House Tour: Khairul's Home of Vintage Collectibles and Curiosities

There is senseless hoarding, and there is careful collecting of memories found among physical memorabilia. As Khairul Nizam Lamin shows through a tour around his home, the latter makes for a precious way to keep stories, experiences, and inspiration close to where the heart is.

Updated on June 13, 2017 7:06 am

Xiangyun Lim (Alexa)


The difference between hoarding and collecting is immediately perceptible. A hoarder often allows his clutter to overtake functional living space, but a collector probably remembers every single possession, how it was acquired, and displays each with pride. Although he jokes that he’s a hoarder, Khairul Nizam Lamin is definitely the latter.

The ex-Creative Group Head at DDB Worldwide lives in a personal museum of sorts―not merely of his life experiences, but also of his family’s and inspirations. Now a product design lead at a new startup, Khairul has built a space he can call home.

“I started out in Singapore three years ago in a small bedroom in Chinatown. I wasn't used to small spaces back then, so when my friend told me he was moving out from this apartment, I decided to take over the lease,” he says.

“This is an old building, but the apartment has high ceilings, huge rooms, and two balconies. It was a very easy decision to make.”

Khairul’s pad eschews colder modern sleekness for the warmth and richness of the old. The front door still uses the olden turn lock, with the paint peeling off the pad, whilst the balcony and room doors are curiously etched with small little windows. There is generous sunlight streaming through that, coupled with the high ceiling, reminds one of the cosiness of a fire-warmed room during wintery days.

The “museum” tour starts when I ask Khairul to bring me through the history of the furniture and memorabilia around the house.

“Almost everything here was brought over from my old house in Kuala Lumpur. There are some that were from a garage sale here in Singapore, as well as a few pieces picked up from the streets. I found them around in places like construction sites and back alleys,” he relates.

“Each piece of furniture in the living room bears sentimental value. The Turkish carpet comes from my dad’s travels back in the 1983, and the cabinets were my parent’s first few furniture pieces from their first house in Malaysia―from way back in the '70s.”

Left: “The three-legged French-cafe chair on the far right was from a dumpster in Club Street. I brought it home and stacked some old books to serve as its fourth leg.”
Right: “My current favourite item here is the Eileen Gray E1027 side table. I found it by chance in an old furniture store in Switzerland. Designed in 1927, it’s also the oldest thing in the room.”

“The bookshelf behind the sofa was actually a form of payment from my first freelance job, back in 2001. My client had no money. I had no money. But they had a truck. And a shelf,” he says.

“Since then, I’ve filled that thing with all the junk I’ve collected over the years: toys from childhood; acorns from my travels. The first time I watched Taxi Driver on VHS, mom’s old IBM business cards―even the ‘ais krim soda’ bottle from my grandma’s hometown in Johor.”

“The sewing table and mirror were from my neighbour, who lived just down the road, while the books below were my mom’s old magazines and high school text books, taken from my late grandma’s house.”

Khairul’s bedroom cum workspace is similarly decked with relics of the past, blended with a simpler frameless bed and workspace table. He says: “The master bedroom is the largest room, certainly a rarity in Singapore. It’s big enough to place a large dining table, which I use as a working table and still leaves plenty of room for a large mattress.”

“I had to install the wardrobe myself so I opted for a systematic storage from IKEA but to cut down cost, I used curtains to substitute the expensive wooden doors.” (We’ve checked, but those amazing wooden drawers are no longer available at IKEA.)

“It's really hard to find a nice bed frame. I’ve been sleeping without one for the past 14 years of my life. My advice is not to buy a king sized mattress. It narrows down the chances of finding well-designed sheets and duvet cover. Plus, everything costs extra when it’s kingsized!”

“The carvings under the glass of the coffee table illustrate a day in a life of rice farmers in the Philippines. My dad got it from his student days in Manila.”

“I tend to collect a lot of my parents' stuff from their younger days. My parents were divorced when I was very young and I never really had the chance to get to know them very well. The Canon camera and spectacles were from my dad’s university days and the little pin in thecontainer was an award my mom received from IBM in 1981.”

“I'd like to think that magazines were my main source of inspiration back then―especially architecture and women’s magazines. They taught me a lot about spatial programming and the practical applications of form over function, without compromising on the more emotional and tactile feel of aesthetics.”

“You can tell by now I’m pretty much a hoarder. The electrical fan still works but tend to overheat from time to time; it was a gift from an ex-girlfriend. Some magazines were from the 1920s.”

Khairul’s bathroom is an eccentric combination of Psycho bathroom-killer-scene vibes, old style windows against a lush green backdrop, and a quirky assortment of bathroom accessories. “I love the bathroom. It’s bigger than most bedrooms in Singapore. The building really shows its age here because it doesn’t have a water heater but a water boiler. If it’s left on, it will whistle―like any normal kettle would,” he says.

Even his kitchen is a display worthy of a cafe front, with wooden bowls, glass jars and alcohol bottles arranged neatly on a rustic wooden shelf. What Khairul thinks of his kitchen, however, is: “the kitchen is basic. I hardly cook. I think this picture says it all.”

One of two balconies that secured the decision for Khairul offers a lovely view of the roads, and is furnished with minimal yet purposefully chosen furniture and accessories.

“The balcony is the spot most spent in whenever there’s a guest around. It’s very peaceful and quiet, whether it’s day or night.”

Much like a visit to the museum, the end of the tour around Khairul’s apartment leaves one feeling more peaceful, yet with a more inspired mind and open heart.

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Photos by Khairul Nizam Lamin


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