The pride in her status as ‘Baba-Nyonya’ 峇峇娘惹 (The descendants from the interethnic marriage of the Chinese settlers and native inhabitants of Malay Peninsula and Indonesian Archipelago) is an impression that we, Studio Locomotive, have collected from meeting with ‘Mother’ (the member of the project’s owner family) during the making of ‘Hotel Gahn’ through her dressing in a floral laced blouse, batik sarong, beaded slippers, and fine antique gold jewelry, her home-cooking recipe, and her reminiscences of the ways of living in her hometown. The designing of Hotel Gahn becomes a testament to the inheritance of this Baba-Nyonya status and its ethnic traditions passing down from the Mother to her children.
The mother’s ancestry traced to her grandfather, called in Chinese as Gong, a young coolie with a cooking talent migrating from China on a junk boat during a prosperous time of tin mining for metal plating and tinware industry. Gong was chosen to be a boat cook called ‘Juumpo’ and later in Takua Pa, a district in Phang Nga, Thailand, employed as a head cook at a tin mine. At that time, Takua Pa was one of the most abundant areas and a free trading port for tin. The tin rush had caused the unique transcultural hybridization through the migration route from China to Malay Peninsula, the tin trading voyage from Europe, and the intermarriage of Chinese miners which led to the burgeoning of the Baba-Nyonya community in Takua Pa. Our design intention is to offer guests a time and place to naturally absorb the sense of Takua Pa’s Baba-Nyonya lifestyle from their stay and interaction with the owner family complemented by the spatial experience touchpoints at Hotel Gahn suggesting in the space programming, choices of materials, material treatments, and traditional construction details.
On arrival this five-story hotel is outstanding from the steel gateway, modified from the signature continuous shophouse verandah Ngo-Ka-Ki (五脚基), to preserve the privacy from road activities and the the extensive wood façade, covering pipelines running out of the building to optimize ceiling height, stained in opaque black from engine oil wood treatment.
The hotel reception, coffee bar, and restaurant share the common floor furnished with eclectic forms of Asian-inspired timber tables and seats decorated with batik cloth cushion covers. The central square table with several antique-styled stools and bench, similar to the multi-purpose tables used in the expanded Chinese family, offers a casual communal setting. Mother’s vintage collectibles displayed in lit-up full-height cabinets warmly narrate household stories. Tall cabinets along the restaurant walls exhibit traditional eatery and cooking equipment complementing gastronomic sensation escaping from the adjoining main kitchen. Ochre red and green color paints, noticeable on local architectural ornamental features, are applied on selected walls, pillar, and accented ceiling frames which are also the pipe and wire tracks in disguise.
The dog-legged hardwood staircase leading to guestroom floors demonstrates local undemanding details with the top of newel post cut in a hexagonal shape and simple rectangle bars for railing and balusters. ‘Fa Lai’, a unique type of window opening, is a pairing of wall gaps and a sliding batten panel considered as a part of the façade when closed. Both sides of the guestroom corridor hang rows of framed infographic between room number signage.
Each guestroom features the use of traditional materials, local construction technicality, and daily household objects: terrazzo floor with brass strips, wooden wall with beading, vertical iron grille on closet door, bathroom door with wooden latch and doorknob, Chinese canopy bed, and hand-painted ceramic wash basin.