Young entrepreneurs in Tainan are preserving their city’s past and attracting new visitors by converting former homes into comfortable inns filled with vintage furniture. Read on to learn about two small businesses that offer more than just a place to sleep.
A sense of place: Old House Inn
Tucked between stalls in Ximen Market (西門市場), the narrow door of Old House Inn (謝宅) is easy to miss. Enter and climb up a very steep flight of stairs, however, and you’ll find yourself in a time capsule showing the life of one Tainan family.
Owner Kyle Hsieh (謝文侃) grew up in the house, which was built five decades ago by his parents, who ran a nearby fabric store. He converted his childhood home into an inn three years ago.
In his early twenties, Hsieh went to Australia to earn a graduate degree and work. After his father had a stroke, however, he returned to Tainan. Hsieh’s parents had to move out of the house because his father could no longer navigate the ladder-like entry, and they worried about the fate of their former home.
“In Tainan City, there are so many old houses constantly being torn down,” Hsieh says. “These buildings represent the past experiences of a country or a place. The way things were, what people experienced, all that is kept and transmitted through things like old houses or furniture.”
The Hsieh family decided to keep their house and turn it into an inn because they felt many visitors to Tainan did not linger long enough to truly appreciate it.
“Tainan people really love Tainan,” Hsieh says. “I always feel that visitors want to eat and drink here, but then they go to Kaohsiung or Kenting to stay. I wanted to create a place that would make people want to stay overnight, so they could see another side of Tainan.”
Old House Inn’s signature is its speckled gray terrazzo flooring, once a common sight in Taiwanese homes. During a year-long renovation, Hsieh installed new plumbing and wiring, but carefully preserved the interior’s original appearance and features, including an airy wooden balcony that overlooks the high-ceilinged living room.
Hsieh’s family already owned most of the furniture in the house, which sleeps up to six people. He hired craftsmen to make new items using traditional methods, including tatami mats, mosquito netting and fluffy quilts for the communal sleeping space. During the renovation, Hsieh used wood salvaged from old houses torn down around Tainan. As soon as he heard of another structure scheduled for demolition, Hsieh and his crew rushed to the job site.
Hsieh is now dedicated to preserving Tainan’s recent history. Last November, he opened Old House 3 (謝宅3), an 80-year-old structure that used to be his uncle’s home. Old House 2 (謝宅2), once owned by his grandmother, is currently being renovated. (The numbers of the inn denote the order in which Hsieh began to work on them.) A cafe featuring a mixture of baroque and Japanese design — an interior style popular during Japan’s colonization of Taiwan — will open next month.
Hsieh says that about a third of Old House Inn’s guests come from abroad, including countries like France, Spain and Germany.
“Five-star hotels are the same everywhere. If you stay there, you don’t get a sense of place,” he says. “When foreign visitors stay at the Old House Inns, they get a feeling of what it’s like to be local. That’s what they want when they travel to a different country — to experience a different way of life.”