137 Pillars House a brief history
For the current owners of 137 Pillars House, the story began when they sought a brief but peaceful respite from the frenetic Thai Capital. The Northern town of Chiang Mai came to mind for its laid back pace. “We have always been attracted to its culture and history but it had been such a long time since we had visited Chiang Mai,” noted a family member during a recent interview about the historic building’s elegant transformation. “So we decided to just pack a couple of bags and buy a plane ticket. First we thought we were going to escape from Bangkok for couple of days, but we stayed more than a week, visiting Buddhist temples and admiring Chiang Mai’s amazing buildings”.
They did eventually return home but Chiang Mai lingered in their memory. In 2002 the family began to hunt for a single, simple row house with long-term intentions to retire in Chiang Mai.
“On the first day, we met a very unusual real estate broker. She drove us around the city, regaling us with spooky stories and ancient tales about Chiang Mai. Then all of a sudden, she stopped and pointed out a piece of land. My eyes focused through the big old trees on the black wooden house. That house was the most outstanding house I had ever seen. I began to walk towards it but before I could step on the land, the broker said “No.” She would have to ask the owner first. For months after that we saw other land and row houses but we did not find what I wanted.”
The importance and wealth of a property owner in Chiang Mai was often recognised by the size of their Lanna style Thai houses, and in particular how many pillars (sao) the house had…the more the pillars, the more important you were. Visiting journalists, impressed by the history and beauty of the house, were curious to as why the Borneo house did not have a name. On one occasion a publisher wanted to write about ‘the house with the most number of pillars’. So Jack Bain decided to count the number of pillars which came to 137… and as noted in the old map of Wat Gate, there is reference to ‘Baan 137 Sao’, which translates to 137 Pillars House.
“The black house kept coming back to my mind. When we asked, the broker took us back and we walked the land, which seemed too overgrown and too big to build my small vacation home. The owner came out from the crumbling house on stilts and we got talking. It had been one year already since he first put the land up for sale but people seemed afraid of this black house hidden among the big trees. Instead we were charmed but concerned out of respect to the kingdom about buying what looked to us like a Thai royal house. As we researched, we learned the true, fascinating story of this house and the British based Borneo Company and we knew our family could share this slice of Thai history with the world."