Renting a vintage home in Hồ Chí Minh City

Rosie Pollard and Rick Stockley were not planning to move in October 2011, but a surprise offer prompted them to reconsider.

Some acquaintances were going to Shanghai, and the vintage wooden house that they had been renting in Hồ Chí Minh City was going to be available.

Would Ms. Pollard and Mr. Stockley, who were living in a rented villa in a more central part of the city, be interested?

vintage-homeThe five main rooms in this house all open onto the central courtyard

They knew that they would have to buy furniture and that the monthly rent of $1,800 was $600 more than they had been paying.

(Expatriates’ rents generally are set in U.S. dollars, an unofficial second currency in Việt Nam.)

Mr. Stockley said he also worried that the neighborhood, Thảo Điền, an area popular with expatriates about 6 kilometers, or 3.7 miles, from the city center, would not be particularly interesting.

But, he acknowledged:

“It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

So about a month later, they broke their lease and began buying wooden chairs and tables at vintage furniture warehouses.

The home, which covers about 200 square meters, or about 2,150 square feet, is actually a combination of two wooden houses that were transported in 2002 from villages in the northern province of Hòa Bình, near Hà Nội.

Most of the wood is lim, a rare tree that is native to southern China and northern Việt Nam, said Nguyễn Văn Long, the owner.

Phan Tú, the builder who moved the houses by truck nearly 2,000 kilometers, or about 1,200 miles, says relocating rural homes to urban centers is his specialty.

He says he typically buys the houses from owners who might otherwise demolish them to make way for new construction.

“The houses are beautiful, and I want to help keep them alive.”

He said.

As the hybrid house was formed, a kitchen and three bathrooms were created because they traditionally would have been in a separate structure, Mr. Long said.

Features like tile floors and the brick wall that separates the kitchen from the master bedroom were also added, and air-conditioning units were installed.

The original houses probably date to the 1930s or 1940s, Mr. Long said.

He said he had bought them for a total of slightly more than 1 billion đồng, or about $50,000 now, because they reminded him of his childhood in the North Vietnamese countryside.

The house has five rooms: a living area, study, two bedrooms and the new kitchen.

Ms. Pollard and Mr. Stockley, who are planning to marry in August, have added personal touches like the artwork they purchased in Myanmar and several Middle Eastern countries, and a living-room cabinet that holds Mr. Stockley’s record collection.

The only way to move from one room to another is to step outside and walk along a tiled path that is sheltered by the roof eaves, intricately carved with representations of lotus flowers.

The adjacent courtyard has a picnic table, a stone Buddha statue, flowering orchids and a small grove of banana trees.

Mr. Stockley, a 31-year-old engineer from New Zealand, says one of trees usually fruits every few months.

At night, track lighting in the living room accentuates the woodwork and lends the house and its adjacent courtyard a vaguely theatrical air.

Mr. Long, an oil and gas executive whose primary residence is in the city center, said he planned to retire in the house once his two children, who are at college, were settled.

But since 2004, he has rented it to foreigners who shared his love of its airy ambiance.

“It’s open to the breeze and helps you feel at peace with your surroundings.”

He said.

The house, an L-shaped structure at the end of a dead-end street, is a striking contrast to the tall residential towers being built on either side and, in the distance, the eight-lane highway that funnels cars, trucks and motorcycles into the city’s frenetic central districts.

Mr. Stockley said he had come to like the neighborhood, but the house still presents a few challenges, like keeping it cool in summer and cleaning up the dust that slips through the roof tiles.

The couple, who met in Dubai in 2006, agree that the biggest annoyance is having to close a total of 10 doors, 6 in the living area alone, every time they leave the property.

“We do have a lot of conversations about doors.”

Said Ms. Pollard, 30, a choreographer from Britain.

But, she added, they like how the house puts them in close contact with the natural world.

They almost never use the air-conditioners and the living room’s doors typically stand open all day, even during the summer monsoon.

When pounding rain makes a racket, the couple say they simply speak a little louder or, if they are watching television, raise the volume.

Although the couple say that they feel settled and have no immediate plans to move, they know that their time in the house will be finite.

“We just have to accept that this is amazing, and embrace it as much as we can.”

Ms. Pollard said on a recent Sunday in the courtyard as an Otis Redding record blared from the living room.

“We know we won’t get this chance again.”

By MIKE IVES

Source: The New York Times 30/5/2013

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