Built on dreams and passion – New Straits Times

Is it a home? Is it an art gallery? It’s both as Sushma Veera discovers

One is a pharmacist with a deep passion for the arts. The other is an architect with dreamy ideas for interiors and exteriors. Four years ago, Scarlette Lee and Tan Chun Hooi met and they naturally talked about their passions and dreams. Then, when they took that big step to turn their imagination into reality, their home, a double-storey terrace house, morphed into an art gallery and a boutique design studio. On the outside, it looks like any other terrace house in Subang Jaya, but step inside, the ambience is stunning.

Tan says it all started when they were courting. The idea remained even after they got married. “Our dreams were just on the drawing board for three years,” Lee says. “We often talked about our dreams and interests. One day, we realized that we had to do more than just talk about it. So we decided to make our dreams a reality at one place,” says Tan, 36. “We were trying to see how we could blend both worlds. It was hard but we made it happen as we both wanted to achieve our dreams and at the same time earn a living,” adds Lee. Then, when Lee’s parents wanted to sell their 30 year old house, the couple decided to buy it over. “The house was not appealing, We had to redo almost everything, from the plumbing to the wiring,” says Tan. “There were, initially four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Now, there is only a room and two bathrooms.”

While Lee shows off the paintings, Tan offers consultation services on architecture and interior design. The concept was Tan’s while Lee came up with how the art gallery would complement the space. “She’s very artistic,” says a proud Tan. Lee adds, “Of course, there were arguments and disagreements. But we would talk about it and only proceed when we agreed to it.” While most of the original building structure was preserved, adding modern material and finishes like metal, breeze block, clay brick, raw concrete and cement finishes gave the house a new look. “It was not an easy decision to bring down the walls. Some friends and relatives questioned if it was a wise move but we felt that an open space creates an entirely different feeling and the arts gives it energy. It is what the Chinese call Qi,” says Lee.

“Every single part was taken into consideration, such as the length of the curtains and the right dining table.” Tan says: “We didn’t change much of the structure and did the renovations with minimal costs. On the ground floor, we removed walls of the guest room. We also removed the kitchen floor but kept the terrazzo flooring in the living area.” Lee adds: “The walls and flooring of the dining area and kitchen were left as plain cement. The construction workers showed their artistic skills when we told them our plans. They laid the cement with a circular motion.” They also removed the floor slabs, leaving the steel bars (or concrete reinforcemnt wire mesh) naked. Then they decorated it with paintings and other works of art. “What people would normally hide, we have exposed.” adds Tan.

As posh as it may sound, you would be surprised not to find any expensive sofe in the house. Instead the couple settled for the rattan chairs left behid by the previous tenant. Lee has turned a bent block placed on the rug into a small table. The dining table also serves as an office desk for the couple and their colleague, Chin Sue Ngee, an art and design consultant. Upstairs, most areas were left with cement finishes. The bedroom has no door, only curtains in turqoise and brown. “We picked up this colour combination as it compliments the colour of the timber,”says Lee. Paintings by various self taught artists hang in every part of the house, from the living area to the kitchen and the bedroom. “The master bedroom is usually a private place but we have opened it up,”says Tan.

Lee says she wants art lovers to see how a painting would look like when placed in the bedroom or kitchen. “I plan which painting should go on which wall to give that space vigour and energy.” For flexibility, paintings are hung from curtain railings with fishing line. This means there are no nails hammered into walls. When asked if they have disrupted the neighbourhood, Lee says: “This is a private viewing art gallery, so you do not have people coming here in large groups. As such, neighbours are not disturbed.”

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