I have always loved the timber rice storage huts you see in the garden of just about every rural house in Isaan. Somehow they are essentially Isaan and each has its own character and history. In the days when everyone grew their own rice this was where it was stored to provide essential food for the family over the course of a year. My own Isaan family still use theirs and our supply of rice comes from their hut. These days rice farms are being converted to sugar and less people are growing rice, although it is still an essential part of the seasonal crop cycle for many people. As a result some of the huts now stand empty and I have heard of them being used for firewood. Part of my plan for the new garden we have been developing this year was the installation of a rice hut, which I wanted to renovate to make it like a mini-example of the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, link HERE if you haven’t been there. This is the story of achieving that vision.
8 June 2018 – Searching for a Rice Hut
Today was supposed to be a catch-up on some computer work but it wasn’t to be (yet). I am back onto finding a rice storage hut to place in the new garden and I asked Peng, my stepdaughter, to make me a “wanted” poster we could distribute, which she did a couple of nights ago. I was in no particular hurry but today Gaun suggested we call into her uncle who lives in a village ten minutes away and see if he knew of any huts for sale and if not we would give away the posters. Uncle threw himself into the task and after a couple of no-go’s we hit the jackpot.
Gaun was talking to some villagers who thought I was “bah” – mad – to be spending money buying a rice hut. These are often burnt as firewood as they have no other value for locals. Anyway. One has been saved today.
I am changing the design of the hut so that it is enclosed on three sides with one wall removed and the timber saved used to make a veranda.
This will have a pergola over it and flow into the garden. The timber walls mean I can display some artwork I picked up in Bangkok, once I make some frames. This will be a great addition to the garden and provide yet another sitting area if I ever had the time to do that.
Gaun was in seek and buy mode at this stage and a we picked one up for 150 baht (A$6.00). Yuan and Lud came in from the farm to move it. Once it is cleaned and sealed it will add character to this bit of the garden as it replaces a plastic garbage bin!
12 June 2018 – Getting the Hut Ready to Move
I have published a similar photo previously but everything has grown a lot. These are all cuttings donated by Gaun and planted and maintained by a couple of ancient ladies from our village.
14 June 2018 – Moving the Hut
Our rice hut arrived at the house yesterday morning and by the end of the day the eight foundation holes had been dug and concreted.
Today the contractor (I love that word – in an Isaan context this means a guy who normally does something else but has the time to do the job you want!) has gone off to put money on some Bun Bang Fai rockets being launched south of Si Bun Ruang. Back at work tomorrow,
I have decided only to do this to the wood inside and leave the outside a natural gray colour. None of these rice huts are treated so to do mine would be out of context and make it all a bit too farang! Inside is a different story and there I want the timber richness of the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok.
15 June 2018 – Rebuilding Starts
The second day of rice hut building and good progress made. The guy doing it has been very meticulous about trying to make a jumble of old timbers fit together as well as possible. It was such a pleasure to see something being created from wood rather than concrete and steel. So much character and, even at this early stage, the hut seems to have settled into the location and looks as if it belongs there.
You can see that the posts are sitting on a concrete base. This will be filled with concrete once the frame has been made to fix them in place. The timber you can see in the left corner with the groove cut into it is for the walls. The wood for them is quite thin and fits into this groove at the bottom. The floor then butts up to it on the inside.
I was originally going to use some of these to to build a deck in front of the opening to the hut but obviously that wouldn’t work with this wood. Today Gaun negotiated for the guy to build a 3.5 x 2 metre deck for us where he supplies the timber for 2,500 baht (A$100).
The space between the columns on the far right will have a wall and the window you’ll see in the next photo. I changed my original design and there will be one wall across the front on the right. The other two openings won’t have walls and the deck will be built at the same level the width of that space and coming out 2 metres.
You will see this style in some of the old timber houses. I want to have this one fitted to the front of the hut where the morning sun will shine through it and make a feature.
18 June 2018 – Buffalo Yokes
When we were being helped to find a rice hut by Gaun’s uncle, he told her that he wanted to give me a couple of buffalo yokes as he knew I was interested in old Isaan items.
Although they don’t look too exciting they must have such a history of hard work (yakka for you Aussies!) by both buffalo and Gaun’s uncle in the day. They are super heavy, made from hardwood of course, and smooth with years of use. I am delighted by have them and they will join my small Isaan trophy room in the rice hut once it is completed.
I have also included a couple of photos showing how even what might be thought of as lost timber can be transformed.
Gaun grew up with buffalos as the tractors of Isaan. Her mama had 16 of them and ploughed the family farm in exactly this way. Gaun and Yuan used to ride out to the farm on them, chest deep in water during the wet season, after school.
We bought four of these pots today with plants included at 80 baht each (A$2.50) from the nursery in Nong Bua Lamphu I mentioned recently. Each one will end up with a stand like this example. I had a comment on my Facebook page from a regular reader and he stated the truth when he wrote:
One of the things I love about Thailand is the wonderful exotic woods they have here in abundance. I’ve lost count of the number of pieces I’ve saved from being tossed on the fire – I just can’t cope with the thought of burning something so beautiful
18 June 2018 – Progress
The rice hut was almost finished today with the roof and walls mostly done. Tomorrow there is some detailed work to do and a start on the decking extension. It is still very rough of course but it won’t take much to turn it into a decent outside room.
- The costs so far:
Rice hut 6,000 baht
Remove and rebuild 12,000 baht
1 metre of sand and gravel 1,000 baht
12 concrete rings 1,080 baht
3 bags of concrete 360 baht
Delivery 200 baht
Wood strips – 120 metres 1,440 baht.
Insulation 24 sq mtrs 1,720 baht
Extra timber 300 baht
24,100 baht or A$990.00.
By the time I bought some extra timber, stain and the window I think the final cost will be about 26,000 baht.
19 June 2018 – Finished
The rice hut was completed today with its veranda extension and we celebrated with an Isaan buffet this evening. A very appropriate way to christen the new addition to our estate!
20 June 2018 – Cleaning
This afternoon the pressure wash of the wood on the rice hut revealed beautiful colours underneath the grime of decades. Very rewarding. Yuan and Lud came over this evening to toast the new addition to the garden, and after more SangSom (Thai rum) than normal my life is looking a little blurred and I hope my spelliog is OK! The fish basket lamp shade was a hit too.
22 June 2018 – Slow Progress
As always you can spend a full day working on projects and at the end you think why it all took so long! Steps and a handrail were installed to the deck area (the latter for Peng and me after a few SangSoms) and the window has gone in complete with an Isaan window box
The staining starts tomorrow and thanks to everyone’s suggestions I will stick to the natural wood. I will share photos then. Speaking of SangSom……………………
Needless to say I had a totally farang concept for them and they are going to be experimental light shades for the rice hut. I think they will be in character and give a warm characterful lighting at night. I will report back. 180 baht each (A$8.00).
28 June 2018 – Update
Good progress continues to be made on finishing the rice hut conversion. It all takes longer than one thinks it will mainly because I am doing the work! It all goes a lot quicker when I am the supervisor
There is still more to be done to finish the detailing, sanding and more varnish on floors and walls, which are too rough, and hooking it up to electricity. The photos give you a taste of how the finished article will look like but some of the furnishings are just there to fill the space and will be improved over time. I think it will end up exactly what I hoped for. An outside garden room with character.
The rug is from a small Welsh village outside Cardiff, just to add an international flavour. The pot is from a wonderful place that makes them between Chiang Mai and Rai. The fish basket lamp shades work hanging I think. The six floorboards at the end only have one coast of varnish so you can tell the difference that an extra coat gives.
This has been a rewarding project and the process of transferring a simple rice hut from the fields to our new garden has been an exciting journey. I am sure that the hut will provide another place in the garden to stop and do not much for many years to come.
Thanks for reading.