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FEATURE: Contemporary heritage in refurbished Hotel Majestic (The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia / Asia News Network)

By Chin Mui Yoon, The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 31--KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) -- If these walls could talk," is just a phrase that's bandied about. Sometimes, though, structures can "speak" if the right person is listening. Zaidan Tahir, for instance, "listened" closely to what one of Kuala Lumpur's most iconic buildings "said" to him.

"I first visited the Majestic when it was an art gallery. The interiors were completely covered with dry wall, as the gallery needed the space for its art. It was pitch dark inside. But even then, the building "spoke" to me of what the space used to be, and what it could be again in our time."

Built in 1932 and originally home to Malaya's German Consul, the hotel was Kuala Lumpur's pre- and post-WWII glamour spot. It was also used for crucial meetings debating Malaya's independence; on Sept 17, 1951, for instance, Datuk Onn Jaafar held the first Independence of Malaya Party meeting there. The hotel closed its doors in 1984, then was home to the National Art Gallery in the 1990s. It was left vacant after the gallery moved in 1998 to its own premises (on Jalan Tun Razak) before YTL Hotels and Resorts began its 250 million ringgit (US$65.32 million) refurbishment last year.

Zaidan is principal of interior design firm Duoz Sdn Bhd, which was also behind the refurbishment of two of YTL's other heritage properties, the Cameron Highlands Resort and the Majestic Malacca.

"The original Hotel Majestic Kuala Lumpur is documented as a national heritage site under the Malaysian Antiquities Act, so we had to work within many guidelines," explained Zaidan in an interview recently, adding, "Every detail of the refurbishment was submitted to the Heritage Department to ensure compliance."

When work began on the refurbishment, Zaidan was pleasantly surprised: "When we removed the boarding, we discovered that the building was in a relatively good state, especially structurally. The building's condition was a testament to the construction expertise of the old days." And, fortunately, the floor comprised concrete tiles rather than wood, so there were no termite issues.

The hotel is laid out across 1.2-hectare of space that used to be servants' quarters, a garage and an open parking lot; a new 250-room tower has been built in the parking lot. A covered walkway with a glass-enclosed orchid conservatory links the new Tower Wing with the Majestic Wing.

Design details of the hotel's past were difficult to glean; Zaidan researched archives in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore but found very few records. "So I drew my design inspiration from descriptive reports in old newspapers and photographs depicting life within these walls," Zaidan explains.

"I had to work with two separate but connected buildings. The new Tower Wing couldn't be overly contemporary. I respect the site and its heritage, so both wings had to complement each other yet be distinct.

"In designing the interiors, I didn't try hard to be either "colonial" or "contemporary", but was guided by the original layout and function of the space."

As such, Zaidan fused tradition and colonial heritage with the contemporary comforts expected of a luxury hotel. He discarded the tired theme of "old colonial Malaya", ditching chintzy cabbage rose-patterned prints and tasselled curtains for understated elegance influenced by the building's distinctively 1920s Art Deco architecture as characterised by its symmetrical facade and geometrical lines and patterns.

Arriving at the Tower Wing, guests' eyes will immediately be arrested by the bold black and white lines across the floor created by Marquina marble tiles from Italy. The soaring three-storey atrium that is crowned by a stunning glass chandelier is supported by fluid, symmetrical lines of timber-clad pillars.

In the Majestic Wing, Zaidan's interpretation of Art Deco is expressed in sleek pendant wall lamps, dark ebony wood and reflective surfaces and mirrored walls.

The grand pillarless ballroom that can seat 1,300 people features these elements. The Contango Restaurant with its open kitchens offers a monochromatic colour scheme with lots of reflective surfaces and pendant wall lights as well as a hint of chinoiserie in its wallpapered pillars.

Guests staying in the Majestic Wing arrive at a quaint cobblestoned porte-cochere from which a flight of stairs leads to a discreet doorway. Inside, they are conducted to their butler-serviced suite where check-in is conducted.

Indeed, discretion seems to be the byword. Careful restraint in maintaining the hotel's integrity is demonstrated throughout the Majestic Wing so that the building's character speaks out clearly without being overly decorated or dramatised. After all, the hotel's focal point and its original wow factor, a dome inlaid with delicate gold paper and punctuated with dozens of skylights, hardly needs embellishment.

The Bar, the Colonial Cafe offering Hainanese food, and a Tea Lounge are laid out around this central dome. The only completely new feature in the Majestic Wing is the glassing over of what used to be an exposed air-well and that is now the cafe's semi-outdoor section.

A Tasmanian oak timber staircase, subtly distressed for an aged feel, leads to the guestrooms. Each has been designed with a butterscotch palette accented by warm tones and Art Deco-inspired furnishings. In each bathroom, a claw-footed porcelain tub is set against bevelled ceramic wall tiles over a black and white chequered tiled floor.

"There is a subtle but distinctive change of mood when you walk from the Majestic to the Tower Wing," Zaidan points out.

"The Majestic Wing has the quiet feeling of a bygone era but one that is not old-fashioned or depressing. The Tower Wing gently ushers you into modern times and your mood elevates -- but not in a "shouty" way -- upon seeing the soaring pillars."

He adds, "I truly believe that if this building could speak, it would be happy with what we have done in creating a new lease of life within its walls."


(c)2012 the Asia News Network (Hamburg, Germany)

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