The RuMa aims to be a ‘home’ for guests. What points in the interior design were key to making more than just any other hotel room?
Firstly, materials. The key here was replacing the classic carpet approach with the timber floor. It gave the room a more homely domestic feel. The wall finishes are also very calming, using a collection of local timbers and natural wallpapers. The room’s ambience is deliberately soft and gentle, reserved and elegant.
Then, furniture. The classic hotel desk is removed from the room completely; in its place we created the ‘swivel’ table complete with a static task lamp. Together they create a series of differing scenarios: coffee and/or dining table with mood lighting and work desk with task lighting built into the base of the lamp. This table, due to the swivel motion, allows the guest to ‘personalise’ the room. The table is slightly lower than conventional height giving the room a more relaxed feel.
The minibar is designed to be left uncluttered and each room is given a private walk-in closet, all attitudes normally associated with a home. The bathroom has a small dressing area set within the bathroom itself on the axis of the bed, which has the sense of extending the bedroom into the bathroom and vice versa. The dressing table, although in the bathroom, is constructed of materials not normally associated with traditional hotel bathrooms. Household plants and sculptural decorations add to the homely quality of the space.
One key element of the hotel’s design is contemporising traditional elements found in Malaysian/Malay culture. Where did you take inspiration for that sense of Malaysian-ness within the interior?
Research, research, research and a lot of walking the streets. A lot of the decorations in ATAS Modern Malaysian eatery, for example, was purchased in weekend markets on the outskirts of KL. We purchased a series of random objects that all had an ATAS theme, a sense of upper class. These disparate objects were then partially sprayed in gold and at a defined datum which ‘linked’ the objects together to create a new ATAS collection. Other decorative items in the lobby were found in the antique markets of Melaka. Our intention was to create a series of memories, for example balustrades from old houses were left weathered, the existing patina untouched and repurposed as art.
Finally, a memory of mine served to inspire too. When I was in elementary school, we had to build a model of a Malaysian longhouse, and the image was ingrained in my mind from a very young age. When we knew were working in KL, this image of the traditional house and the kelarai screens came back to the forefront of mind. Coupled with the fact that our studio is constantly searching within our projects for a sense of ‘place’, the use of kelarai somehow was a given – the question was, in what way should we explore the use of the material?
Several elements within the hotel were crafted locally and designed by Malaysians, such as the Bernard Chandran piece in the lobby. What was it like finding and sourcing these locally made pieces that fit your vision of The RuMa?
A lot of the hotel is a result of very strong effort from the entire project team, from the owners and project managers, to the contractors and operators. Our studio would curate the strategy and attitudes, and then the teams dispersed to see how it could be achieved.
When we presented the staircase for the first time to the owners, we always knew that the lower landing of the stairs could be a fabulous opportunity for a signature piece in the hotel. My original idea was to create a transparent kebaya that could be illuminated from within. After seeing the concept design, Datuk Lai Voon Hon felt that it was necessary to get an artist involved as it was such a key visual and reached out to Bernard Chandran. His vision for the piece is what you see today, a handmade kebaya made from tiny gold panels with attached gold butterflies, that is proportionally slightly too tall and slightly too thin!
Other pieces were sourced from villages in Terengganu where we worked with the age old tradition of mengkuang leaf weaving. What was particularly interesting here was that as part of the interior design and lighting strategy for the spa, I wanted to work with an open-weave kelarai panel. During testing, we found out that as soon as you open the kelarai weave, either the pattern is no longer recognisable or the panel falls apart. But the elders of the village knew how to open the weave whilst keeping the integrity of the structure and the pattern.
You’ve worked on a lot of properties in China, as well as on The PuXuan Hotel and Spa with URC. How different was working on The RuMa versus working on The PuXuan?
The ease of communication in KL is the biggest point of difference. Although I speak a reasonable amount of ‘construction’ Chinese, our work tends to often require translators, meaning meetings are often twice as long, subtle nuances are lost, and the art of discussion is missed. Working in KL meant that communication was direct – it was all in English – therefore the project site was more efficient. Also there was a collective spirit in all aspects of the project team to create the best hotel not only in KL, but in Malaysia and the region. Sometimes, working in China, you have the sense that certain individuals’ intentions and motives are not necessarily fully aligned with the project direction.
What would you say The RuMa represents in Kuala Lumpur’s hospitality scene?
The recurring themes in the hotel deal rigidly with Malaysian culture, albeit in an idiosyncratic manner. From strategies towards decorative elements from the antique stores of KL and Melaka, decisions on the use of local materials, uniforms from Joe Chia, ATAS Modern Malaysian eatery from Tyson Gee, the art from Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, all of these pieces are personal interpretations of tradition. Our studio continually works within the construct of the ‘strangely familiar’ that is instantly recognisable at one level but playful at another.