Creating an Intentional Home With Lilian Chan

Lilian Chan has dabbled in many creative endeavours — including journalism and fashion — but where she currently shines is on her blog, That Isle Life, where she explores different ways people make a house their home, including her own. 3 years ago, Lilian and her husband Kim moved into their 1449sqft condominium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They worked with an interior designer on major rooms like the kitchen, living area and master bedroom, and styled the remaining spaces themselves.

Lilian currently divides her time between her apartment in Kuala Lumpur, and her family home in Kuching. In between her full schedule (she was in the UK when we spoke!), she made some time to share with us her journey growing with her space, styling and shopping mindfully, and how she’s decorating her traditional Kuching home.

Lilian and Kim share their KL apartment with their adorable adopted shih tzu Chuubs. Image c/o Lilian.

Lilian's cosy oasis in the middle of the city. Image c/o Lilian.

Over the years, interior decorating has become one of Lilian's creative outlets. Image c/o Lilian.

Lilian, tell us about your home and your interior style.

Moving in, we didn’t have a distinct interior style. Living in the capital of Malaysia can feel hectic, so we wanted our home to feel like a bright and airy villa you might find when you’re on holiday.

However, the exterior of our condo is very modern, and we didn’t want to stray too far from that concept. We decided to keep the overall design contemporary, and incorporated warmth by layering different textures like rattan, linen, and various wood tones. Our interior designer then helped us to achieve our vision through renovation and styling.

Has it changed since moving into your home 3 years ago?

Over the years (especially during the pandemic), my husband and I have become major homebodies, so I’ve redecorated our home from time to time to make it cosier. Besides that, my style hasn’t changed much. I’ve always been mindful about creating an intentional home by choosing meaningful and timeless pieces and avoiding clutter.

Lilian and their designer blended their condo's modern design with their resort villa inspiration using a mix of wood tones and rattan. Image c/o Lilian.

Lilian wishes she had opted for a darker marble for their breakfast counter. Image c/o Lilian.

What design choices have worked best for you and your family, and what are some that haven’t?

Our open concept floor plan has worked well for both of us. My husband and I enjoy being together, but we also love our personal space. Having an open floor plan allows us to work on our own things while still being physically together. It also maximises the natural light we get in our home, which makes the entire space look bigger, and does wonders for my wellbeing!

On the other hand, I wish I had chosen a different stone for our breakfast counter. Due to budget constraints and lack of knowledge at the time, we chose a polished Carrara marble. I want to embrace the patina, but it breaks my heart to see etch marks or scratches on our counter! If I could change it, I’d probably go for a honed Calacatta marble with slightly darker veins to make the marks less obvious.

"I believe living well starts from the home. It doesn’t have to be perfectly styled, but keeping it clean and organised helps to set the tone for my day, week, and year."

You've also been working on your family home in Kuching. How has that been different from decorating your home in Kuala Lumpur?

Working on my family home hasn’t been as straightforward as decorating my home in KL — it’s harder to source things in Kuching and I’ve experienced longer shipping times due to the pandemic.

Both houses also have completely different styles! My home in KL leans towards a contemporary style while my family home has a traditional look and feel. Unlike my KL home, which started as a blank canvas, I’m working with an older house that is full of character. I don't want the house to lose its original features, and since I'm also decorating for my family members who live there permanently, I need to be careful with my decorating decisions.

Traditional embellishments like these add to the character of Lilian's family home. Images c/o Lilian.

We love how open you are about your journey incorporating sustainability into your styling practices. What has been your favourite sustainable styling project so far?

I truly enjoy all my sustainable styling projects, but my favourite has been the china cabinet in my family home. My parents have owned the cabinet for over 30 years. Over time, it became a “junk” cabinet where we stored all sorts of things from medicine to toothpicks. I have a soft spot for vintage furniture, and I love the cabinet’s curves, wood grain, and colour. It’s incredibly difficult to find well-made furniture that’s also affordable these days, so discarding the cabinet was not an option!

Instead, I decluttered and styled it with my late mother’s tableware and serving ware. I also replaced the knobs (which were sadly falling apart) with new brass and mother-of-pearl knobs. Besides the knobs, I didn’t spend a single cent on this project. This project is sentimental to me. It was one of the first projects I did after my mother’s death, and this was one of the things I did to commemorate her.

Before and after the restyling of the china cabinet — a project which holds a special place in Lilian's heart. Images c/o Lilian.

Lilian's tips for making mindful decorating choices

💡 Prioritise function

What do you need this space for? Who is this space for?

💡 Start by choosing a colour palette

I don’t have many hard rules about colour; but it needs to match how I want to feel in the space. Deciding on colours from the get-go helps me feel less distracted and overwhelmed.

💡 Shop from your own home

When it comes to decorating, I live by the ‘less is more’ philosophy. You don’t have to fill every inch with something. If you lack decorative items, try sourcing from within your own home first.

💡 Avoid Pinterest paralysis

As much as I love Pinterest, browsing and pinning too much can cause decision paralysis. Pinterest should serve as inspiration — not a checklist!

Finally, what does making a house a home mean to you?

Making a house a home means creating a safe space to make memories with my family and loved ones. A home should be well-lived in, a space to make memories with your loved ones.

I believe living well starts from the home. It doesn’t have to be perfectly styled, but keeping it clean and organised helps to set the tone for my day, week, and year.

Making a house a home also goes beyond the physical state of the house. It’s about filling the space with meaningful conversation, roaring laughter, tight bear hugs, and that warm fuzzy feeling knowing that wherever you go in the world, there’s no place like home.

For Lilian, making her home a safe space includes keeping it clean and organised. Image c/o Lilian.

Lilian's study, decorated with photographs of warm memories. Image c/o Lilian.

Follow Lilian's growth with her home and family on her blog and on Instagram.

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Provenance Sheet Set in Bamboo Sateen