A peek inside century-old Hanoi house

By Thuy Quynh, Huyen Vu   March 28, 2021 | 09:32 am GMT+7
A French-style mansion in Hanoi built by an aunt of Vietnam’s last king has stood for 110 years with its original architecture almost intact.
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The old villa is not difficult to find though it is deep inside a small alley on Ngoc Ha Street in Ba Dinh District and is surrounded by newer and taller buildings.

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A local who has been living in the neighborhood for more than 50 years said the villa was built in 1911 by King Bao Dai's aunt, who was married to a Frenchman. Bao Dai was Vietnam's last king, ruling from 1926 to 1945.
The villa has a main building, a garden, an outdoor dance floor, and a building for the servants who worked here.
"In the past the villa was used as a guest house for senior officials. After a while land prices went up and the building was sold to someone, and it later became a house as it is today. The main building remains intact, the housing area for servants has gone through many renovations."

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A garden that sprawls over 300 square meters. The garden has some precious plants and is surrounded by a curved wall in the shape of a dragon.

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The main building has a mixture of Eastern and Western architectural styles and is the largest in a complex of five old French villas located close together. Its dragon-phoenix royal roof patterns and green tiled roof are characteristic of eastern architecture.

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The villa used to face Ngoc Ha and Hoang Hoa Tham streets and surrounded by coconut trees. But it is now hidden by taller houses that have sprung up.

Contrary to the ancient exterior, the interior has a Western-style look, with floors and stairs made of ironwood.

Unlike the exterior, the interior is modern with floors and stairs made of ironwood.

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Each floor used to have three to five rooms, each with fireplaces and wooden cabinets.
Today, the main building consists of three floors and has multiple owners, each with up to 200 sq.m.
In early 2021 a Hanoi businessman, Ho Hoang Hai, became enamored of the villa's architecture and decided to buy a part of the first, third and fourth floors (the second floor is owned by another family). The third floor is the largest one and has five bedrooms.
Hai says: "Knowing there was an old villa up for sale, I rushed over to see it and decided to buy it right away without asking how big the house was. I could have opted to buy a bigger, more beautiful house. But I decided to buy part of this house since I really like old architecture."

Today, the main building consists of three floors and is owned by many households, with the floor area of each household is up to 200 square meters.

Though the building was built long ago, the original electrical system is intact with copper sockets. Its old water pumps made in France are still in working order, there is an elevator to carry food from the kitchen to the dining room on the second floor and its hinged windows, doors and sliding rails still work smoothly.
"I have been told by many locals that this villa was built by an aunt of King Bao Dai. However, no state agency has confirmed its origin or conducted research into this place."

Before being sold, a part of the villa that Hai currently owns used to be a classroom and a homestay for foreigners. However, because of Covid, he closed the door and leased it to an interior design company. If there is evidence of the origin of the house, he will decide to renew or terminate the contract and take the necessary conservation measures. After buying the house, I also take the time to find out, ask for old documents and pictures of the people living here. I hope historians, architects, managers or Those who love and have knowledge of the ancient French villa projects share more so that I and everyone have the most accurate data, said the current owner of the house.

A part of the villa that he owns used to be a classroom and a homestay, but they were shut down because of the Covid-19 outbreak. He now leases it to an interior design company.
If there is any evidence about the origin of the house, Hai is willing to take the necessary conservation measures.
"After buying the house I took time to look for old documents and pictures of the villa. I hope historians, architects and those who love and have knowledge of ancient French villas share their knowledge with me."

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The villa's courtyard, reportedly once used as a dance floor, is now closed, but in the past someone had rented it out to a shop selling draft beer for more than 10 years.

But since many locals wish to preserve the ancient look of the building, this pub had to move to another location two years ago. Since then, this place has been left vacant.

The shop moved to another location two years ago and it has remained closed since then.

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Some of the current occupants have retained the dragon wall and built gates in it while some have demolished it.

 
 
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