Cover The formal dining room overlooks the pool

This family home in Muar designed by S/LAB 10 combines material exploration and the fostering of family ties to glorious effect

A home often serves as more than just a place of shelter; it can be an expression of the residents’ personalities and aspirations. For this multi-generational family home in Muar, Johor, the owner had purchased a large three-storey bungalow with approximately 10,000 sq ft of interior space and 4,000 sq ft of the courtyard area.

His father was recovering from an accident and the client wanted to transform the home into a dwelling where he could convalesce in comfort. To achieve this, he engaged S/LAB 10, a design practice founded in Sydney, Australia with operations in Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

 

The client found the firm through contractors that he had collaborated with before. After a brief meeting in Muar, the client visited S/LAB 10’s Johor Bahru office for further discussion.

“We always believe a good final product is the result of teamwork which involves the client, the designer and the builder. We were touched and inspired by the client’s enthusiasm for this project. We had the impression that he wanted to create something special as an appreciation for what the father had done for the family,” recalls Hao Wang, one of the two founders of S/LAB 10.

“Basically, the brief was to build a home for the family to enjoy, especially for the father who has worked very hard all his life. The client believes in design and how well-designed spaces could benefit a person’s health, lifestyle and experience.”

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ALL CHANGE

While the project came with the existing layout by the architect, the designers believed there was great potential for better planning. To this end, they shuffled the layout, loosened the space and generated a more open space that they termed 'breathing space' by connecting the indoor and outdoor.

“The design was very much driven by loosening and creating spaces that juxtaposed to another space meaningfully. whether it is in and out, or up and down, vertically and horizontally,” states Wang.

 

To enhance this 'breathing space', the designers incorporated natural materials.

“Our intention from the start was to focus on natural materials. Like all our projects, our inclination will always be true to materials. For this house, the finishes are marble, granite, natural wood and slabs of timber. Marble and granite are amazing materials with unique patterns. Marble can be art, valued not only for its luxurious finish but for the endless opportunities the natural vein gives designers. The thermal mass of natural stone is also superior in keeping the house cool in a tropical climate,” enthuses Wang.

 

Natural wood veneer was used in the common areas, the warm hues juxtaposed deftly against the marble. The balanced effect achieved was no accident.

“We were very particular on the natural wood veneer characteristics and the experience one gets visually when up close. We have explored numerous finishes (sealer, wax and more) on these wood veneers to preserve the natural beauty of the wood grain.”

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DETAIL-ORIENTED

As a practice that loves to celebrate fine details, working with natural materials presented its own set of challenges. This was particularly the case in the marble staircase that pierces through all three floors and appears like a seamless swathe of stone.

“As a natural material, marble is very challenging to work with. Every single piece of marble pattern is unique and non-modifiable. The design intent was to have the marble vein continuously leading up a 6m long staircase over three levels,” recalls Wang. “In searching for the right marble, we visited multiple stone quarries from Ipoh, KL and Johor Bahru. We personally inspected every piece of marble in person and created 3D renderings to best optimise the design outcome.”

The biomimicry design of the kitchen island was another exercise that showcased the designers’ commitment to meticulous details. Consisting of 48 pieces of marble layered over each other, each piece was hand-cut and installed individually. Multiple physical scaled models were made before the designers decided on their final organic form to ensure that the undulated curves flowed well. 

Other details of note included the glass lift screen and pergola louvre. “A mock-up of the glass lift screen was made on site. We needed to ensure passengers did not feel enclosed within the lift, yet it would still provide privacy from outside. At night, lighting transforms the screen into a golden tower and is reflected in the pool,” says Wang.

“The pergola louvre was carefully distanced and angled, allowing the morning sun to pass through and providing shade from the harsh afternoon sunlight. The shadow effect also creates more dynamic indoor and outdoor spaces.”

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FAMILY TIES

Halfway through construction, the pandemic struck and site work was paused for almost 10 months. Once lockdown eased, work resumed and the family could finally move into their home. Since then, Wang confides that they regularly received photos of the family enjoying the space.

“Seeing the family enjoy and appreciate the space and atmosphere is lovely. The client put a lot of trust in our skill and design, and the greatest reward comes when we know the finished product exceeds the clients’ expectations,” muses Wang.

“We were keen to take up this project because we saw the positive energy and challenges it presented. We knew the outcome would be unique and tailored to the family’s needs and expectations. We like to take part in projects that have a story behind them. Designing a home is like sculpting spaces that project meaningful messages to the dwellers. In this case, filial piety, healing and fun.”

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