stuff,” Wirat said. “First, do not sell them. Second, preserve them. People yearn for authentic vintage things and antiques, and I think no matter where they are, people are willing to travel to see them.”
Gingerbread House opens 11am to 8pm every day except Monday. It is located on Soi Lang Bot Phram near the Giant Swing in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district.