by P.  Selvarani (New Straits Times - Friday, 12 March 2010)

Datuk Sharifah Aini single-handedly oversaw the refurbishment of her home into a luxurious abode with a Mediterranean feel, writes P Selvarani

When songstress Datuk Sharifah Ainiís contractor up and left even before the refurbishment of her 20-year-old double-storey bungalow in Petaling Jaya began, she knew she had to grab the bull by its horns.  "It was a painful lesson but I decided thatís it! I was not going to get cheated again.  I realised that if I want to get things done right, I would have to do it myself," says the artiste.  And thatís exactly what she did.

Sharifah Aini became project manager and, with the help of an architect friend, worked day and night to realise her dream house.  To make sure that the contract workers executed her plans to perfection, Sharifah Aini stayed in a small three-square-metre room with the barest necessities ó "just eight simple outfits to take me from day-to-day" ó in her home that was being completely refurbished.  "I would check on the contract workers every hour to make sure that they were doing everything according to specifications.  And at night, I would pore over the wiring and plumbing plans to make sure I got everything right.  That was the most challenging part.  I couldnít afford to make a mistake as that would mean additional expenses."  Taking charge also meant that she had to source all the materials herself ó from the wood and the tiles to the lighting and bathroom fittings.

"I read a lot of interior decorating magazines and went on the Internet to find out the best places to source for the materials.  I personally went everywhere, including overseas, to get the stuff I needed."  Sharifah Aini, who was fortunate to have taken up courses in landscaping and interior decorating in the 1990s, recalls how she went incognito to tile shops along Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur dressed in a kaftan, shades and just a hint of lipstick.  "I had to do that as the shopkeepers might have inflated the prices of their materials if they recognised me.  I would only reveal my identity when I paid the bill," she adds with a chuckle.  Although she admits that it cost her a tidy sum to refurbish her bungalow, the singer makes no apologies for such luxury.  "I come from humble beginnings and I have worked so hard for the last 40 years to get where I am.  I think I deserve this." 

  The abode 

The result is an elegant and spacious Mediterranean-style villa with long, large windows, even larger doors, lots of light and floors beautifully laid with Italian marble and Spanish tiles.  The driveway to her house, tucked in a cul de sac in a busy part of Petaling Jaya, is lined with pebble-washed stones and opens onto a terrace laid with Spanish tiles of various shapes and sizes in warm, earthy colours.  In a corner of the porch sits a set of wicker garden furniture.  The gigantic wooden main door (measuring almost five metres!) with semi-frosted glass beckons you to a cosy foyer laid with Spanish teracota tiles and simply furnished with a Chesterfield leather sofa set and a long wooden side table designed by the singer.  The house itself is divided into three wings ó the first is where the guest rooms, wet and dry kitchens, dining room and maidsí quarters are located.  On the left of the main entrance is the living area, study-cum-office and her private and family rooms.

The two areas, Sharifah Aini adds, are kept separate for the comfort and privacy of her guests and herself.  "I get a lot of house guests from all over the world.  This way, I get to maintain my familyís privacy without my guests feeling like they have intruded into my space."  The guest rooms are elegantly decorated with double beds, built-in wardrobes and en suite bathrooms.  An arresting feature is the use of stained glass skylights on one side of the wall, above the headboards, which allow rays of sunlight to stream into the room and pleasantly awaken its occupants.  Large skylights have also been installed at the guest TV room and above the two parallel chengal wood stairways that lead to the singerís private rooms and that of her family.  "I like the idea of having lots of air and natural light in my house.  That is why I also designed large doors and windows. 

Wooden window shutters add a refreshing and classy touch to the living room in place of the usual heavy drapes. The small clusters of wing chairs in the room make for cosy conversation corners
The cosy green guest room with its four-poster bed is a hit with the singerís friends. Note the skylight on the wall above the headboard
Sharifah Ainiís spacious kitchen where she loves cooking up a storm for her guests. The marble-topped breakfast table comfortably seats eight

I also installed wooden shutters on my windows so that I can adjust the amount of light.  Unlike curtains, these shutters last a lifetime," she says, adding that she only fitted curtains in her formal living-cum-piano room, one of the main guest rooms and the surau, which can accommodate about 70 people.  The first of her two living rooms is furnished with an assortment of leather sofas and wing chairs, similar to the concept of a hotel lobby.  There are several table lamps, candle holders and simple crystal vases to complement the look.  "I love entertaining and often have my friends over.  This living area is large enough to accommodate about 50 people.  When I have small groups of three or four friends, we just sit in one of these cosy corners and chat". 

 Her favourite things  

Sharifah Aini confesses to having a taste for fine and beautiful things, with a fondness for Italian, Spanish and American furniture, most of which she picked up during her travels.  "Furniture has to be functional and comfortable, and preferably become family heirloom over time."  Her favourite room is her study-cum-office, which is reminiscent of those in American or British mansions, with its wooden book shelves and plush Chesterfield leather sofa set.  The study also doubles up as her music room as one half of it is lined with shelves filled with her collection of vinyl records, video cassettes, CDs and DVDs.  The study also opens out to her garden with a small cascading pool.  I am proud to have single-handedly designed and furnished the house.  It was a challenge but I am happy with the results.  There is nothing like doing up your own home."  Impressed with her skills, many of her friends have now asked her to help design and refurbish their houses as well.