Interiorssneak peeks

Calm, Cool & Classic Style in Central Vietnam

by Hanh Le

Many folks are moving out of Manhattan, NY these days, so I’ve heard. Some retreat to Brooklyn or Philadelphia, some escape all the way to the West Coast. Last year, Linh Nguyen and Craig Theisen decided to head for the coast, too — the coast of Vietnam!

The two first met at Columbia University, where Linh was studying under a Fulbright scholarship and Craig was completing a Master’s program in social work. Linh, a native Vietnamese from a small town outside Hanoi, had always known she’d return to Vietnam one day. Craig, who had traveled to more than 40 countries with the U.S. Air Force, was happy to join her. After eight years together in Manhattan, they packed their things and settled in Hoi An, a small gem on the central coast, famous for its picturesque streets lined with trees, lanterns, and artisanal shops.

The transition from Manhattan to Hoi An took some getting used to, especially without central air conditioning (the average high temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit!). Their home, built in 2014, includes traditional Vietnamese interior elements designed to beat the heat. Marble floors are always cold to the touch and a great place for a midday nap. During the day, bamboo blinds block out the sun, but in the evening, the oversize windows and doors are thrown open to let in the cool ocean breeze. Solid wooden chairs in the living room are easy to clean, and stay cool against sweat and humidity.

To break up the swaths of hard surfaces, Linh and Craig introduced tropical plants, woven floor mats, and colorful wall hangings and seat cushions. The result is an oasis that feels relaxed and refreshing. —Hanh

Photography by Linh Nguyen

Living room from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
When Linh and Craig first moved in, there was a large, heavy, upholstered couch in the living room — it clashed with their decor and was not ideal for the humid climate. They hunted for an antique wooden living room set, common in older Vietnamese households, and found these through word-of-mouth, at their landlord's cousin's moving sale.
Living room from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
Some challenges require you to design around them. What looks like a side table underneath the brown linen is actually a built-in safe, a common fixture — and eyesore — in Vietnamese homes. The potted plant on the floor rests on top of a repurposed fisherman's basket. Above Craig's ukelele is actually a wall sconce he created from a lantern and a birdcage, two cultural symbols of Hoi An: hanging lanterns light up the city each night, and a bird competition is held every Sunday.
Linh Nguyen and Craig Theisen from their home tour on Design*Sponge
Linh Nguyen is a freelance photographer and food blogger whose goal is to share the beauty and culture of Vietnam with the world. Craig Theisen is a clinical counselor serving expats in their community.
Koi pond from the living room in Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
Outside the living room is a koi pond filled with fish and floating water lilies.
Detail of living room in Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
All decor in the house is sourced from Vietnamese artisans, often in the local community. The painting portrays a young girl in the traditional "ao dai" dress. The wall hanging was dyed in the centuries-old batik method of the Hmong people, an ethnic minority in the northern mountains.
Kitchen from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
On her lifestyle and food blog, Linh shares Vietnamese recipes that are simple, healthy, and delicious. Her kitchen is clean and minimalist, but some serious cooking goes down here!
Kitchen from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
A local carpenter built these shelves, which Linh has stocked with ceramic pots and bowls, as well as cutting boards she's collected from all over the world. On the top shelf sits an illustration of Linh's mango shrimp salad, painted by a friend from Germany.
Bedroom from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
The bedroom is clean and cool, a place to escape the heat. The large vase was salvaged from the backyard, and Linh crafted the nightstand from a small antique stool and a bamboo basket. Beneath the sconce is a painting of the iconic yellow plaster buildings of Hoi An, painted by a local artist.
Home office in Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
Linh's desk, where she edits her photography, is simple and focused. A local artist friend painted the three hanging basket lids in the style of Vietnamese Đông Hồ folk art. "The paintings represent some of the important folk tale animals in Vietnamese culture. For example, the turtle is wise and the toad is the uncle of the sky (or God) because when the toad makes a sound it is likely raining and it represents the wish to control nature. The rooster represents good fortune, particularly with regard to crops and business dealings."
Home office from Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
In this corner of her office, Linh stores and displays the props she uses for her photography. This old blue door is the perfect rack for her linen backdrops. The colorful mat is woven with dried reeds — in the past, the kings of the Nguyen Dynasty in the nearby city of Hue would sleep on these mats. Now, it is a dying art form. "The two ladies who made and sold us these are among the last people in that village who know how to weave mats, so these might be among the last generation."
Backyard of Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
Water buffalo in the backyard. Linh and Craig's home is surrounded by farmland and farm animals: chickens, roosters, pigs, cows, as well as your usual cats and dogs. Still, it's probably quieter than Manhattan!
From Linh Nguyen's home tour on Design*Sponge
Linh's younger brother, Đức, drew this for Design*Sponge! By bicycle, Linh and Craig can ride to the beach in one direction, or Hoi An center city in the other direction — both in under 15 minutes.

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  • Bali is the closest I’ve been to Vietnam, and the styles look so similar to my eye. Just flipping through the photos I could hear the distant sound of Balinese music and smell the flowers that were everywhere. Ah, thank you for that moment.

  • Hey ladies, Hoi An is outside Danang. Or if you are looking for a bigger city, an over night train ride from Ho Chi Min City/Saigon. Definitely not a small town outside Hanoi.

    • Hi Caroline. The article says that Hoi An is a small gem on the central coast and Linh, not Hoi An, is from a small town outside Hanoi.

    • Caroline, I don’t believe they were claiming Hoi An is near Hanoi, but that one of the homeowners was originally from a town near Hanoi

  • Beautiful home and life style. I hope to visit Vietmam and perhaps learn to make one of those beautiful mats!

  • Beautiful! I love to see the different homesteads and styles from other countries. This clean natural vibe is so inspiring!

  • i always thought of Vietnam being shanty houses which i admit is a bit silly but anyway that looks like a very impressive home – my boss has an apartment out there and its so much cheaper for a glamorous lifestyle than in the UK!