Malaysian couple turns KL condo into cosy space with island-living vibes

The custom-made bench by the window in the living room. Photos: Lilian Chan

When Lilian Chan and her husband got the keys to their apartment in Kuala Lumpur in late 2017, they knew they wanted their new home to remind them of their hometowns.

They also enjoyed entertaining, so the end result was an open-plan space with a bohemian feel and warm tones with dashes of colours.

“I was born and raised in Kuching, Sarawak and my husband is from Penang. I wanted our home to mimic slow and easy island-living to remind us of our hometowns. Both of us also love hosting, so we decided on an open concept and allocated more space for the living and dining areas.

“The final outcome at that time (in 2018) leaned towards bohemian with rattan accents, wood elements and pops of colour,” shared Chan, 34, a home decor content creator and freelance project manager.

The 1,449sq ft (134.6sq m) 3+1 bedroom apartment, located in Taman Sungai Besi, underwent some renovation before they moved in in April 2018. However, Chan shared that due to it being their first home, their inexperience led to some regrets, despite hiring an interior designer.

“At that time, I focused primarily on aesthetics. I failed to consider the practicality and functionality of a home, especially in terms of supporting my daily routine. Because of that, I prioritised and spent money on things that were not essential.

The living and dining areas are Chan’s favourite parts of the house because of the beautiful memories often shared with her loved ones there.The living and dining areas are Chan’s favourite parts of the house because of the beautiful memories often shared with her loved ones there.

“For example, I splurged on a marble kitchen peninsula because I love the look and feel of real marble. I still love it but it’s high-maintenance as it stains, etches and scratches easily. If I hadn’t used real marble, I could’ve allocated the budget to extend my wet kitchen by hacking the wall between the wet kitchen and the service yard. I thought I didn’t need a big kitchen since I rarely made meals at home.

“However, since the pandemic, I have become such a homebody and I would love a bigger kitchen now,” explained Chan.

She said that she also splurged on carpentry and built-in furniture, like a custom-made bench by the window.

“While I still love it and find it useful, the money could’ve gone to renovating my master bathroom. I didn’t renovate the master bathroom because everything was brand new and I thought it was a waste of money to hack everything and redo it from scratch.

“But, I regret it because I realised I spend a lot of time in the bathroom and the current design makes it difficult to keep the bathroom dry. It’s always wet and humid, which makes it uncomfortable.”

Chan also wished she paid closer attention to the materials used.

“I chose the vinyl flooring, laminates and paint colours based on what I liked. But I didn’t ask any questions regarding the materials, for example what brand it was, where it was manufactured, what it was made of, how long it would last and care instructions.Chan prefers to use colours and textures to give her home depth and character. —Chan prefers to use colours and textures to give her home depth and character. —

“After living here for six years, I realised all that information is important to have on hand for any repairs or maintenance work required in the future.”

Her final renovation regret was not checking out more local content for inspiration and tips.

“I used a lot of Pinterest and read a lot of international home decor blogs, which were not always applicable to the construction work done in Malaysia.

“I wish I had looked at Instagram, as there are many local homeowners who share their home reno journeys on the platform. There’s a lot of useful information including which suppliers or contractors to hire and which materials to use. I would’ve learned a lot and made wiser decisions had I done that from the start!”

Overall, in terms of design, Chan said her home is close to how they had imagined it to be, but that there were definitely more things she could have improved on.

Since then, Chan has developed a more mature sense of design and style.

“Back then, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I truly loved. I was heavily influenced by trends and tried to mix and match everything I liked into the home. At one point, I even had a pink wall! Safe to say, the home definitely didn’t look and feel as cohesive as it does now,” she shared.The specially commissioned art piece by local artist Carissa Gan proudly hangs in the dining area.The specially commissioned art piece by local artist Carissa Gan proudly hangs in the dining area.

“My interior decorating style has definitely evolved since 2018. I don’t refer to trends anymore and have made more intentional decor decisions since. Everything I do now is to create a home that exudes warmth and cosiness.

“Instead of tying myself down to a particular interior style, I prefer to use colours and textures to give the home depth and character. For example, I have a glass dining table which pairs beautifully with boucle dining chairs. The contrast keeps things interesting.

“I’m also a fan of mixing warm and cool tones in our home. Most of the carpentry, furniture and decor items are in warm shades, but the kitchen cabinets and curtains are a cool grey. This was intentional because our home has a lot of hard lines and angular elements, and we needed the balance of warm and cool tones to add softness to the home,” she said.

Infusing memories and experiences

Chan first began creating content on home decor during the pandemic in 2020.

“Before the pandemic, I was constantly working and travelling so I hardly spent time at home. Although our home was renovated, it was very cluttered and lacked personality.

“During the lockdown, I started to explore different ways to make my home a happy space for my husband and myself. I tried various mini home projects from organising spaces in my home to experimenting with tablescapes.The marble kitchen peninsula, cool grey cabinets and hexagon-patterned backsplash in the dry kitchen.The marble kitchen peninsula, cool grey cabinets and hexagon-patterned backsplash in the dry kitchen.

“I wanted to share my knowledge and unbiased experiences with everyday women like myself. So, I started a blog and my social media platforms to share interior styling and home organisation tips. My goal is to help other women make their homes a happy space for themselves and their families.

“As a one-woman show (with occasional help from my husband), I learned how to take photos and videos, how to edit them, and how to include storytelling in my content. It has been a fulfilling journey and I hope to continue sharing about my home and lifestyle with my audience,” she said.

Chan added that she makes it a point to infuse memories and experiences into her home.

“I’m always looking for ways to incorporate (them) into my home because I want my home to be a reflection of who I am as a person.

“I love island living, hence why my blog and social media platforms are aptly named That Isle Life. That being said, I didn’t want to decorate my home in the typical coastal style since the condo is located in the city.

“I used lime paint for our walls because the texture and colour reminded me of the sand, seashells and rocks at the beach. I love lime paint because it adds a subtle layer of texture to the home and it’s environmentally friendly.”

Art pieces specially curated by Chan further add character to her home.A blue and white tablescape.A blue and white tablescape.

“I commissioned an artwork from local artist Carissa Gan that successfully captured the current stage in my life. The painting resembles a moody beach morning, with every brush stroke reminding me of waves ebbing and flowing, similar to grief, which has been something I’ve been dealing with on the personal front for the past four years. Carissa even added actual sand in the painting!

“One of my ongoing goals is to support local makers and artists, so I’m really happy I was able to work with Carissa on this.”

Chan has also put together a sentimental gallery wall in her home office using postcards and letters from family and friends.

“It’s an affordable way to create an interesting yet meaningful gallery wall. I’m also really proud of my Sarawakian heritage, so I have one of my favourite prints, The Tree Of Life by Sarawakian artist and sape musician Alena Murang.”

Vintage pieces also appeal to Chan.

“In terms of decor, some of my favourite finds have been vintage items I thrifted or inherited, in addition to pieces I purchased during my travels. Instead of buying generic souvenirs like magnets or keychains, I gravitate towards handmade pieces that remind me of a particular country.

“Another way I’ve incorporated memories into my home is during the festive season. Growing up, my late mother always decorated the Christmas tree at home and brought me to different places to look at Christmas decor.Every year, Chan honours her mother’s memory by decorating her home for Christmas.Every year, Chan honours her mother’s memory by decorating her home for Christmas.

“Every year, I honour her memory and that tradition by decorating my home for Christmas. It’s one of my favourite things to do and I look forward all year to doing it. Plus, I get a lot of my festive home decor from my travels, so it’s a fun way to bring everything out and reminisce about my vacations when my husband and I start decorating at the end of the year.”

Chan’s favourite part of her home remains the common spaces of her house.

“I love our living and dining area. I’m glad we stuck to an open concept because this area is truly the heart of our home. We’ve hosted many lunches, dinners, and game and movie nights in this space. We are so grateful to be able to create these beautiful memories with our loved ones and we hope to continue doing so in the future,” she said.

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