Malaysian restaurateur turns 50yo terrace house in KL into ideal home

Tan put in a swimming pool in his garden for a touch of tranquility. Photos: The Star/Art Chen

Renovating a house can be a daunting journey. It starts with finding the right house in the right location, oozing with charm and potential, and then bearing with the road to the final pay-off of a home for life.

Many document only the glossy parts of renovating a home. But homeowner Kenneth Tan, a restaurant owner who worked on a 50-year-old single- storey terraced house in Kuala Lumpur during the lockdown, aimed to share all the grit and sweat of renovating his home on his Instagram account.

His regular online sharing has been informative, realistic and charming. In short, it’s real and gives an honest and detailed account about what it’s really like to take on DIY projects such as ripping up the front garden and putting in a swimming pool, or creating a spacious laundry area next to the master bedroom.

“The reason I even considered looking for a place in general was because of the Covid pandemic. I was living with my dad at that time and there was no real need for me to move out but then the pandemic happened and that was when I realised I needed my own space,” says Tan.

“I looked for somewhere suitable for about a year and a half before I found this place. Initially I didn’t like it on the map. As the main road was nearby, I thought it’d be noisy.

“But when I saw the house itself, I changed my mind and I found myself liking it more than I did before.”Tan’s living spaces are for his comfort and rest.Tan’s living spaces are for his comfort and rest.

Know what you want

In order to make the 1,500sq ft (139sq m) house with three bedrooms functional and aesthetically pleasing, Tan decided on an open-plan living design to create a spacious interior without changing the home’s original structure.

“There were a few things I knew that I needed and wanted when it came to a home for myself. First I wanted a small place with just enough space for me. Next was outdoor space. I value that a lot, so I needed a house with land, which doesn’t come by so often in this part of KL. So I was left with a single-storey corner terrace house which is what we are in right now,” says Tan.

“It’s a good enough size for me. I’ve been asked why I didn’t build a double-storey house and do massive extensions. When I sat down with my architect to do what you call a split space planning, he asked me what I wanted, and I told him I didn’t want more than what I needed. It was that simple.

“More importantly, what is adjacent to the indoor area is important to me and what we see from the inside to the outside. I like modest rooms. With the two guest bedrooms and master bedroom which are modestly sized, there is no more empty space. Everything feels intentional, at least in my opinion.”The rooms in Tan’s house are modest spaces designed for his use with no surplus areas as he only wants what is enough for him.The rooms in Tan’s house are modest spaces designed for his use with no surplus areas as he only wants what is enough for him.

After six months of renovations, the result is a home that boasts a fresh style dotted with Japandi and warm minimalist influences.

“Now my favourite part of the house has to be my room because it faces the pool and the place I spend most of my time in.

“When I come back from work, it’s often late and I just want to shower and sleep,” says Tan.

Keeping it real

Sharing his renovation journey online evolved naturally. He had been getting some questions when he did renovations for his cafes, restaurants and bars.

“I thought it would be beneficial for people to see how much effort goes into doing such renovations.

“Many of my friends are now in the house-buying phase. I see many making the decision to buy a new home that is far away from the city. I often ask why not consider purchasing an old house in an old area. And I realised that it’s unusual for them to even consider it.

“Because there’s a lot of ‘I don’t know what to do’ or ‘How do I get started’ questions. That was the general starting point of me wanting to document my renovation journey. People seem interested in it and I have gotten a number of questions.”As the costs of materials increased in recent years, Tan also had to prioritise what’s important to him to keep to his budget.As the costs of materials increased in recent years, Tan also had to prioritise what’s important to him to keep to his budget.

The openness of his sharing, which includes documenting his mistakes and regrets, has led him to gain a number of ardent followers.

“For me, there is no shame in the mistakes that we make. And after going through so many projects, honestly there were still mistakes. That’s what most of us would go through when it comes to house renovations. It was easy for me to share because I already knew more than an average homeowner about renovations,” he says.

The last four months havebseen Tan actively posting on Instagram.

“Now it’s my daily routine to share some form of content online about the house.”

Be budget-savvy

One of his biggest challenges during the renovation was managing the budget.

“I’m lucky and thankful that I can afford the renovation but I do think I overspent on the house. There were a lot of emotional purchases overall because in the end, this is your home, and for me it was my very first home. I wanted it to be perfect,” admits Tan.Tan’s bedroom looks out to the swimming pool and the outdoors.Tan’s bedroom looks out to the swimming pool and the outdoors.

“Generally, renovation costs such as labour and materials over the past year or so have increased tremendously. So, I had to revise a lot of things such as changing the materials and design, and opting for a simpler roof. In the end I still overspent but I managed to keep close to the budget I had.”

Was the outcome worth it?

“Yes, it is!” says Tan.

“That is really the best advice you can give to someone wanting to embark on their own renovation journey - stick to the budget.

“Tell yourself you have less! Work with the budget you have.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money for your home to be perfect for you. The question is to prioritise what is important to you,” shares Kenneth.

“Everybody will have a different version of what is a perfect home. For me it’s having enough space. A home should never burden you in any way, from the point of maintenance, or financially. If you have to worry about paying for it every month I think it would never be considered the perfect home.

“I don’t think there would be a home more suitable for me than this. This is close to a perfect home for me.”

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