BY Richard Tan
Despite the waves of modernisation, Malacca has retained its historical flavour through its preservation of ancient sites and buildings. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has continued to attract tourists and travellers eager to explore the many emblems of the past.
Among the various trendy hotels, one upscale boutique guesthouse named Opposite Place stands out with its complementing concept.
Occupying a shophouse built in 1941, it was a restaurant prior to its current incarnation.
With only two highly stylised rooms available, the 450sq ft Opposite West Suite overlooks a bustling street outside, and the 350sq ft Opposite East Suite faces two charming inner courtyards.
Featuring a Bohemian style, the rooms boast chic furnishings, antiques, charming louvre windows, open-concept bathrooms, sleek black hardwood flooring and interesting artwork on the walls.
Cool modern-day facilities include WiFi access, flat screen TV, DVD player, a sound system with iPhone/iPod dock and Nespresso coffee machine.
Operating on a site leased from a trustee company, Opposite Place – opened in 2014 – is managed by proprietors David Chang and Lum Heng Soon (better known as Soon Lum).
They also own two other nearby hotels, 45Lekiu and The Stable.
In an interview with Chang, he reveals that Opposite Place was introduced due to the “great response to our earlier properties”.
Share your background in the hospitality industry.
I met my business partner Soon Lum when we worked together on television commercial shoots.
I was, and still am, a fashion stylist, and Soon an art director and set designer, who does interior design work for large property companies.
Prior to that, I managed L’otel, a hip 15-room boutique hotel in Darlinghurst, Sydney, for several years before moving back to Kuala Lumpur.
What inspired you to open Opposite Place?
Malacca as a UNESCO Heritage Site and our passion in restoring and preserving Malacca City’s old buildings led to the introduction of Opposite Place.
The hotel stands out for its old-world charm and modern-day comforts in a striking interior combining Victorian and Oriental influences.
Would such a heritage hotel thrive if it were to open elsewhere in Malaysia?
The heritage hotel concept is doing very well in Penang. Several heritage hotels have also recently opened in Ipoh.
How much restoration was required when you took over the shophouse?
The edifice was not in a dilapidated condition, but not ideal enough to serve as a guesthouse.
It was haphazardly renovated according to the previous tenant’s requirements. Upon taking over the premises, we reworked the interior to suit our needs.
How much of the original structure has been maintained?
The original rooftop, wooden floorboards and wooden ceiling beams are maintained, but the front staircase was relocated to the back of the property.
The zinc roof extensions upstairs were torn down to open up two courtyards, to reflect the interior’s beauty.
In all, most of the structure’s original features were salvageable.
What are the shophouse’s alluring features?
You’ll marvel at the airy, spacious rooms, the double courtyards and the structure’s original woodwork and brickwork.
Was it easy for you to find qualified contractors to restore the building?
For Opposite Place, we engaged the same top-notch contractor who’d worked on our other properties. He’s well trained in restoring old buildings.
Did you refer to any material for the restoration?
It wasn’t difficult for us to source for various materials in Malacca. Many people here collect old building materials and our contractor knows most of them.
Any unique process utilised in the restoration?
Restoring the interior’s feature wall, where layers of plaster were chipped off to reveal the original brickwork, was the most time-consuming and tedious part of the process.
A lot of time was also spent stripping the paint off the edifice’s woodwork to restore its original look.
What are the new elements added to the shophouse?
Adding new bathrooms and toilets for the two rooms upstairs was particularly challenging. Originally there was only a bathroom downstairs.
It was also difficult installing new piping for the rooms upstairs and adding a new sewage tank.
Are the premises’ original furnishings or antiques retained for the hotel décor?
There’s none except for the original floorboards, beams and roof tiles. All the antiques and furnishings in Opposite Place are sourced from different places by me and Soon.
Opposite West Suite – unique for its haute bohemian style – features Murano chandelier, velvet drapes, clawed bathtub, artworks and collectables – overall, it looks eclectic yet cosy.
The more laidback Opposite East Suite has mismatched mid-century furnishings, complete with pop art and Chinese paintings on the walls.
How long did it take for the restoration to be completed?
It took 10 months to complete the restoration, and only a month to decorate the place as we had sourced most of the items beforehand.
What is the cost in restoring and maintaining the shophouse?
Some RM600,000. The old structure is rather fragile, so there’s always a little maintenance required here and there.
Regular pest control is also important especially for the wooden elements of the shophouse.
How does Opposite Place stand out when compared to other upscale hotels in Malacca City?
Opposite Place is unique for its discreet location and understated cool, with only a small inconspicuous signboard.
While its old-world charm appeals to sophisticated travellers, Opposite Place’s contemporary style and energy also impress young and stylish guests.
Opposite West Room goes for RM599-RM699 per night; Opposite East Room, RM499-RM599. For more info, call +6012-623 9459 or visit www.opposite-place.com