In conversation with Parisa Pichitmarn, the young entrepreneur reveals how psychology plays a major role in designing interiors, and why appreciating life’s simple pleasures is so important to one’s happiness.
If one was to make a list of Thailand’s most strikingly chic and fashionable interior designers, the name Nattha “Jules” Soontornvinate would surely place somewhere near the top. A seasoned professional with a sharp eye and discerning taste, her design portfolio includes The Chiang Mai Old Hotel, Kaijin Chef Table in Nichada Thani, the Alanis Clinic at Gaysorn Village, and Asira’s flagship store, which was awarded ‘Best Retail Interior’ at the 2020 Asia Pacific Property Awards.
But the fiercely confident image of her that exists in the public sphere belies how warm and engaging she is in real life, and the fact that our one-hour interview session easily stretched into a whole morning is testament to just how much of a “people person” she is. That, in turn, has greatly contributed to her success as the Founder and Design Director of luxury interior design firm Double V Space Co Ltd, which won Thailand’s Leading Luxury Interior Design Company at the UK Design & Build Awards in 2021.
Since its launch in 2014, there are now two brands that exist under the Double V Group umbrella: Double V Luxury’s main focus has been high-end residential projects, designing the luxurious homes of expats and top- tier businessmen. Double V Space Interior Studio is centered around offering commercial interior design services for all kinds of businesses including offices, retail centres, restaurants and other businesses related to the hospitality industry. Many of these private residences are commissioned by those from the highest echelons of society – whom Jules cannot mention by name – while other clients are well-known celebrities such as Pattarapol “Paul” Silapajarn, and power couple Gubgib and Bee KPN.
“These days, I’m mostly busy with managing my team and communicating with clients,” she shares, elaborating on how she usually goes beyond her job description of merely decorating a venue, and instead endeavours to uncover her clients’ deeper concerns. “I need to be the one receiving the brief and looking into the client’s eyes to try and understand their life. You need to be able to unlock what their needs really are. There are so many layers, and it’s important to understand every single one.”
Since every person is different, Jules points out that what each person wants from their home will also be different. As an example, she recounts her most bizarre brief yet, which called for “a Red Room like in Fifty Shades of Grey, but fitted with a home theatre” (so that the owner’s twin children could watch TV there too).
“I was like, huh?!” she says with a laugh. “Just hearing that brief was already so much fun. Of course, we had to find the balance between making the room sexy enough that it would be a turn on, but at the same time the sofa had to be able to hide the sex toys so the kids wouldn’t see them, and they could still sit in there and watch their cartoons.
“Every time I get a brief, I get to study people and I learn about so many different ways of life,” she goes on to say. “When my clients send me photos from their travels of things they want, I feel like I am on holiday with them. It’s so hard to find a job that offers that – where you get to listen to people and also consult with them.”
Jules explains that she views herself as a “dream maker”, rather than just a mere designer. “I get clients who work hard all their lives but don’t have any idea what their dream house should look like. But by talking with them for hours, and doing scrupulous research, we begin to know them better than they know themselves, and then we can pinpoint what they truly want.
“People come to us with a blank canvas and we need to fill it up to the best of our ability, because it’s costing them their hard-earned savings. When the work we do is the ultimate reward in someone’s life, we must deliver beyond their expectations.”
With studios based in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Jules’s reputation and popularity first spread via word of mouth, and she found herself working on properties in both these cities. Today, however, the talented 31-year-old’s projects come from all over Thailand, as well as from China, Laos, and even Saudi Arabia. As for her success at such a relatively young age, she attributes it to “a backbreaking work ethic”.
“I used to open my laptop at 6am, first thing when I woke up, before dashing off to the office at 9am,” she says, reminiscing about her early experiences as a trainee at DWP (Design Worldwide Partnership), and her first job, at Cancu Studio. “Then, I’d work until the office kicked me out at 7pm, and I’d be back at my place working until midnight every day. It was a period where I worked every single day, and didn’t know what weekends were, let alone national holidays.”
This fervor for hard work stems from her Thai-Chinese family background and upbringing. As the second and youngest child of Chanchai and Parichat Suksattayanont, Jules was raised next to her parents’ work desks, in the air- conditioned confines of their spare parts store in Chiang Mai. Although originally based in Bangkok, her parents decided to move to Chiang Mai – after the birth of elder brother Vip – because of its more peaceful environment. Growing up, Jules remembers a fun-filled childhood spent creating airplanes out of spare parts boxes and attending Pingkarattana School.
While her mother enrolled her in countless classes – piano, typing, drawing, khim, tennis, ballet, and so on – she ultimately encouraged her daughter to pursue what she was most interested in. One of the classes that did intrigue Jules had been a primer course in architecture – where high school students got to see and learn firsthand what architecture students did at Chiang Mai University.
After returning from her high school exchange year in Tennessee, Jules set her sights firmly on moving to Bangkok and enrolling at Raffles International College Bangkok, where she majored in Interior Design. Upon arriving in Bangkok, she moved in with her mother’s extensive side of the family, surrounded by strict aunts who were always watchful of her whereabouts.
“I don’t think my mother was worried about me going away at all because it was like having another 10 moms checking up on me,” she jokes. “I powered through my degree – completing it in three and a half years – but, being the hardworking family that we are, my aunt asked me why I didn’t have anything to do after seeing me idle for a few days after graduating. That led me to agree to accept my first job at Cancu Studio, immediately after a former boss approached me.”
During her one year at Cancu Studio, Jules reveled in the opportunity to work on a condominium showroom in China. What followed was an onslaught of projects from Land & Houses, working on mansion showrooms, a clubhouse in Phuket, and condominium showrooms in Chiang Mai.
“It’s a hundred times more fun to work than to study,” she admits, “and I get so much joy when people appreciate my hard work. What I also love a lot about interior design is how it’s a bit like fashion. Materials and certain products may go out of stock every two years, because they’re getting upgraded all the time, so I love having to keep myself updated. And I love going to Milan every year for Design Week.”
The impressive feedback Jules consistently received for her early projects ultimately gave her the confidence to venture out on her own with Double V Space, and her company now employs 26 staff as well as a handful of freelance designers. Having made a name for herself in the world of interior design, Jules decided to change her given name – for auspicious reasons – secure in the knowledge she’d made it on her own, and not by relying on connections. Upon changing to her mother’s family name, her relation to legendary television producer and host Wittawat Soontornvinate became more apparent.
“My mother likes to tell the world that he is her younger brother, but I have always gone out of my way to not flaunt that,” she says. “It was only after I earned my achievements, on my own, that I finally agreed to changing my name – after my quarter-life crisis. I’m very proud to be his niece, and I told him I want to make this name known internationally, as my ultimate dream is to design residences in Hollywood – for celebrities, professional athletes and famed composers.”
No longer one to work till she drops, these days Jules exhibits a much better work-life balance. Previously, her life was swallowed up whole by her job, but now she’s enrolled herself in numerous NLP psychology courses, in order to learn how to better win customer’s hearts and empower her team. Of course, taking a break once in a while is necessary too.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of rest,” she states. “Even a full Sunday is not enough. You need time off on Saturday too. I’m in an occupation where I provide so much output, so I need to feed myself with input too. I love to get inspired through my travels, and I’m so keen to share that time with my boyfriend.”
The boyfriend, incidentally, is automotive director Korkiat “Max” Limrabruen, and last month the happy couple embarked on a getaway to Switzerland. It was a holiday Jules had been craving for a long time, and apart from the allure of the Alps there was also an invitation for dinner and a visit to Franck Muller’s timepiece factory in Geneva (an invite that stemmed from her chance meeting with the brand’s CEO in Bangkok many years ago).
Along with enjoying life’s extravagances, this designing woman also finds pleasure in simpler things, like painting. In the past, creating abstract paintings served as a great release, and it was a hobby that paid off too, as friends and followers on her Instagram often asked to buy her pieces. Nowadays though, since there’s somewhat less time to paint, she’s turned to buying art, becoming an ardent supporter of Nadia Busayakul – known for her whimsical paintings of wide- eyed girls – and an avid collector of Bearbrick, SkullPanda and Pucky figures.
“I must have 50 or so figures now, and I really see it as art,” she says of her collection. “On tiring days, I look at them, and it pleases me to see how cute they are, and how they’re dressed so well in their little outfits. The colours and pattern designs also really inspire me. I’d say aesthetic appreciation is in my blood. I grew up in Chiang Mai, surrounded by rich craftmanship and a culture full of art.”
Not surprisingly, her artistic bent also extends to her fashion sense. A big fan of Thai designers, she’s more than happy to splurge on labels such as Janesuda, Tube Gallery, Shaka, and Aimee Mor by Aimee Morakot. But, at the same time – as someone who prefers to be truly one-of-a-kind – what excites Jules even more is to do her wardrobe shopping at student fashion shows.
“I like to be unique, so I really love trawling through the thesis works of fashion students. Some outfits take months to create, with their laser-cut techniques and so forth, so it’s like a piece of art. I love going to shows at Rangsit University, Silpakorn University, and Srinakharinwirot University. It’s like I’m hunting, like a buyer, but it’s for myself… and that’s so much fun!”
It’s a relief to see how laughter comes much easier to Jules lately, and that she has moved well beyond her darker days. “It used to be difficult for me to laugh before, because I didn’t even have a moment for it,” she confides. “For me, life now is simply about finding happiness in the everyday.
“For some, life is about having 10 cars, or becoming a mogul, but I feel that one can find happiness much quicker if you don’t make it complicated. Each day I say to myself that if something good has already happened, it doesn’t matter if other things throughout the day irk me. Just having a nice simple glass of orange juice is so refreshing, and it makes me so happy. And with that, I’m more than ready to get down to work.”
Find out more about Nattha “Jules” Soontornvinate in our August issue of Prestige, now available in leading bookstores nationwide.
Photographer: Apichart Chaichulla
Photographer’s Assistants: Chusak Chumming & Ekachai Sawasdee
Stylist: Naphat Thanabulanun
Stylist’s Assistant: Chidyarat Sonsomdaeng
Makeup Artist: Thiwa Yodying
Hair Stylist: Kitphisuth Kanchanakawinphong
Editorial Coordinator: Kanyaphat Somwong
Location: Seasons Ekkamai
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