Breathing New Life Into Malaysia’s Heritage Homes

When the younger generation moves to the city, What happens to their home in the Kampung? With no tender love and care given to old kampung homes, most are just rotting away without claim. We interviewed Ighwan Salim and Siti Jemilah, the couple who chose to transform their inheritance into an Airbnb Home while preserving its original structure, maintaining the authenticity and traditional essence of Malay village houses to be experienced by guests across the globe.

Laman Tamara is located in Seri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan, the house was built in the 1960s and has been passed down through generations.

Husband and wife, Ighwan Salim and Siti Jemilah.

Tell us more about the history of Laman Tamara.

Laman Tamara is located in one of the more remote villages within the royal town of Sri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan. It is a traditional Malay kampung (‘village’) house built in 1967 by local craftsmen and carpenters, using local hardwood and materials. The house is the family home of my wife Siti Jemilah, and her entire family lived here throughout most of her childhood. Although they moved to Seremban during Siti’s teenage years, her parents returned to live there until their later years. Laman Tamara holds a great deal of meaning and a lifetime of memories for Siti as it was the place she grew up and eventually inherited.

Why did you decide to turn the home into an Airbnb?

Siti’s father moved to live with us in Kuala Lumpur and the kampung house was left vacant for many years. Given the significance of the home and its history, it would be a pity if such a beautiful place is put to waste. I wanted to preserve this legacy in some small way, and I came up with the idea of renting out the space – thankfully, my wife agreed! The area surrounding Laman Tamara is quiet with not many visitors around. However, we believe it holds immense potential as a rejuvenating space where people can relax and unwind outside of the city. More importantly, it allows us to continue sharing our heritage with our guests.

Most of Laman Tamara still retains its original form, its the owner’s way of paying homage to their parents’ house and the architecture of that era.

What value do you see in preserving this traditional home that was built in the 1960s?

There are many homes in kampungs like Laman Tamara all around Malaysia that has been abandoned or left in a state of disrepair, and this saddens me. As more Malaysians migrate to urban areas, people are increasingly taking our kampungs for granted. We even know some city folks who haven’t been to a kampung before! There aren’t many traditional houses built using wood materials left, as most of us live in modern brick homes or apartments these days. I saw this as an opportunity and something of value that could be shared with others, both Malaysians and guests from all around the world. There is so much serenity surrounding Laman Tamara, and it’s a wonderful way to remind ourselves of the important things in life, like family. Living outside the city is a great way of doing just that, and this was the reason why we came up with the concept of Laman Tamara as ‘your village away from home.’

What are some of the major renovations/changes you’ve made to your home?

In terms of the house itself, we tried to keep renovations to a minimum because we wanted to preserve the original timber structure of the house, including the anjung (covered porch) and rumah ibu (main house). We expanded the kitchen and adjusted the layout of some rooms for easy access. Other than that, the main changes we made were actually to the exterior of the house. We transformed a massive paddy field into a huge fishing pond with thousands of local fish and built a swimming pool. Most of Laman Tamara still retains its original form, and this is our way of paying homage to our parents’ house and the architecture of that era.

How does your Airbnb hosting experience allow you to share Malaysia’s heritage with guests?

Our guests come from all over the world. Over the years, we’ve had guests from the United Kingdom, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and even the USA. It was always a pleasure getting to host them and letting them experience living in a traditional Malay house like Laman Tamara, as well as explaining different aspects of our culture with them. We’re also proud that many Malaysians and local tourists from across the country have booked stays with us, and some even return for a second and third time, which is always a wonderful surprise! One of our guests even had their pre-wedding event here in our garden. It is great knowing that they have enjoyed their stay and found Laman Tamara memorable, both as a ‘village away from home’ as well as simply a place to enjoy a brief respite.

The concept of Laman Tamara is ‘your village away from home.’

Do you have traditional activities for guests to engage in?

Within our compound, there’s a small orchard with rambutan, mangosteen and durian fruit trees, so guests can enjoy fruit picking when they’re in season! We also have a fishing pond that comes equipped with a boating deck and kayaks, so guests can try their hand at kayaking. We also provide bicycles, and we recommend cycling around town to enjoy the scenic views which Sri Menanti is known for, from beautiful meandering roads to hills and nature trails for those more adventurous. There’s also Bukit Sikai nearby which’s popular for its scenic views for a nice day out.

Laman Tamara is located in Sri Menanti, are there any nearby attractions or museums? Where is the best daging salai masak lemak located nearby?

As Sri Menanti is our royal town, one must-visit tourist attraction is the old palace, Istana Lama Seri Menanti. It houses the royal museum where visitors can learn more about the history of the building, the royal families as well as the heritage of Negeri Sembilan. There are also plenty of local restaurants in town serving delicious food! There is a popular restaurant in the area called ‘Kedai Makan Ain’ in the newly refurbished Terachi Cultural Centre, famous for its ‘daging salai’.

Since you’re an architect, we would like to pick your brain on how Malaysians can make use of heritage spaces and at the same time, add a modern touch to their traditional homes.

I think Malaysians should try to preserve buildings and spaces we inherited from the past as much as possible, as they were built with specific skills and methods by our previous generations that may no longer be around today.  Although many heritage spaces may not be in tip-top condition, we can still preserve them and raise awareness about their cultural heritage, while at the same time, adapting specific elements to ensure their relevance and livability. If planned properly, our heritage homes and buildings can add many benefits to our surroundings and society. Malaysia’s heritage is so colourful because of the many races and ethnicities that make up our country. It would be wonderful if we can share our heritage buildings and spaces not just with our children, but with all Malaysians and the world!

Azlira Jamaluddin

Published by
Azlira Jamaluddin

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