Do you remember about Nike’s story when she conducted her weaving workshop in Malaysia? She shared a glimpse about the place she stayed called Sebelas which is located in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur here. Sebelas means eleven in English. Turns out it is not just Nike, Miranti and I also fell in love with this beautiful space even though we were just seeing it from pictures that Nike took. We are very delighted to have a correspondence with Andrew, the host of Sebelas and his team to talk about this beautiful space, the history, the neighborhood and of course about his experience as an Airbnb host.
Please tell us about yourself? What do you do?
My name is Andrew, and I make designs for a living. I do not appear to care very much about my appearance. I love eating and cooking, I was brought up because of Wantan Noodles (my mom started a food stall to support us back in the 80s), so food is very much in my veins. I am critical about everything. I have a strong character but is also very sensitive. I listen to Cocteau Twins, Björk, Erykah Badu, lately I am into Thundercat, The Internet, Hiatus Kaiyote and FKA Twigs.
Can you explain briefly what Sebelas is?
Sebelas is a work in progress. It’s a small Airbnb, workspace and living concept tied together under one roof.
What is the meaning behind the name Sebelas?
The place is named after the address but the original name is Vent House (because at the very top there’re 3 vents to circulate the air in the home). But when we discovered it, it had two tree trunks painted in white resembling 11. Coincidentally, the numerology study for the number had great correlation to what we want our place to eventually grow into, a balance of work and play, emotions, thought and spirit, masculine and feminine held in equality.
Have you always wanted to make Sebelas as an Airbnb? If yes, why? If not, what inspires you to do so?
This is what happened when one has had a memory of a lifetime after having stayed in an Airbnb Honestly, I haven’t had many. I went to Bali this one year with all the friends I could bring along. We went from one wonder to another. When we finally settled in our first Airbnb experience, I was taken away by the house, the family and the caretakers, the big paddy field, everything it was reminded me of what I want in life—That was 4 years ago. Check them out here.
One day, a friend had asked me to help out while she was away. She was hosting on Airbnb and had no one to see her guest in—I ended up doing way beyond what I was expected of. During that week, I ended up making very good friends that would last me a lifetime, they were Matej and Nina from Slovenia.
Can you give us some tips on how to get started to become an Airbnb host?
There is a romantic side to it, depending on your personal motivation. I started based on no logics or calculations—I just wanted everyone who ended up to be wowed and at the very least to have a comfortable and cozy stay—I spent every penny on whatever I was excited on. After a while, the challenges starts to present itself. Airbnb in my opinion is not a passive income project as what most people think of it to be. I’ve never meant it to be passive anyway. It’s a hospitality business—that means you’ll need to be very hands on unless you sub it out to a third party manager. Personally I wouldn’t do that, it’s not the way I would go about with it. That’s because Sebelas has its own hosting signature that’s not just about space rental. It will always be a work in progress.
There is an Airbnb in Paris, where the designer couple who owns it enjoys having everything designed from the classic Eames chairs to the very elegant pieces by Jonathan Adler. They have a humble 2 bedroom apartment that’s bigger than most apartments in Paris—A room for them and one more for their guests. They are cool and makes breakfasts with their guests every morning. Not much money can one room make, but every cent they earn goes to expanding the collection of their favourite designer furnitures and books. That itself is another form of an Airbnb motivation that is to be reckoned with.
From my perspective, one should not just get too cosy up with the romantic ideas only. Get realistic that this is a professional work. I wished I would’ve found this site earlier but it’s 100% relevant to what I am doing and my understanding of this operation using Airbnb as a platform: affordanything.com
How do you manage your Airbnb?
I did everything from housekeeping, technician, gardener, pool maintenance to cooking and entertaining guests. In the earlier days, I get help from my beloved partner Zaid. Some of my close friends had helped a lot, they give me a lot of encouragements and tell me to do my best. While I fix up the beds before a guest arrive, I usually hear them shouting upstairs telling me my guests has arrived. They do a good job welcoming the guests, chatting with them while I sweat away adding final touches to the beds.
Today, I have Nazeera and Mohasin to thank for. They have been great help with assisting me and helping Sebelas to be more manageable.
What are the most memorable experience that you have gotten as an Airbnb host?
Every experience is memorable, too many to pen down. There are bad ones which you’ll realize how much improvements you’ve got to continue making or really good ones which calms you down.
The best was always revolving around food. My guests and friends came together for many dinner parties. We have had a Hari Raya Open House (Eid) where I served fragrant lemang (compressed sticky rice cooked in a hollow bamboo) and sayur lodeh (mixed vegetable stew) with sambal tumis ikan bilis (anchovy condiments. For New Years Eve we went a little crazy with me cooking up til 10:30pm where everyone contributed to a large potluck of pizzas from our Italian guests, tomyam vermicelli, banofee pie etc. For Chinese New Year, we opened a table in our yard to make Yee Sang (a properous toss salad of colourful mixes of juliened vegetable, sweet sauce, crunchy crackers and fresh sashimi that originated from Malaysia).
Other than that, I have managed to see through a few creative workshops here from watercolour painting to mobile photography. They all add a little of their own pizzazz to this place. It’s exciting!
Let’s talk about design! Can you please tell us about the design concept of your space?
Our place is eclectic, It’s a concrete space mixed with lots of clean straight lines. Architecturally a unique look for Malaysia doesn’t have that many homes like that. Proportion wise, every corner and width is considered very carefully which means no space is wasted. We then added a lot of Scandic and tropical comforts into the house plants, some colonial planters influence with vintage and modern knick knacks from all over.
Where do you get your decor inspiration?
Start by having a really good gut feeling, P.S. Cafe Singapore, Pinterest, IKEA, ONE DAY Hostel Bangkok, Triwindu Vintage Market in Solo and many more.
What is important to you in a living space?
Utilitarian and easy to use. Comfortable and cozy. Most importantly, cleanliness and upkeep. Whatever you add into a space should be easy to care for and does not create a burden for you eventually.
If you can pick only one spot from your space, what is your favorite and why?
My favorite space in the house is the faćade and into the front porch towards the kitchen. I gave the most attention to these space as it’s the easiest to get to, and the very first impression of house.
Can you tell us about the neighborhood surrounding Sebelas?
It is an matured neighborhood. The name had changed from Taman Weng Lock (the original name) to Taman Bangsar Pertama to honor the area as it was the first housing neighborhood in Bangsar (which was once a hill of rubber trees). It’s quite a mystery as it’s tucked away behind industrial warehouses. Most people know it as the fish area because the street names are all based on fish names (Tenggiri, Bilis, Sepat, Kurau, Senangin etc).
The area has a few outstanding properties that was designed by some local famous architects: GDP Projects, Small Projects, Seksan, WHBC, Farah from Kedai Bikin and Tetawowe. The Kuala Lumpur cycling map was started and maintained from this area too.
Some of the most creative people in KL lives in this area from film makers, artists, designers, architects, celebrity chef, families and the earlier settlers. The mixes of people from different cultural backgrounds make this place truly Malaysian and highly eclectic. Sometimes the older people here get super curious and nosy but we tell them a lot of information about how interesting it has become and it’s great seeing how they are slowly changing their minds and getting more involved.
Some of the most exciting restaurants opened in this area (Ganga, BARAT, BAKAR, Mario and Luigi (previously HitandMrs), BABA LOW’S), a reenergized 63+years old warehouse nearby is home to the most talked about cafe in town (PULP Cafe)and amongst them is APW (Art Printing Works) and now a new co-working space Uppercase. There is also L45, a house converted into a public library of donated books and a student housing of 8 rooms. There is a beautiful hotel tucked in the corner that everyone should check out: Sekeping Tenggiri.
What would you recommend from your neighborhood?
I highly recommend Baba Low’s for local Chinese Peranakan food, Ganga is an excellent place for Indian vegetarian. I would recommend checking out the happenings at APW as they sometimes have very interesting markets and events. I also recommend speaking to the neighbors, they are the element of surprise to this area.
Can you share us some tips on decorating?
Center it on your personal story, design instinct, preference and the wow factors. Look for the lighting quality of the space and design to suit your concept first before buying your decors. From there, look for the suitable references and create moodboards for it—that works well for main highlight of the decors. The rest is work in progress, your mood counts for it mostly. Buy and collect as you travel or make something new out of something ordinary or a plain base from an IKEA piece.
What things do you learn from decorating your space?
Have an eye for practicality and longevity in design. Don’t get stuff for the sake of design. Minimalism is boring and over sold. Pinterest and Instagram are only useful tools for inspiration, you simply can’t copy it 100%.
Do you have any future plans for your space?
To make it more comfortable and well-managed than ever, we added new air conditioning units so I am very happy!
As of Sebelas, we are now working hard to reestablish this wonderful property in the area I grew up in. Imagine forest trees and people living under one roof. We’re looking to also make our own contemporary merchandises, decor items and small furniture.
It has been a long interview but I hope you enjoy reading Andrew’s answers as much as we do. There are just so much personality and character that this place exudes, and it is making me even more curious to stay in Sebelas one day. Don’t you think that Sebelas’ neighborhood kind of remind you with the Southern part of Jakarta? I guess Bangsar is one of the center of creative people and activities in KL, Malaysia.
We can see that Andrew and his team really poured their heart in managing this amazing space. I believe that the team of Sebelas are not merely a host, they are a very helpful and generous friend and have a very good taste in designing the space too. We wish Sebelas a smooth work-in-progress and a tremendous success.
Text by Filicia
Photo and answers from Andrew and Sebelas team, thank you!