Dead-end discovery: Bangkok’s newest Asian art and culture corner

Dead-end discovery: Bangkok’s newest Asian art and culture corner

Almost in the middle of nowhere, a Soho-style renaissance is transforming a quiet Bangkok soi into a cove of creativity for art collectors and history lovers
P. Tendercool
P. Tendercool's showroom places its handmade tables in a loft-style setting.

Bangkok is a massive rat’s nest of a city -- a twisting, turning, convoluted maze of roads, sois, troks, highways, pathways and walkways that contain enough dark and hidden corners to give even the Pevensie kids nightmares. 

But down one of these roads -- a quiet, dead-end soi near the riverside Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel off Charoen Krung soi 30 -- is an unlikely little cove for fans of creativity, art collectors and history lovers.

It isn’t much to look at, but the nondescript block of buildings hides what could be the beginning of a Soho-style renaissance in a little neighborhood that’s fast becoming a center for creative inspiration.

Here are the three main players to check out.   

P. Tendercool

P. TendercoolOne of P. Tendercool's 'FTOP' dining tables -- Fantastic Tables made with Old Planks. “What we liked about this area when we opened our shop was that it was unused, and something we could customize when we moved in,” says Pieter Compernol, owner of P. Tendercool, a small company that makes very big and beautiful tables.

P. Tendercool’s walk-in shop fronts Charoen Krung soi 30 -- also known as Soi Captain Bush after an early Bangkok harbor master -- but the real showroom nearby is in a small sub-soi inside a row of warehouses built by Japanese forces in World War II.

Once Compernol opens a huge lock on some very heavy sliding doors, you’re ushered into a cavernous loft-style area. An iron bookshelf eight meters wide and 2.5 meters is layered with thick tomes and various collectibles from around the world, while fans circle high overhead and bright spotlights shine down on the main attraction -- the tables.

Each one is made of reclaimed wood, usually from old houses or forgotten buildings that the P. Tendercool team discovers on their travels.

The team of skilled artisans uses handmade polish and special tools and techniques copied from 18th-century European furniture manuals to give the tables a lovely, rich color that seems as though it would drip onto the floor if it weren’t for the mirror-like finish holding it in.

Compernol is proud of the team he has assembled, which includes Belgian designers, an Italian bronze caster (for the custom-made legs), and Thai brothers Sek and Song, the head craftsmen who come from a long line of carpenters.

Each table takes about 100 hours to complete, but the results are worth it.

“The two brothers are meticulous,” says Compernol. “And people notice it. We are happy to see that in this fast paced, high-tech world, clients still appreciate old crafts.”

48-58 Charoenkrung 30, Charoenkrung Road. Open daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. +66 (0)2 266 4344   

WARP Studio 54

WARPWARP owner Christian Develter has long had a fascination with Asian portraits. Across the sub-soi from P. Tendercool lies WARP Studio 54, another giant space where some of Bangkok’s most striking art is created.

“Come on in,” says Christian Develter, an internationally-recognized artist whose color-saturated canvases hang on walls from Bangkok to New York to London.

WARP 54 (named after the Star Trek technology and legendary Studio 54 nightclub) was created to provide a place for Develter to work without boundaries or restrictions, as any of his pieces are oversized.

Long, aging planks of wood make up the floor, and canvases line the walls on both sides in various states of finish.

A Macbook sits on the single long table in the middle of the floor looking comically undersized in the vast space.

“I really get inspired by this location -- accessible by the river, right on the border of Chinatown, close to the several five-star hotels, and easy to find," says Develter.

"It’s a real hidden gem of Bangkok and we like to keep it that way; this is a place one should discover.”

Develter’s work is mostly oil on canvas, and he usually uses opposite colors right next to each other to increase the apparent brightness.

WARP 54 WARP 54 Studio is open to other artists and can also be used to host events free of charge.He has long had a fascination with Asian portraits and the Oriental mystique, and gets his inspiration from simply walking around Chinatown and looking at the colors and watching the people go about their everyday jobs.

WARP 54 Studio is not simply a private space to create – it is also open to other artists or events free of charge, although you need to arrange this with Develter first.

Past events have included a dance performance, book launch, and most notably a swanky dinner with food prepared by Chef McDang and a guest list sprinkled with top names from the art, politics, fashion and business worlds.

Charoen Krung 30, turn left after PT Gallery. Open by appointment only, call +66 (0)81 867 5002

50 Years Art and Antiques

50 YearsEverything in 50 Years has been certified to guarantee its authenticity.This is a place where you can see 4,000 years of history up close. Its name -- 50 Years Art and Antiques -- actually comes from the 50-plus years of the experience owner has  in antique dealing, collecting and appraisal.

Japanese Samurai armor, hand-carved figureheads from ancient sailing ships, century-old African carpets, frightening masks, stone statuary spanning thousands of years and dozens of cultures, and even relics left behind by the armies of Alexander the Great are all on display.

It’s a dizzying collection, and although most customers are dealers or interior decorators, walk-ins are welcomed.

Each room seems to have one more thing tucked into a dark corner that you never realized was there before. Kind of like Bangkok.

Charoen Krung soi 30. Open daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. +66 (0)81 901 0269 

To get to this little haven of creative coolness, head down Charoen Krung soi 30. Just before it curves to the right, you will see P. Tendercool’s storefront (across from the giant bronze animal statues -- but that’s another story).

Greg hails from a wee town in Canada that's hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. After coming to Bangkok on a vacation in 2001, he somehow forgot to leave, and has been here ever since.

Read more about Greg Jorgensen