From a century-old tumbledown teak house to a burgeoning luxury hotel brand, 137 Pillars adds Bangkok, Phuket and looks beyond Thailand
By Roderick Eime in Bangkok
It all began around 1890 when Louis, the precocious son of Anna Leonowens (of Anna and the King fame), built his teak mansion on – you guessed it – 137 pillars in Chiang Mai. It became the Northern Headquarters of Louis’s East Borneo Trading Company which was then reaping great rewards from the teak trade.
When HM spoke with then GM Manfred Ilg back in 2013, 137 Pillars was a one-property brand under the stewardship of the Wongphanlert family. Notwithstanding, the single boutique hotel garnered numerous awards and glowing reviews to such an extent that the Thai owners were primed to expand.
137 Pillars broke from previous management firm, SilverNeedle, taking their highly experienced vice president of hotel operations, Chris Stafford, and installing him as COO.
Part of the SLH collection since inception, 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok opened in April 2017. Comprising 179 residences and 34 luxurious suites complete with private dining, personal butlers and bespoke services, the 32-storey urban oasis caters to a cavalcade of international leisure and business travellers just a comfortable arm’s length from the raucous Sukhumvit strip in central Bangkok.
“This property is something of a hybrid for our brand,” Bjorn Richardson, Swedish-born GM and resident of Thailand for 20 years, tells me as we sit in a sunny alcove of the ground floor bistro/deli, The Bangkok Trading Post, “We acquired what was originally a residential project and kept 34 suites on the top floors as a boutique hotel offering, with the (179) residences beneath.”
The term ‘residences’ is interchangeable with ‘serviced apartments’ and a popular long-stay option for Asian and European guests looking to enjoy an extended stay far from the northern winters.
“We’ve replicated some of the key features from Chiang Mai like the green wall and the rustic feel you see here (in the bistro),” Bjorn continues, “All the teak features around the walls are salvaged items to give that authentic rustic look. Behind all this old-looking stuff however, is a very modern and technologically advanced building with numerous power-saving features like LED lighting throughout. You‘ll notice, for example, that if you leave the balcony door open, the AC will turn off.”
Keycards have a ‘green’ function that controls power levels depending on whether a guest is in the room or not as well as motion detectors that turn off unneeded lights. The dual-flush toilet saves water as does the garden’s high-tech sprinkler system and innovative pool treatment system.
The Bangkok Trading Post clearly harks back to the brand’s origins in Chiang Mai and an eclectic assortment of ‘antiquish’ items like weathered steamer trunks, brass optical instruments and frayed, leather-bound hardcovers decorate the nooks and crannies. A luxuriously appointed London cab named Louie (of course) shuttles guests to the nearby BTS station and shopping precinct at Phrom Phong.
137 Pillars’ themed services include the Leonowens Club, the Wellness & Lifestyle Spa & Meditation Sala, the Nimitr Fine Dining Restaurant, the Sky Bar infinity pool and the Jack Bain’s Bar and Cigar Divan. Jack, I learn, was the last connection to the original trading company when his family sold the ‘The House’ about ten years ago to the current owners.
These thematic elements will also be a feature of any new properties the group opens.
We were delighted to accept an invitation to dine at Nimitr on level 27 and presided over by Chef Nanang Prasetya Aditama, the hotel’s specialty sous from Indonesia. His menu includes such exquisitely presented dishes as Chilli Crab, Lamb Rendang, Szechuan Rock Lobster, Beef Massaman, Lamb Tandoori, Scallops and Abalone Sashimi, Teriyaki Pork Belly as well as traditional favourites.
The name ‘Nimitr’ means “a special dream” in Thai with the spectacular decor by Sophie Bughin and Faun Israsena na Ayudhaya of Santhaya & Associates.
The brand’s third property, 137 Pillars Estate Phuket, is scheduled to open in the next few years on the sunset-facing north peninsula of Kata Beach and will feature 16 private villas and 46 suites.
In the near future, we can expect to hear of further properties both in Thailand and beyond.
Watch this space.