Home is where the heart is

A fash­ion stylist ap­plies his love of aes­thet­ics to lux­ury guest­houses in Malacca.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - By WIL­LIAM K. C. KEE star2@ thes­tar. com. my

OLD houses have souls, and I don’t mean ghosts! There is so much his­tory in them, wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.”

That’s the an­swer from David Chang, when asked about the ap­peal of pre- war build­ings.

Chang, 44, and his busi­ness part­ner Lum Heng Soon, 43, own three lux­ury guest­houses in Malacca. The first, called 45 Lekiu, was opened in 2010 and fol­lowed by The Sta­ble and Op­po­site Place.

“All our prop­er­ties are beau­ti­ful pre- war build­ings that – through ei­ther ne­glect or hap­haz­ard ren­o­va­tions – have lost their iden­tity. It amazes me what you find once you start tear­ing down the ex­ten­sions and scrape off the lay­ers of paint­work.

“Restor­ing and re­fur­bish­ing th­ese won­der­ful build­ings is a ro­man­tic love af­fair for me. To see them in their glo­ri­ous for­mer state and be able to share them with our guests is very grat­i­fy­ing,” en­thuses Pa­hang- born Chang.

“Af­ter my ter­tiary education, I was man­ag­ing one of Syd­ney’s best known bou­tique ho­tels. It was my wish then to own some­thing simi- lar,” says Chang, who grad­u­ated with a Bach­e­lor of Arts ( So­ci­ol­ogy) from La Trobe Univer­sity Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia.

“Now I am able to ful­fill that dream of run­ning bou­tique guest­houses where lux­ury and chic come hand in hand.”

When he’s not busy with the guest­houses, Chang works as a free­lance fash­ion stylist for TV com­mer­cials.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Chang’s work in fash­ion has in­flu­enced his aes­thet­ics when it comes to the prop­er­ties.

“A fash­ion stylist creates a story through clothes, props, pho­tog­ra­phy and light­ing; ev­ery shoot tells a dif­fer­ent story,” ex­plains Chang.

“The same ap­plies to the guest­houses, which bring you back to a by­gone era of a pre- war pe­riod; al­beit a more com­fort­able and lux­u­ri­ous one. We strive to recre­ate the glam­our of the pe­riod with de­tails like ro­man­tic lou­vre win­dows and doors, Baba and Ny­onya fur­nish­ing, im­pos­ing chan­de­liers and charm­ing court­yards.”

As a fash­ion stylist, at­ten­tion to de­tails is cru­cial dur­ing a shoot, ac­cord­ing to Chang.

“I ap­ply the same rule when man­ag­ing the guest­houses – the place­ment of the tow­els, the mood of light­ing in the rooms, the choice of art­work and sculp­tures – ev­ery mi­nor de­tail needs to be in place to en­hance the en­joy­ment of our guest.”

Chang adds: “When I am on shoots, re­act­ing quickly to po­ten­tial prob­lems is cru­cial. This prob­lem solv­ing re­flex also ap­plies to the day- to- day run­ning of the guest­houses.”

As his prop­er­ties are rel­a­tively small, the daily op­er­a­tion is fairly easy. “We pride our­selves in giv­ing guests their pri­vacy, there­fore we do not in­trude on them. They are given the keys and shown around the prop­erty and af­ter that, we leave them alone to en­joy them­selves. Un­less they re­quire some­thing, we do not in­trude ex­cept for house­keep­ing chores. As such, we only need a small army of staff to keep the places run­ning.”

Oc­cu­py­ing a pre- war 1941 Art Deco build­ing, 45 Lekiu has three lev­els which are metic­u­lously re­stored, with two bed­rooms. Guests get the full run of the prop­erty which fea­ture a tran­quil lap pool, a spa­cious bath­room ( com­plete with bath tub) and an in­spired mix of con­tem­po­rary pieces and cen­turies- old fur­nish­ing ( in­clud­ing a Chi­nese opium bed).

The Sta­ble – as its moniker sug­gests – was pre­vi­ously used as a horse sta­ble for wealthy mer­chants. The space is dec­o­rated with pop art posters, mid- cen­tury and Ori­en­tal fur­nish­ings. Op­po­site Place is si­t­u­ated di­rectly op­po­site 45 Lekiu; it fea­tures two in­di­vid­u­ally ap­pointed rooms and a cafe on the ground floor.

“45 Lekiu and The Sta­ble have been op­er­at­ing for a few years and are rather es­tab­lished in the mar­ket,” ex­plains Chang.

“Op­po­site Place is rel­a­tively new so we are putting our ef­forts into pro­mot­ing this prop­erty be­fore we start think­ing about ex­pan­sion.”

When it comes to his work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Lum, Chang says: “We have been friends for about 20 years. We got to know each other from our com­mer­cial shoots where I did the styling and he did the art di­rec­tion.”

Chang man­ages the staff and mar­ket­ing while Lum keeps an eye on the up­keep of the guest­houses.

“There is no clear def­i­ni­tion of our roles, as our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of­ten over­lap. We also have a won­der­ful ho­tel man­ager to help us with the daily run­ning,” muses Chang.

“We play our parts well, so the work­ing re­la­tion­ship is a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial one,” con­curs Lum, who de­signs props and sets for TV pro­duc­tions.

Asked to name the most chal­leng­ing as­pect of run­ning the guest­houses, Lum replies: “The main­te­nance of wooden struc­tures is in it­self a chal­lenge. As the wood con­stantly de­te­ri­o­rates, we have to re­place them; if we re­place them with con­crete, the charm is lost.”

Chang adds: “The main chal­lenge is to keep guests happy so that they stay with us again the next time they are in Malacca.”

Speak­ing of the historial city, Chang – who is based in Kuala Lumpur – reg­u­larly trav­els to Malacca to check on his prop­er­ties.

“A favourite place of mine in Malacca is the Baba & Ny­onya Her­itage Mu­seum which show­cases the Per­anakan her­itage. I also walk around the her­itage area to see what trea­sures I can find or af­ford at the an­tique shops.”

Oth­er­wise Chang prefers to while away the hours in one of his lux­u­ri­ous guest­houses. And who can blame him?

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit 45lekiu. com, op­po­site- place. com or thesta ble­malacca. com.

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