Apartments in decades-old buildings can be much cheaper than buying on plan. Plus, you know what you’re getting and can move in immediately. Now if only they could look as good as a new condo. Well, they can (with a little effort). And here are five pads to prove it.

Resort sky-high

Space: 63 sq meters
Building’s age: 12 years old
Budget spent: Room B1.6million, decoration approx. B1.26 million.
Architect Vinai Vongtapapitak spent six years completing his 63-sq-meter apartment in Bangkok’s Prachachuen area. The National Housing Authority’s two-bedroom apartment has been transformed into a one-bedroom resort-style living space which even incorporates a small pond.
Why revamp an old apartment rather than buy a brand new one?
Despite being a National Housing Authority property, the building structure is strong and it is also in a peaceful residential area. There’s a supermarket just downstairs, and the location is also close to the expressway. I bought it for less than B2 million for a 63-sq-meter space—a price hard to get elsewhere.
What’s your inspiration behind the design?
I try to pull in the environment from the outside to the inside. I love an airy space, so that’s why I eliminated the old layout and created everything from scratch. The floor was raised by 20 centimeters to give better views through the windows. I even have an L-shaped pond next to my bedroom. Many people are worried it will leak. For me, I was just putting a big L-shape bucket on the floor. That’s it!
What’s the most difficult part of the renovation?
The utilities. If you’re not sure you can fix something, build a whole new one. A renovation must make the place easy to maintain, as you need to live there for a long time. That’s why I created a whole new utility plan. So you can’t be rushed. We spent more than six years on this.
What should we keep in mind when renovating?
Having a beautiful room isn’t dependent on being an architect. Anyone can do it. You just need to understand your true needs. Spend time before designing your space and think: first, what do you have to do when you’re at home, like you need a space to sleep and a storage area, and, second, what do you want to do when you’re at home, like if you love to cook, your space must be large enough for a kitchen and a table. Condominiums aren’t limited to compact kitchens, you can have a full-option one if you have good space design. A condominium is not just a place to sleep. Home is where your life is, so think about it carefully.

New York Vintage

Space: 40 sq meters
Building’s age: 2 years old
Budget spent: Room B1.4 million, decoration B300,000.
Stock market investor Chachanicha Vasoontaratorn had always wanted to design a space of her own. After moving in to her condo, she spent more than a year tracking down unique decorations to fufill her passion for a dark, modern-meets-vintage look.
Why choose a secondhand condo?
It’s simple. A secondhand condo gives you an idea of what urban living would be like without you having to rob a bank. You move in and get to live in that space without having to make too big a commitment, like buying a house. You don’t know what a brand new condo is really like because it’s not finished. You don’t actually know if security is good or if the people there are nice or not. With a secondhand condo, you actually see the place first.
What are the pros and cons to consider?
The pro is that secondhand condos tend to have better maintenance than new buildings. New condos tend to have problems with things like electricity, the Internet and other things that are not yet fully functioning due to the condo being new. The bad is that you don’t always get the room you want, some rooms are already heavily decorated and sometimes there are limits on what you are allowed to change.
What’s your style?
Modern vintage. I know it sounds weird, but a lot of the build-ins and furniture in this room are designed to look modern using dark colors, whereas the decorations on walls or in the bedroom aim for a vintage look. That’s what modern vintage is. I love modern design, but too much would make the room look stiff, so small, vintage touches balance things out.
Most people tend to avoid dark colors, why did you use them so much?
I think most people avoid using them because they think it will make their rooms look small. This is true, but I love dark colors, and the trick I use to make it work is simple: I use a warm-colored light-bulb instead of a normal white one, which really makes a huge difference. Orange light makes your room warmer and easier on the eyes, whereas white light makes the room feel plain and boring.
Where did you get your furniture and decorations?
I mostly shopped at Chatuchak Market, Suam Lum Night Bazaar, Bangkok Wallpaper and the Royal Ceramic Industry. The most important thing when trying to find furniture or room decorations is to keep your eyes open when you go to places, browse around, visit places that you don’t usually go to because more often than not, there’s something you could use.
What’s the biggest challenge when decorating your condo? Any tips?
The most difficult thing for me is to mix and match. The overall look is everything, so it gets hard when choosing which type of decorations or furniture to pick. Sometimes you choose an object that you really like or you feel represents you, but it doesn’t always work out because it might not match with the tone of your room. My tip would be to start by choosing the color tone that you love, if you love blue, then go with it, look for furniture or decorations that are blue or go well with blue. If it’s what you really love, you won’t get tired of it.

In the wood for love

Space: 115 sq meters,
Building’s age: 7 years old
Budget spent: Room B7.5 million, decoration B400,000.
Real-estate developer Tanimnan Janluan had been renovating condos for years before she finally bought a place of her own, transforming her flat from a plain, modern space into an antique teak wood haven.
Why choose a secondhand condo?
Something old isn’t always bad. Think of it as buying steel: in the past steel was stronger, whereas today, with the current economy, it’s not as durable as before. This is the same for condos. When you buy a secondhand condo, it’s more likely that you’ll get a better location than a new condo, and location is vital.
What are the pros and cons to consider?
The good is that you know that the project is completed, unlike some new condos that claim to have this and that, but end up unfinished. Also with secondhand condos, you can find out whether or not the staff is nice or if there will be more construction taking place nearby. The bad is that the original design of the room might not be as sophisticated or modern as in new condos.
What’s the style of your room?
The theme of this room is wood. I prefer an old look over modern design and I love the warm, detailed style it gives to the room. Modern rooms are a dime a dozen, but old looks are rare and harder to decorate because it’s more difficult to find the furnishings.
Where did you get your furniture?
A lot of them, like the teak wood furniture, were things I’d been collecting since university; other items I got from Chatuchak Market and different places around Bangkok.
What’s the biggest challenge when decorating your condo? Any tips?
The biggest challenge is choosing the right material and choosing what to use. For instance, a lot of people like to use build-ins to save space; personally, I hate them because you can’t move them around and most build-ins are made from cheap materials. That’s something you have to consider. My tip would be to take your time, look at other condos and see which style you like—having something you don’t like in your room is very annoying.

Minimal Sanctuary

Space: 220 sq meters
Building’s age: 22 years old
Budget Spent: Room approx B9 million, decoration B2 million.
Chief operating officer (COO) at Gallothai Co. Ltd. Pierre Metz’s wanted a modern and minimal design. Based on a 75-sq-meter apartment Ekkasit Jaeng-anghin had just completed, Metz comissioned the young architect for this sprawling duplex in downtown Bangkok. Here, we speak to Ekkasit about his design process.
Why choose a secondhand condo?
There are two reasons. First is location. In real estate, location is essential. This condo is close to the BTS, MRT and good restaurants. Second is the architecture of the building. A lot of new condos today have cliché designs mostly trying to go for a modern look. Some look nice, but others are hideous.
What are the pros and cons of secondhand condos?
The good is that a lot of secondhand condos have better architecture and locations than new ones. The bad is that sometimes you’ll get a fully-furnished room or a room that’s partly decorated; this could be problematic if you want to redecorate it in your own style.
What’s your design style?
Modern and minimal. I try to place emphasis on the edges and corners in the room, making them look clean and sharp. There’s no funky design or too many decorations used.
Where did you get your furniture or decorations from?
I designed some of the furniture myself, and other stuff is from shops or previous things the owner had. The antiques are from the current tenant, a diplomat. My favorite place for furniture is Oggi, which is a brand run by a group of Thais making contemporary handcrafted wooden furniture.
Any tips?
The biggest challenge is to define your limits. People usually start by looking at magazines to find out what they like, and then they use all sorts of different decorations from what they see in magazines in their room. The end product is usually a messy room, so my tip would be to ask yourself what kind of room you want in terms of tone, color and style, then set a limit so you don’t over-decorate.

Compact Comfort

Space: 28 sq meters
Building’s age: 10 years old
Budget spent: Room B600,000, decoration B100,000 (including the amount she lost to a contractor who ran off half-way through on the job).
As a stylist for My Home magazine, Boonyawee Boonnark’s taste is impeccable. Boonyawee spent three months looking for her first pad and another three months renovating an old, dull nest into an strikingly pretty, compact room.
Why a secondhand home?
To be honest, secondhand places are cheaper. I had a limited budget for my first home and I didn’t want to be in debt for my entire life. This apartment, despite being compact, is cheap, close to my workplace and big enough to be my personal space. It won’t be my only house.
What’s the inspiration behind your renovation and decoration?
I love the beach and I love to stay in a beach house—but that’s not very realistic for urban living. So I just opted for the beach-house style: simple decor with white and light colors. I don’t really have a single style, I just mix things up as I like. And as a stylist, I get the chance to see nice rooms, beautiful houses and pretty decorative items.
What’s the hardest part of home renovations?
The hardest part is to know what I really love. Because of my job, the more beautiful places I see, the more styles I like. I was sometimes blown away by the sheer choice of pretty things. You just need to match your preference to your space. For example, I’d really love to have a two-seat sofa, but because of my tiny space, I got the same feel with a smaller cushion instead. Utilities are what you must really be careful of. I started seeing some flaws after a year of living here.
What should we keep in mind before starting a renovation?
First, do not think big, do think small. I don’t totally agree with the idea of spending a lot of money on a fancy house where you wish to live forever. We don’t know how long we’re going to live in one place. Even though I’m a Bangkokian, I might move to another province in the future. So start with something you can afford. Second, do sign a contract with your contractor, and split the amount you need to pay them—only pay half upfront. My old contractor ran away with my money without completing even half of the renovations. Buy things (tiles, paints, decorations) by yourself, if you can. Just hire a contractor to do the work. My renovation cost is cheap because I did many things on my own. My pad might not be very large, but that’s all I need for now. Because at the end of the day, a person only needs a space to sleep, cook, eat and work comfortably.



230/1-2 Ekkamai Soi 11, 02-392-2704-5. Open daily 10am-6pm
Randomly arranged, the secondhand furniture here is mostly imported from England, but also comes from other European countries. Apart from the retro home pieces, they also have old vinyl records and collectibles, such as antique figurines and old postal stamps.


11-12 A, 34 Ekkamai Soi 21, 02-711-5500. Open daily 11-1am
This two-story pub, restaurant and art gallery has a retro vibe. You can play pool, listen to some old tunes and buy a couch all in one visit. The place serves Thai-inter food, like foie gras and baked snow fish. Recently opened, another two-unit space just across the street in Soi Cham Chan stocks more vintage furniture for sale.

Shades of Retro

Soi Thararom 2, between Thonglor Soi 18 and 20, 081-824-8011. Open daily 3pm-1am
Here’s another great option, especially if you’re looking for a combined chilling and vintage retail therapy session after dinner around Thonglor. Sip a bottle of beer while listening to world music surrounded by old school surfboards, Vespas and vintage pianos. Most of the collectibles are up for sale, with prices starting from B1,000.


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