With its easy-breezy vibes and lush greenery, there’s something surprisingly idyllic about Soi Somkid, despite being in the midst of Bangkok’s chaotic CBD. We’d wager it has something to do with the houses that line the street — homes from the 50s that have been reworked to a minimalist, stylish glean that even the most discerning of observers can’t help but love. Among them is the House of Fritz Hansen, where Norse Republics CEO and Founder Veekrit “Ong” Palarit has created a flagship for the Danish furniture brand unlike any in the world. Today, the corner it occupies is reputed for culture and the arts — even more so after the recent opening of Siri House, Sansiri’s splashy venture next door. A haven for creative souls looking to get inspired and unwind, this is a nook that can instantly put you at ease — very much like Ong himself.
The brains behind Thailand’s exclusive distributor of Nordic furniture and top-tier lifestyle brands such as Hay, Fritz Hansen, Gubi, Paper Collective, Massimo Copenhagen, Vitra and Artek, to say Ong has made a mark on the local interior scene would be an understatement. Since the founding of Norse Republics in 2015, he’s made huge waves, successfully interjecting a splash of Nordic design into Thailand’s creative industry. We sat down with Ong to chat about his thoughts on how he got to where he is today, what he considers to be good design, and how his love for Scandinavian furniture began. Here’s what we learned.
The “energy” matters
Today, Soi Somkid might be Bangkok’s cultural hub for the chic and affluent, but rewind to back in 2017, when the House of Fritz Hansen was first established, and the area was mostly just residential space. To set up shop here seems like a bold move, but Ong didn’t have any initial reservations. “There’s a lot of good energy here,” he explains simply, “I was not indecisive about getting this house at all. It’s a very positive space.” And it’s true. Much like the man behind it, The House of Fritz Hansen — along with the turf it rests on — is full of conviviality, reflecting the light-hearted and friendly furniture it holds.
As does the surrounding context
Completely unlike any other existing Fritz Hansen flagships in the world, what makes the House of Fritz Hansen different is how it takes high-end Danish furniture, and showcases them within the surroundings of a Thai home, literally. Ong describes a rather arduous nine-months spent hunting for the ideal “Thai house, but a modern one”. The search took him across Sukhumvit, Yanawa and Chan Road, but he was adamant on finding a space where potential clients could experience the furniture firsthand, and envision how the pieces could fit into their personal lives.
It wasn’t until he came across this area owned by Bangkok nobles in Soi Somkid, that he finally stumbled upon what he had been looking for. The owners — descendants from the Chirabhongse clan and Prince Naris — have never leased their property for commercial products, and it was probably Ong’s understanding and respect towards the existing surroundings that won him the deal in the first place. “Luckily, the owners come from a line of artists and have art in their blood as well,” he recalls, with a sigh of relief. “They liked our concept of preserving their house, but that we’d change it to something better.” He looks back with a self-deprecating laugh on hours spent putting together his initial idea pitch. “I still remember trying to explain the PowerPoint presentation to show them what I would turn this space into. Pretty much just trying to sell myself the best I can, you know!”
You don’t need to have grown up with design… You just need to love it.
Talking to Ong is a bit like cracking open a fascinating book on design — conversations easily veer onto design history grounds or the occasional Bauhaus anecdote, and you’re bound to leave with something new to ponder. “Please tell me to stop if it’s getting too deep,” he chuckles at one point, “I just love to tell people about it. I love history and can remember a lot of design history. I think it’s important because it makes you aware of the roots behind designs today and what planes of thoughts people had in the past.”
The thing is, not only is he so passionate about the field, but he is so incredibly well-informed that one would assume he’d grown up with design. So it comes as a surprise to know Ong’s background was actually in engineering and logistics. As the family’s eldest son, Ong’s original path was to take over his family’s business of supplying raw wood to furniture providers. He looks back at a rather normal childhood spent studying at Assumption College Thonburi, and later Thammasat University’s international programme of Industrial Engineering. In fact, he was the only one out of his two siblings who went to a Thai school. “My parents didn’t want me to be upset about it,” he tells us, explaining how both his sister Lalida (33) and brother Apinut (29) had taken the international school route. “They made up by sending me to experience life abroad with host families. I got to travel a lot and started to enjoy travelling since then.”
After graduating, he spent two years working for Michelin in logistics and supply chain management, before returning to work for his family. It wasn’t until his family started a second business — producing cement boards — that design and branding became more important to his line of work, and he started to discover where his heart truly lied. “Previously, it was a lot of industrial exports for mass production, but now I was also involved with designing the catalogues, website and booths when we went to trade shows abroad. I really had fun with design and felt that I had ideas in that field. I would be on Illustrator of Photoshop until I forgot time or to eat. I quickly realised I enjoyed this.”
Sometimes children do know best
In hindsight, his childhood pastime of doodling furniture should have hinted at where his future was headed. “Now that I think back about things I used to draw as a child, it was my mother’s powder table,” Ong says with a laugh, “Or my dad would say draw that table or chair or cupboard. I feel that when I see furniture, I can remember its looks and I can understand its sensibility.”
Now a father himself to his three-year-old son Parit, or Norse, Ong looks back at how his own parents had raised him. It had come as a surprise when his father had been supportive of his decision to pursue his passion by getting another bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design at IED in Milan, despite the whole process being akin to starting over. “Now that I’m a father myself, I really appreciate the freedom my own father had given me to pursue my own interests. I just hope that I can help my child find himself and what he likes, so he can do it. No matter what it is, I just want him to do what he loves, because I believe doing what you like can only be good in the end.”
Design and life walk hand in hand
The time spent in Milan proved to be a turning point for Ong. Those years became key to shaping his taste for design — or, more specifically, his taste for Scandinavian design. Living in a capital known to thrive with creativity, Ong found himself constantly exposed to the finest design-brands in the market, especially with the annual Salone del Mobile — the world’s biggest furniture fair — hosted every April. “While I was studying there, Scandinavian brands were getting really big. At the fair, I saw these accessories which were displayed almost like an installation, but it was pencils, papers, pens and scissors. They were very beautiful yet simple and eye-catching. All these accessories were by Hay, a Danish furniture brand. Right after I decided to go to Copenhagen because I really liked their products and wanted to see their culture, how they live and what their philosophies were.”
From his visit, Ong soon learned why Nordic nations put so much emphasis on their homes — and in a way, brought that aspect back with him. “Their winters are very long and there is barely any sunlight for two months, so they made their homes a cosy, comfortable place to live in. They focus on making the space as lively, colourful and natural as possible, which is why their interiors have a lot of wood, natural textiles and lots of colour, unlike Italian brands. Asians and Thais may show off with handbags and dressing up in designer wear, but over there, it is their homes that are their pride and glory. Meetings and parties are mostly held at home because it is what people there proudly showcase.”
It isn’t all aesthetics — a lot of it is about the experience
Upon returning to Thailand, Ong noticed that he wasn’t the only one who’d caught the Scandi-bug — Nordic design had crept into the local scene through the clean minimalism of Kinfolk magazines, Ikea or utgard tents. Still, at that point, the retailers only had the simple part down — no one was really looking at the luxury market segment. Recognising this, Ong’s plans of launching his own furniture line took a step back to the founding of Norse Republics. His passion for Hay — and success in pushing it to the Thai market — led to numerous other premium brands such as Fritz Hansen, to join the company’s impressive portfolio. When asked about his clientele, he reveals that there’s an equal split between residential customers and commercial spaces, and that at the end of the day, what really makes him happiest is seeing how people experience the products.
“My goal is to just let the majority of people enjoy these designs as much as possible, even if it’s just you going to a coffee shop and saying their chairs are comfortable already makes me happy. Our delivery men sometimes send pictures of our sleek chairs getting delivered to teak houses or that the owners have paired them next to their Chiang Mai furniture. It’s these things that make me feel that I have already succeeded. There are no limitations as to where our furniture must be at because design that is simple can be anywhere without destroying the harmony of its surroundings.”
Not only does he enjoy the simplistic, adaptability of Scandinavian furniture, but he’s also smitten with their bright range of colours, and the cheerful disposition they embody. He points to a curvy, light blue Fri chair. “I mean, look at that chair, doesn’t it just seem so fun? I don’t feel that it’s serious at all. I like how it has its own character and how it can change the context of the space it is in.”
Sometimes the most luxurious things are the most simple.
“Italian furniture is like a person who is a braggart and talks a lot,” he tells us, when asked what he believes to be good design. “Everything must be outstanding, and people used to focus on that and think that is all luxury is.” While he views Italian furniture as too much, and Japanese furniture as too plain, Scandinavian furniture hits the right spot, through timeless designs made with the highest quality. “Luxury here is meticulous craftsmanship — it’s the same with seeing someone wearing a suit and knowing it’s expensive even though it is not embellished with diamonds. People are now understanding that simple things can be luxurious too. In fact, they are checking the bottom of the chairs — in order to see if the stitching is impeccable even though it’s something you cannot see.”
This ideal balance of quality and stylish subtlety is a very specific preference — one that trickles into almost all aspects in Ong’s life. He is often spotted in sharp, clean-cut looks, despite having tied the knot five years ago with the ever-stylish Jongkol “Pook” Palarit, Vogue Thailand’s fashion director. You even see his simplistic streak in his travel habits. “I’m very easy and not a flashy person at all,” he tells us. “When our family goes on holiday, I want to go to places with few people, like Copenhagen or Koh Yao Noi to really relax peacefully and just be still. Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea are too much and not considered a holiday for me! I like quiet places and for our latest trip to Pattaya, I actually hunted down for a hotel with five rooms. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I always seek nature and some special experience about it.”
Scandinavian design is cool, but local creatives deserve the spotlight too.
“My dreams have changed and getting to work on this now has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” Ong ponders slowly, when asked about his dreams for the next ten years. “But at one point, after I’ve created enough name and success for Fritz Hansen, I’d like to push for Thai designers to be famous too. When I talk to foreigners and they ask of Thai designers and their works abroad,, I honestly have no names to speak of. In five- or ten-years’ time I want to start a furniture brand and recruit talented designers that have a bright future, to focus on exporting rather than cater to the Thai market. The industry of Thai designs is stagnant now because there isn’t really anyone supporting it.”
He adds jokingly, “not that I have to design the furniture myself, I’d probably have lost my touch by then!” Honestly, considering the extent of his good taste right now, we find that highly unlikely.
Find out more about Veekrit Palarit in our July issue, available in all leading bookstores in Thailand.
Photographer: Vatcharasith Wichyanrat
Stylist: Panchanitch Rattanawilai
Stylist’s Assistant: Nichabul Thamyutsakul
Makeup & Hair: Nattanun Nitiareeroj
Editorial Coordinator: Rattanachai Chaipornsantikul
Location: House of Fritz Hansen Bangkok