Ou Nopadon Baholyodhin’s life story has been one long creative journey spanning varied experiences in numerous countries. As a young man, the 52-year-old executive dreamt of becoming an architect before shifting to an entirely different field of study during his undergraduate years.
“Initially I attended the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London but I found the discipline too technical for my liking, plus it would’ve taken many years of study and practice before I could finally get the RIBA II license,” he explains. “I was very impatient as a young man, so I didn’t complete the degree and instead transferred to the London School of Economics to read political science. It was time well spent though because it knocked some sense into me—all that study about finance, economics and politics helped to build a sense of logic in me. You see, designers can be very whimsical, wandering around with their heads in the clouds thinking esoteric thoughts, but my educational background has ensured I’ve always kept one foot on the ground.”
Cover ground he certainly has. After completing his bachelor’s degree he went on to pursue a bachelor’s in furniture and product design at Kingston University before eventually heading to Florence. There, serendipity struck when he discovered a small, private studio that sparked his interest in textiles, a subject area that would eventually form a big part of his later career. “I was interested in learning all sorts of different techniques related to design but it was while I was in Florence that I discovered this Japanese textile design studio, Art Studio Fuji, and its work fascinated me so I decided to take a course in textile design.” At the same time his eclectic interests also saw him studying cookery in Italy and industrial design in Paris.
Returning to London in 1997, Ou began his career with a bold step by opening his own furniture design practice, Ou Baholyodhin Studio (OBS). The studio’s portfolio quickly expanded to cover work ranging from furniture to residential and industrial to commercial design. A man of many talents, he also worked with textiles, ceramics and homeware and secured interior design work with Patara restaurant in Mayfair, the Alma premium leather showroom and adjacent Ozwald Boateng outlet on Vigo Street, the Benares restaurant on Berkeley Square, the former Spencer Hart outlet in Savile Row and the Michelin-starred Lasarte restaurant in Barcelona.
As the studio started to receive more commissions and recognition, Ou found his work being displayed in exhibitions at high profile venues such the Axis Gallery in Tokyo. He was also in demand as a design lecturer at international establishments such as the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Saint-Etienne and the British Council in Bangkok. This success led to him being appointed as a consultant for the Tendence and Ambiente international consumer goods fairs, as well as a member of the Berlin Trendtable for Messe Frankfurt.
The year 2000 marked a new chapter for Ou when he was appointed creative director at Jim Thompson in Bangkok. In his time at Thailand’s largest silk manufacturer, he helped the company to develop a significant overseas profile. However, after almost 20 years with Jim Thompson, in February of this year he decided to join Sansiri as its new chief creative officer, a new position created for him.
“I guess it was a mutual decision,” he says. “Sansiri has grown very quickly over the last few years and I think it is very strong in its product developments and design quality. I’ve been known for injecting a little bit of extra attitude in companies, developing latent areas of potential that haven’t been explored, so it was really a perfect match. The timing is good too as I think Sansiri is ready to go global. Its business has expanded outside of Thailand and I guess it wanted somebody with a global vision and experience in the international arena to join the team.”
That ambition to go global has Ou looking beyond the Asia-Pacific region. “I think we’ve grown strongly in Asia-Pacific territories. We have a good brand presence in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan with our partnership with Tokyu. In the future, however, we want to be heading westward to Europe and the States.” But the transition from the textiles industry to the property sector has not been without its challenges for Ou. “It’s certainly different in terms of the work cycle,” he says. “At Jim Thompson everything revolved around two collections each year—two six-month cycles. You get used to that rhythm. However, in property development we don’t really have those ‘seasons’. The products that we create have to be lasting, not just for a lifetime but also for the two or three generations that will follow. So it’s a completely different way of thinking.”
In terms of his day-to-day schedule, the way he compartmentalises his work is similar to his time at OBS in London. “The design studio in London was a relatively small practice—we only had seven to 10 people. That has influenced me because even though I’m in a big company now with thousands of people, I still prefer to work with small groups or teams,” he explains. “At Sansiri we have what we feel is an agile way of working. Each project is handled by a team or squad and I have regular meetings with them to manage their projects and help trouble-shoot issues. It’s an efficient way of operating because everything, from the conceptual design to the marketing element, is contained within each squad or team. We’re probably among the first in the property development sector to follow this methodology.”
Being in tune with market forces that change based on generational expectations is another challenge that Ou has faced. “Each generation has their own idea of what they want home-wise. My mother’s generation, for example, looked for value for money in the price per square metre. For them it was all about space. With my generation, it was more about the facilities. We wanted glamorous and sexy marbled lobbies, state-of-the-art fitness rooms, swimming pools and lots of parking and green areas. So there was a shift from footprint to add-ons. With today’s generation, I think what they’re looking for is not the glamorous lobby entrance and so on but rather the lifestyle experience a home offers and how they interact with their neighbours and their immediate community. Things like co-sharing kitchens, co-working spaces, other grab-and-go facilities, whether they live in a green building… these are the things that appeal to current homebuyers.”
Ou’s designs are known for their sensual and sophisticated language—an identity that is imprinted wherever he goes. As a creative officer he draws inspirations from personal interactions and experience. “The modernist movement inspired me a lot, as I used to live in a modernist architectural masterpiece, the Lubetkin Penthouse designed by Berthold Lubetkin. That informed my way of thinking—the basis of modernist architecture—that combination between practicality and the sense of serene beauty that has always been at the heart of my work. These are not the sort of things you learn at university but through life experiences. People, particularly friends in the creative industry, inspire me. I think it’s easier to be enthused by the living examples around you. I believe in the importance of authentic first-hand experience.”
Photography: Chaiwat Kangsamrith
Behind-The-Scenes Photography: Mika Apichatsakol
Behind-The-Scenes Video: Santawat Chienpradit
Styling: Nopadon Baholyodhin
Makeup: Jiranat Tangpaisalkij
Hair: Pichet Poobanthat
Location: The Monument Sanampao