ipoh’s hottest stay is the m boutique hotel, a showcase of form, function and fabulosity.
if you’ve stepped inside the lifeshop atelier, you would understand when we describe it as ‘structured chaos’. every single square inch, from floor to ceiling, of the gorgeously dressed store is covered by lifestyle curios of one form or another but far from being messy, the well-designed offerings call out to you at every turn to stop, look and convince yourself you want to take a piece of everything home. with just a single storey shoplot’s worth of space to play with, lifeshop certainly made clever use of its quaint size, displaying its wares to great effect. now what do you think will happen when they have an entire four-storey building to play house with, to create and decorate and flex their creative muscles around? less is often more, but sometimes, the more the merrier.
the result is the stunning m boutique hotel, a member of singapore-based ariva group, in ipoh. this slow-paced capital city of perak has been silently but surely creeping up the cool and chic radar with a slew of hipster-inclined, design-led establishments. m not only fits right into that merry bandwagon but is leading the pack with enough wow factors to star in every designophile’s wet dream. if you’re already a fan of lifeshop atelier, m is your not-to-be-missed playground.
m for memorable the first thing that sets m apart is its location. instead of joining the rest of the hip crew crowding ipoh’s old town, m has chosen the new, quiet and nondescript commercial area of hala datuk 5, made up of several blocks of shoplots that are still mostly unoccupied. situated along a main road, cars tend to whizz past on their way to town without so much of a glance at this lot because frankly, there isn’t much to look at.
except for m that is, which takes up a corner that faces the main road and spans several shoplots. during the day, m’s wraparound stacked bricks facade barely stands out but come night, the entire building is ablaze in yellow lights. the hotel’s logo – a single letter m in the dutch font plantin, famously used by monocle magazine, that also features in a number of their paraphernalia – stares boldly from the centre of the minimalist yet eye-catching frontage. more than just a design element, the brick structure also affords some sun protection and privacy for the guest rooms that occupy the top three floors. the hotel’s name, spelled out in full using gigantic letters, is perched atop the building.
the ground floor, on the other hand, lets passers-by look in through floor-to-ceiling glass windows and you can be assured of a visual feast. step in and like a first timer at the lifeshop atelier, you won’t know where to begin looking. we suggest first flopping down onto the large sofas in the reception area and relax into its homey ambience. it really does feel like someone’s home, albeit an extremely well-dressed and showy one. take your time taking it all in; there are plenty of wonderful assaults on one’s senses.
the sofas themselves are worth more than a second look, upholstered in mismatched fabrics, with cushions in a variety of covers. wooden chandeliers, which resemble the naked outline of chinese lanterns, hang above. the long, bar-like reception counter is backed by a neat wall of drawers that give it the semblance of a weathered apothecary. if not for the shiny imacs peeking from the counter, you’d half expect the friendly staff to hand you packets of dried herbs and roots. they might hand you some hacks instead or you can grab a handful yourself from the tall jars on the counter. a collection of vintage suitcases are propped up near the lifts, under a row of clocks displaying current times of major cities.
at one end of the reception lounge sits the m shop, which carries a range of lifeshop’s goods (rebranded under m) as well as m's own merchandise that include smart apparel, small leather goods, scented candles and stationery. from the other end, myth eatery & bar’s hollywood-esque neon-lit signs and naked bulb chandeliers beckon you for a meal (they serve a good range of global flavours) or a cuppa amid recycled wooden shutters, victorian-style furniture and a small retail section of home and kitchenware.
myth is one of two breakfast spots guests can choose from, the other being old town white coffee grand, the first ‘black label’ of the kopitiam franchise in malaysia and which sits adjacent to the m shop, connected by a walk-through entrance. besides a more refined menu, grand also sports a completely different aura than its regular counterparts: vintage-style black and white floor tiles, dark wood and leather finishes, marble counter top and half curtains. really, this is more old town cafe au lait than old town white coffee!
m for marvellous m offers 93 rooms in five categories spread out over three different thematic floors. on the ‘adventure’ floor, wild animals are let loose in details like framed monochromatic photographs that deck exposed brick walls, zebra-striped cushion covers and horse sculptures. ‘majestic’ replaces the safari images with numbers against much more minimalist backdrops of white brick or grey slate walls. inspired by and named after two classic art deco hotels in the usa, a raw industrial elan is married with an understated, timeless elegance. on the other end of the colour spectrum is the ‘excelsior’ floor, embellished with soft furnishings in bright hues and geometric prints, and furniture assembled from recycled painted wood. the entire effect recalls the flower power vibe of the 1970s.
the rooms are a bit of a squeeze but as lifeshop has shown with their own store, size is just a number if you know how to maximise what space you have or at least, create illusions that extend spatial comfort. for example, placing large mirrors in both the rooms and bathrooms to widen the perspective. wardrobes that appear free standing rather than built all the way to the floor but are supported by slim steel frames and wrap seamlessly into an L-shape while concealing a small utility cabinet to store tea and coffee making facilities.
m has left nothing to chance where details are concerned, down to the smallest items in the rooms and manages to throw in neat little surprises in subtle gestures: black bathrobes emblazoned with the hotel’s name on the back, matching fabric ‘do not disturb’ sign and gingham bedroom slippers. toiletries – the shampoos and conditioners are handcrafted in small batches and scented with the natural extracts of verbena – bear specially designed labels that showcase a play of fonts. a cylindrical stool lets you shower while sitting down, a simple yet strangely relaxing way to get clean, although its smooth surface means it can get tricky and slippery when wet. turndown service delivers ‘bites’ of local snacks such as salted green peas and pillow biscuits in tiny mason jars.
as different as each floor is, there are common features that run through all the rooms: an earthy palette of beiges, browns and blacks; dark metal finishes and detailing; touches of old england in vintage-style furniture pieces emblazoned with the union jack; black and white tiles across all the bathrooms. in the corridors, dark wood floor panelling is the yin to the yang of the whitewashed walls, the stark contrast softened by chocolate leather armchairs and soft furnishings in neutral tones. warm yellow lights shine dim spotlights on the feature walls, where more of the black and white snapshots that decorate the rooms share limelight with keywords and symbols that reflect the three aforementioned themes. bare tungsten bulbs in metal contraptions hang above while room numbers are depicted in framed up posters next to the corresponding doors.
m for malaya altogether, m projects an aesthetic that some have termed urban vintage but there really is a local flavour to it all. the inspiration comes from an east-meets-west union of architectural styles that was prevalent in malaya in the early 20th century, known as straits eclectic and which often saw the incorporation of british elements into local homes and shophouses.
at m, that eclecticism not only manifests in beautiful form without sacrificing function but is further elevated with practicalities that cement its appeal among today’s appreciative traveller. on the adventure floor, guests can relax at the loungey living room where two imacs are provided for internet surfing (free wifi is available throughout the hotel). there’s a small but adequate gym that lets you work up a good sweat and next to it, m space is available for rent for a variety of functions. if you’re staying mid- to long-term, you would appreciate the self-service, complimentary laundry facilities. m provides detergent, softener, a spinner and even an ironing board.
m for more they really do think of everything here, making m a chic abode with all the charms of a boutique hotel and the down-to-earth, welcoming embrace of a guest house/homestay – surely it would be too much to ask for more?
as a showcase, m is a treasure chest that invites you to explore every square inch for little gems and surprises. as a home away from home, m is intimate and homey. if this is your actual home, you would be more than proud to show it off.
2 hala datuk 5, ipoh, perak tel +605 255 5566 www.mboutiquehotels.com