Cover The floating barn structure makes a bold architectural statement

Designing a home for his beloved parents in Ipoh was not only a labour of love for architect Kenny Chong, it was also an expression of his architectural ethos

Some people say never mix work with family but for architect Kenny Chong of A3 Projects, designing a family home for his parents was an opportunity to create a house specifically catered to their requirements filled with thoughtful details that only someone privileged with intimate knowledge of one’s clients could have done.

Built in Ipoh from the ground up on a large piece of land, the idea of building this home came in 2009 after his mother’s miraculous recovery from a severe stroke when Chong and his wife, Sin, who’s also an architect, were still working in the UK.

“Dad sent pictures and the site plan of the potential site and asked me to doodle a few ideas. They did consider whether it was better to get the son to design their dream home or just to buy a bungalow house especially for mum, as they had gone through some tough moments when she was so sick. But I felt a strong determination to design ‘the most perfect house’ for them,” explains Chong.

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This “perfect house” is located in Ipoh where Chong’s parents live and has been their base even while his father had a business operating in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. The architect had always wanted to design a building that was a response to its immediate context and this project was the perfect chance to do so as the site had breathtaking scenic views of the mountains and he found himself inspired by the surrounding nature and its sense of peace and tranquility.

 

During the conceptual stage, Chong asked for his parents' input: “My parents wanted a big garden and father insisted the house had to have a setback of at least 40ft from the main road. Other than that, it wasn’t easy for them to express their design preferences, even in terms of spatial relationship, sizes etc.

"For one, concept was a word that seemed alien to them. They kept relating that to country style or neo-classical/ colonial style—the notion of majesty perhaps best explained what they imagined their palace to be. It was difficult for them to imagine in the three-dimensional so in the end, they just let me get on with it hoping it would turn out alright.”

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Chong toyed with various ideas and concepts, ultimately settling on a curved structure comprising interlocking courtyards topped with a barn-like roof. The ground floor is where all the public spaces including a guest room are located. Moving upwards, the mezzanine floor hosts the family area, while the master bedroom and two bedrooms make up the next two floors—all accessed via a magnificent helical staircase sprung off from the half landing space that looks as if it is suspended in the double volume dining space.

 

The material choices are modest but effective especially the standing seam metal roofing which gives the barn the simplest roof profile and its appealing form. Large sliding glass doors and courtyards define the volumes and spaces while simple off white rendered walls complement the contrasting ‘natural clay colour’ metal roofing. Timber veneer was used liberally, giving the home a warm yet sophisticated feel and copper metal detailing reflects his father’s decades in the gravure industry. In fact, Chong designed two metal sculpture as a house-warming gift for his parents.

“The pattern of the first piece is gravure cells magnified by a hundred times and the copper metal reflects the actual copper plating of the gravure cylinders. Father has been in the rotogravure printing industry for nearly 45 years and only the family knows about the ‘secret codes’ behind the metal piece. The other ‘metal mushroom’ pieces are nestled amongst the fern courtyard where the ferns sparkle into life after a heavy rainfall,” he enthuses.

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Truly a family endeavour, Chong reveals that the interior design was also designed in-house throughout, including designing most of the furniture, metal sculptures and lightings which were mostly custom made by various trades. Chong’s wife, Sin, was also very involved in the project and spent a lot of time on the interiors as well as coordination on site with contractors—no mean task when managing them remotely from Kuala Lumpur.

The effortlessness of the results belies any struggles and while there’s much to love about this beautiful home, Chong cites the barn as his favourite element: “Even though there were contrasting opinions of the floating metal roofed barn, I welcome them. I like everything about the barn, its floating barn structure, the fascia beam detail, the window cutout, the concealed gutter and so on.

 

Tatler Asia
Courtyards are dotted around the home
Above Courtyards are dotted around the home

Maybe it’s the childhood nostalgia but somehow the farm barn houses have their own charm. It also fits nicely within the hills backdrop and unlike neighbouring houses, where roofs come in various layers, angles and shapes, I like the very simple and honest roof line of the barn. Moreover, with the house perched on the higher point of the hills, it has great views.”

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As for Chong’s parents whose satisfaction ultimately matter most, Chong confesses that it was a journey for them as well. “I could tell father was never comfortable about the whole thing until the interior came to life with the lights up. He constantly received negative comments from contractors, friends and neighbours who visited the site. 'Why is your son designing a factory for you?' 'How come the house looks so small?' 'Why do you want to have roof garden, when it leaks it will be a nightmare!' 'The house has been taken so long to build!', and it goes on,” recalls Chong.

“But when the house started to take shape, they started to feel the spaces, the ambience, the tactile of materiality. They started to tell friends about the spaces, reasons for this and that. They are now settling in well. Although they are concerned about privacy with the full height glass, they enjoy the scenic views and overlooking their own vast garden.”

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