Saturday, August 11, 2007

It’s not a Hotel, it’s Home


A TAIWANESE interior designer and I were chatting in the opulent living room of his colonial-style home in Bangkok when a quintet of French tourists walked in.

Ignoring the strangers, Eugene Yu-Ching Yeh continued his explanation on why a stuffed peacock was perched in the room.

The house owner was not curious about the new arrivals as on any given day strangers – who can be trendsetters, tycoons or tourists – would be swimming in his pool, reading in his library, eating in his dinning room or sleeping in his bedroom.

“I make a living as a host,” says Yeh, the owner of The Eugenia, a 12-suite boutique hotel with the tagline It’s not a Hotel, it’s a Home!

Hoteliers have told Yeh that he was crazy, that he could not possibly make money from a hotel with only a dozen rooms.

“I think I understand (the hoteliers’ point of view) as my hotel does not have economies of scale. But I don’t plan to make a fortune from this hotel,” he says. “This is my hobby.”

Asked whether he could get returns from his investment, the host, who prefers hotels where guests can nonchalantly walk barefooted, responds with a smile. “I don’t think so.”

In explaining his business philosophy, Yeh relates an experience at a weekend party at his home in Taipei. “My guests got drunk and then slept in my house, when they woke up the next morning they took a shower and asked for breakfast,” he recalls.

“Now I still throw a ‘party’, but when you open a bottle of wine or order food or go upstairs to sleep, I will charge you.”

But Yeh’s home is not an ordinary home. It costs a ballpark figure of 100 million baht (RM11mil). And Relais & Chateaux, a leading French travel guide, has recognised it as a charming luxury property because its owner is always around to greet his guests.

The Eugenia ( is the interior designer’s long-time dream to showcase his hotel design philosophy which is ‘not everything must be new, new, new.’

Yeh, who has been a Bangkok resident since 1988, however, could not find any client so he decided to build his own hotel.

About five years ago, to get an idea of the hotel he wanted, the 46-year-old Taiwanese travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Rangoon to photograph such beautiful buildings as Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang and the colonial bungalows in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur – all older than him.

On a piece of land in Soi Sukhumvit 31 that he purchased three years ago, he put up a three-storey building that is a combination of late 19th century British and French colonial architecture. It was completed in early 2006.

Some guests, however, have insisted that the hotel was not new, pointing for instance at the chipped tiles in the reception area, which has a zebra skin thrown on the floor. “The tiles were obtained from an old building to give my hotel an old look,” explains Yeh.

To go with the 100- to 200-year-old feel to the hotel, the building is also a repository for Yeh’s antiques that had been languishing in his Taipei warehouse. Other personal items are also part of the decor.

The hotel is named after a beautiful 80-something Vietnamese woman with whom Yeh had a non-verbal exchange of ideas on colonial buildings.

“We did not speak the same language so I never got to know her name. But in my heart I called her Eugenia,” he relates of his encounter with the woman in December 2004 in Ho Chi Minh City.

(Published in The Star on August 11, 2007. Photograph courtesy of The Nation)