The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

In memory of Caryl Olivieri, Bangkok furniture designer and artisan

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 12•11

Caryl Olivieri, 2002

We at WoWasis originally found furniture designer Caryl Olivieri on the top floor of his Artitude shop at Bangkok’s Gaysorn shopping complex. We were impressed by the designer’s bold, colorful furniture uses of traditional rattan, but with a new twist: it was woven into fine strips, and molded in contours that snake around cushions, armrests, and feet.

Caryl’s personal story was fascinating.  Born in Corsica on September 19, 1957, where he lived until he was 16, he attended Paris’ prestigious Ecole Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, and soon found himself working in haute couture, designing clothes and accessories for France’s leading fashion houses. He also served as a model. Soon, he began designing watches and fashion accessories, wrote travel guidebooks, and lived in Brazil, China, and Taiwan before arriving in Bangkok on a jewelry contract in conjunction with Elle Magazine. Having fallen in love with Thailand, elected to stay, and was persuaded to bring his expertise to interior and garden design, in venues such as the restaurant Crêpes and Co., on Sukhumvit Soi 12. He co-founded Artitude in October of 2002.

The shop was a success from the beginning. Caryl was soon a social fixture around town, a live-wire who enlightened every party. His enthusiasm for Bangkok, particularly the area around Thong Lor (Sukhumvit 55) was infectious. He had a mystical sense for the numbers 3, 7, and 9, and donated 37.9%  of his earnings to HIV/AIDS programs, breast cancer research. He paid his workers above-market wages, and paid the school fees of his workers’ children.

Moving into the year 2004, he voiced concerns about complications arising from his transactions with a Thai business associate, who he refused to name. As is tersely stated in Brian Mertens’ book Bangkok Design: Thai Ideals in Textiles and Furniture, (2007, ISBN 13-978-981-232-600-3), “He died from a fall in 2004while tending the balcony garden in his high-rise apartment.” Neither The Nation nor the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s two leading English language newspapers, published the story or his obituary. It’s as if this high-profile, generous, and well-liked westerner just one day vanished. The French Embassy’s Death Dossier # 409 on him essentially repeats the police conclusion that his death was accidental. As with many other westerners who accidentally fall from tall buildings in Bangkok and Pattaya, case closed.

In an earlier web entry WoWasis made for Caryl’s work, we quoted him as follows, and added our own commentary:

“Essentially, I wanted to change the concept of outdoor furniture, bring unexpected colors to contemporary urban living, and create an interior environment that will be modern in Bangkok, New York, or Paris. Thailand has many workshops that make rattan, but our concept was unique; the real challenge was training the workers to work the material in a new way, and produce to a higher level of quality than they’d been accustomed.”  His interior concepts include panels, columns, lamps, and accessories to urban lifestyle, all utilizing rattan woven into rich textures, dyed and waterproofed.  His designs carry elements of several international styles, while being uniquely his.  A visitor may recognize disparate influences in his furniture such as clean Scandinavian motifs, bold Japanese perpendicular planes, and, in his room treatments which include panels, early twentieth century Russian constructivism.

“In 1998, I founded Atmosfer, which encompasses furniture and interior design consulting, but which will also eventually include music and other design elements which add to the urban environment evolving from our creations.”  He’s clearly on his way, having exhibited his furniture in France, and now having representation in Japan and California.

Well, we were wrong. He was instead on his way to an early death, yet another westerner who falls in love with a country that becomes his final stop. The books have been closed on the life and death of Caryl Olivieri now for some time. They’ll probably never be reopened, nor will the dossiers that tell the “story behind the story” that the world will never know.

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One Comment

  1. FlightRisk says:

    I recall sitting in cab with Caryl as we made our way back to Sukhumvit from the south side. He was telling me how much he enjoyed, as he called them “the leafy back-sois of Bangkok.” He also related to me some of the legal issues he was involved with at the time. I never believed his “fall” was and accident, but I guess the real truth will never be known.

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