It’s all about the potential

For the more adventurous, especially those who get a kick out of discovering the potential of unwanted junk, the person you might want to meet is Ati

by ZAINAL ALAM KADIR

THE pile of junk does not look appealing at all. If you’re a neat freak, chances are, you’d just get a lorry and send the entire mess to the nearest dump site.

However, if you have eyes for it, you’d take a closer look and take the time to sift through the pile, you might just find something that could be transformed into something functional, and most importantly, extremely valuable.

Refurbished 1950’s wooden chair restored with taste

For instance, there might be a cupboard or closet that might have seen better days, that look set to be thrown into the fire.

The doors might be missing, while some of the hinges and metal parts are already rusty and broken.

A closer inspection (if you have the eyes and, well, nose), however, might be able to tell you that it is made of teak, one of the most resilient tropical timber that could last more than just a lifetime.

If it is teak, you’d also know that the potential for the item to be revived would even be higher.

If it is done right, the refurbished item could fetch an even better price.

If you are patient (and lucky enough), you might find items that are made of even more valuable materials like iron wood, chengal or that very rare (and highly expensive) diamond wood.

The key word is POTENTIAL.

For those who do not really want to go through the hassle of any tedious treasure hunt, they can just go to any antique shop and pick whatever they want according to their likings.

Restored and refurbished gramophone

Most of the furniture or antique goods from these shops would usually be a little bit pricier. After all, most of the stuff had gone through certain process at different points — from the refurbishment centre to the specialised distributors or agents before reaching the designated shops.

For the more adventurous, especially those who get a kick out of discovering the potential of unwanted junk, the person you might want to meet is Tay Leng Leng.

Tay, more known among his friends and customers as Ati, lives and operates Leng’s Antiquarian Sdn Bhd in Parit Karang, located along the Alor Gajah-Melaka Tengah-Jasin (AMJ) highway — the main route that also connects the district of Muar in Johor and the state of Melaka.

Ati has certainly made a name among enthusiasts who are into antiques and classic interior decor items. He inherited the business from his father Tay Seng Huat, who passed away six years ago.

“I was just 13 when my father started the business,” Ati recalled.

It all started when many suppliers assigned his father as the “go to” guy to look for everything that spells antiques and old furniture around Muar and Melaka that had the potential to be transformed into valuable items.

They ended up amassing quite a collection. Naturally, they also end up with the expertise of refurbishing and repurposing the “junk”.

The business was held at a rented “shack” in Jalan Salleh in Muar, where the Tays prospered quietly, and steadily.

As the list of clientele grew (mainly through word of mouth), the family decided to move their operations to a bigger premise in Tanjung Gading Barat, the northern part of Muar, some five minutes away from the border of Melaka via the AMJ highway.

Melaka-styled staircase welcomes you to one of the houses in Ati’s hometown. Many suppliers assigned his father as the ‘go to’ guy to look for everything that spells antiques and old furniture around Muar and Melaka

With the new outlet, Leng’s Antiquarian is even more visible and the business attracts a wider audience.

Among the list of clients are serious collectors, interior designers, celebrities and galleries. Leng’s Antiquarian also supplies its products to specialty stores and boutique outlets that cater for the vintage and classic furniture market.

Ati’s clients are from all over the country. The most high-profiled business that Ati has secured so far is the assignment to supply period pieces for a television series produced by MediaCorp Pte Ltd, Singapore.

Frames for old brassbed

Frames for old brassbed

“The business has grown rather nicely. We used to drive around in our lorry to look for all the potential items that could be refurbished. Now, we have people who would do it for us. They’d drop all the stuff, and all we do is focus on the repair work.”

Occasionally, Ati would end up with treasures, with the discovery of real antiques with high potential.

Once, a wealthy man from Melaka acquired one simple bench that is worth RM50,000 from Ati.

Ati said patience is important for anyone to remain resilient and profitable in the business. One should also have the eyes for detail, a great knowledge in history, as well as a very good common sense.

As each piece comes with its own history from a certain period, the restoration work and refurbishment must be done accordingly, so that its authenticity could be maintained.

Ati could actually tell you the origin of an item and the period it was built in.

For instance, while almost all furniture would look similar, the details would tell you if it is of Peranakan style or designs from the colonial era. You could also tell if the item is built by local carpenters or craftsmen from India or China.

Ati can actually tell you the origin of an item and the period it was built in

Ati would also make sure that his customers are happy. He’d always suggest the better option to his clients, so that they would really get the best item from his outlet.

“Some people would just choose the item based on what they see. I’d tell them if it is teak or more valuable material, so that they know what they are paying for,” Ati said. After all, buying antique, vintage or classic furniture is as good as making a long-term investment.

Ati said once any furniture is acquired, its price might just appreciate.

“If you take care of it well, it will not go below the price you buy it,” he said.

Ati’s shop is also attracting more happy customers as the items he offers are pegged at lower prices from similar goods you’d get at grand galleries in bigger cities.

These days, Ati’s life is also simpler. Gone are the days when he’d scavenge for materials all over the country. Instead, people would just come and drop off “gems” for him to transform.

Ati’s personal touch on every restoration project ensures detailed perfection

Sometimes, he’d hit the jackpot with truckloads of stuff from old hotels or buildings that are brought to his doorstep.

Apart from refurbishment and restoration business, Ati’s outlet also offers repairing services. For any avid collector, a trip to Leng’s Antiquarian is like being a kid in a candy store, as there are other curios too.

You can find old barber chairs, gramophones, cast iron bathtubs, chandeliers and old light fixtures from previous eras, and yes, get this, old manual rubber sheet pressing machine!

“Different people would come for different items. You just wouldn’t know how each would react to certain things…,” Ati said.

Some might see Ati’s workshop and store as a graveyard for old furniture, while the more keen eyes would tell you that a fortune could be salvaged there.

As Ati puts it, there’s always money in everything. It’s either you see it or you don’t.