We are warmly welcomed to the majestic Pattaya residence of the Unchaleewiwat family by Wannaporn. Known as Zign, she is managing director the Zign Hotel and CEO of the family-owned hospitality group of the same name. While the family’s first hotel was founded by her parents Suwatchai and Wandee Unchaleewiwat in 1988, the Zign Group was established much later in 2008. Today it includes nine hotels as well as restaurants in the beachside city.
Located at the heart of Pattaya, the family home stands out against the more modest houses around it. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking you were pulling up the driveway of a luxury hotel. Through large ornate glass doors with golden decoration, we enter a lavish circular marbled foyer. High vaulted ceilings and refined mouldings on the walls complement the refined space. Suspended at the centre of the foyer is a rare chandelier by Patricia Garganti. Zign opted for this piece of art because the custom finish of its smoky crystals adds a more contemporary touch to the predominantly classical space.
“The house as a whole is classic in its architecture and design, particularly from the outside,” she says. “So I was keen to bring in some contrast and add a contemporary element through more modern furniture and interior fittings.”
Off to the left of the foyer, an Oriental-inspired guest reception room is decorated with three paintings portraying birds flying around flowering trees. On the right is a magnificent dining room boasting parquet floors, marble-clad walls, floor-to-ceiling arched windows and a marble fireplace, all hinting at belle epoch elegance. At the centre, a sophisticated 18-seater polished dining table stretches under three glamorous chandeliers. Recessed lighting in the ceiling allows the homeowners to set the mood and tone of the room. With a dining room like this, one would imagine regular events and dinners taking place. “Actually, not yet,” says Zign, smiling. “We’ve had a few private dinners but nothing exceptionally grand.”
From the foyer, looking straight through to the heart of the house down a marbled corridor, we can see the key feature of this expansive home, a colonnaded courtyard with a lush lawn framed on three sides by elegant cream-coloured structures with slate-grey roofs and a large semi-open, covered swimming pool on the fourth. It is within these walls that Zign, her parents Suwatchai and Wandee and her two siblings Pornchalee and Waytiya and their respective families live in self-contained apartments. While remaining close, despite the number of people who live here, everyone in the family is able to enjoy their own privacy.
Which is also why everyone had a say in the design of the residence, although Zign was the designated project manager, so to speak. Each apartment, she says, displays different styles based on the individual taste and preferences of the family members who occupy them. “I am pretty much the go-to person in the project,” she smiles. “I helped everyone pick out the styles and furniture they wanted and yes, there were a few disagreements even after the house was completed! My parents think my apartment turned out better than theirs,” she laughs.
Most of the furniture here is imported, many of the pieces purchased during her holidays and trips abroad. Though one of her preferred brands is Longhi, most of the furniture throughout the house is from Ralph Lauren and Baker because Zign had purchased it in anticipation six months prior to the completion of the residence. “I think in a couple of years, we will get new furniture,” she says, referring to her own apartment and some of the home’s common areas.
Beautiful as it is, the decision to include the colonnaded courtyard—which is reminiscent of the central court at an ancient Oxbridge college, a monastery cloister or peristyle of a classic Roman villa—goes beyond simple aesthetics. It was recommended to the family by a feng shui master to facilitate the flow of qi through the house. There are also the more prosaic benefits of having an area where the family can meet to play and relax, especially Zign’s three boisterous young nephews. The same applies to the adjacent swimming pool, which is eye-opening in itself. Designed with neo-classical influences, each length is framed by a row of arches that supports a glass roof to keep off the harsher elements. At one end is a comfortable lounge with a marble-topped bar. Above this on the second floor are a gym and a salon where Zign likes to get her nails done and indulge in a quick massage.
Finally, we make our way to her living quarters, which are located on the third floor of the mansion and accessed by both an elegant spiral staircase and an elevator with golden doors. This inner sanctum turns out to be brightly lit thanks to skylights built in to the slope of the vaulted ceiling and more modern looking than other parts of the house. In fact, the comfortable open-plan living space with its adjacent dining and kitchen area has something of an art deco feel. The colour palette is kept white and here again we find similar golden accents to those seen elsewhere in the property.
To the right of the apartment there is a guest bedroom, opposite which is the ultimate in walk-in closets—a spectacular split level affair in a grey and gold colour scheme where cupboards, shelves and islands house Zign’s vast collection of haute couture treasures, everything from designer evening gowns and bespoke jewellery to limited edition shoes and bags and more besides.
“I have to admit though, the upper floor of the closet has become a repository for the gowns and outfits I seldom wear any more,” she laughs. The master bedroom and bathroom are only accessible through the walk-in closet. In the bedroom the colours are kept neutral and with very few pieces of furniture, the king-sized bed stands out. In fact, this is probably the most modest room in the house. Pride of place in the bathroom goes to a deep freestanding bathtub with golden taps. In both rooms dark grey-and-white marble fittings and flooring once again hint at an art deco influence.
With the help of her friend, Narongchai Jerapanidchakul of Vinotto, Zign has been able to turn this house into a palatial home. Built on approximately three acres of land, the property took three years to complete and even longer in the planning phase prior to construction. But it was definitely worth the wait for Zign. “We all used to live in our hotel,” she says. “Back then I spent a lot of time out and about, seeing friends and visiting restaurants. Now that we have moved in to our new home, I have to admit I have become a bit of a hermit.”
And with a house that has its own private play area, poolside lounge and bar, salon and gym, who wouldn’t want to stay home? “Now my friends are always nagging for me to go out,” she laughs. When she isn’t at work, Zign enjoys spending time at the pool with her nephews and likes nothing more than to curl up on the sofa in her apartment for a movie session. Still a work in progress—the family only moved in to the house in March of this year—the executive acknowledges that the decoration process is not yet complete. “ So I can continue to enjoy fashioning a beautiful family home both inside and out,” she concludes with a twinkle.