As far as architectural aphorisms go, Mies van der Rohe's 'less is more' has come to succinctly define minimalism. Here's our pick of 5 minimalist homes in Malaysia that do far more with less.

Minimalism is about prioritising the essentials in design. Architects and designers realise this by reducing a home to its core function and using limited materials, neutral colours, simple forms, and avoiding unnecessary ornamentation.

While the final expression of a minimalist design might appear simple, achieving this kind of powerful simplicity is anything but. We choose five of our favourite Malaysian homes that embody this effortlessly.

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1. A kampung retreat in Janda Baik, Pahang

Located in Janda Baik, award-winning firm, Choo Gim Wah Architect was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois to create a hillside retreat affectionately known as Smolhaven.

The one-and-a-half storey, 1,600 sq ft cabin sports a modernist rectilinear form and is built on stilts like the iconic Farnsworth House and, coincidentally, a traditional Malay kampung house.

 

Smolhaven’s immense two-tier platform is also a homage to the Illinoian house’s split-level deck and projects over the lawned terraces. Coupled with a pitched roof with a 3.5m overhang and large foldable doors, the deck is a multi-purpose space that blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor living.

Material choices were deliberately restricted to exposed brick, off-form concrete and timber. This considered material palette together with dark grey steel structures and streamlined building geometries contribute to Smolhaven's minimalist aesthetic.

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2. A home with mid-century and Bauhaus references in Selangor

DualSpace Studio transformed this ordinary terrace house in Shah Alam for a young couple who wanted their first home to be a sleek minimalist space. The designers worked based on that brief but added Bauhaus and mid-century touches. 

It's evident that simplicity doesn't mean basic for these designers especially in the living cum dining area which has minimal adornment yet exudes an appealing crispness through astute choices of material and meticulous detailing.

 

The statement staircase inspired by the Bauhaus era is the main feature of the house. To create a welcoming sense in the space, the designers softened the harshness of its form and finishes. Dark wood was used for the step feature at the bottom of the staircase to emphasise the level change and also acts as a seating area with hidden storage underneath.

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3. A terrace transformation In Kuala Lumpur

Once just another terrace house in Bangsar, award-winning Eleena Jamil Architect (EJA) transformed this '80s end-lot house blighted with low ceilings and awkward split levels. The designers came up with solutions to accommodate the couple and two young children in a comfortable family home with views of the city. 

Walls and floor slabs were removed and the staircase was reconfigured in a new location to create a better flow of space within an open plan configuration. This also allowed for more daylight and improved natural ventilation.

To ensure uninterrupted views of the city, a level was added on the rooftop. This new level was encased within the new facade featuring board-marked concrete walls. Large rectangular openings were punched into these walls to frame views of the neighbourhood and city skyline. 

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4. A home with rounded edges in Kuala Lumpur

Designed for a young couple by Keeyen Architect, this new build in Kuala Lumpur designed the four significant corners of the house to be pleasingly rounded. The three-storey house consisting of six bedrooms and a dance hall was awarded the Silver A' Design Award in the Architecture, Building and Structure Design Category by the International Design Academy in 2021. 

The four prominent corners of the house were rounded to soften the original allowed cubic mass. These rounded corners streamline the building form externally and the building mass was then configured in response to the tropics, designated programmes, and neighbourhood with subtracted volumes for open terraces and voids.

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5. A home with a spectacular staircase in Kuala Lumpur

Located in a corner two-storey unit in a guarded Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood, Fabian Tan Architect create a home that was minimalist yet comfortable to suit the client's family and personality. The concept was derived from the original space to embrace the site's light and views while heightening the spatial experience through materiality.

A prominently positioned stairway unifies the original architectural elements in the house through the wrapping of solid timber panels to connect the stair to the first floor mezzanine. This material continuity is carried through to the upper mezzanine with the addition of a galleria that extends the existing floor plate to wrap around the periphery of the double volume living spaces.

This space serves as a walkway with shelves, windows and storage which terminates in an end nook that houses a daybed cum study area that floats in view of the treetops.

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