Cover The extension to the back invites the outdoors in

Award-winning firm Eleena Jamil Architect transforms a semi-detached house in Bukit Antarabangsa into an airy and light-filled home that opens up to the surrounding garden

Founder of multiple award-winning practice, Eleena Jamil Architect and Tatler's Asia's Most Influential honouree, Eleena Jamil's varied body of work reflects her thoughtful approach to design. With a strong sustainability ethos, she is adept at creating "honest" everyday spaces that make the most of a site's natural features. 

This renovation of a dilapidated semi-detached house in Bukit Antarabangsa reflects Eleena's deft touch. The property belongs to the architect's parents, who bought it from the previous owner. "Although there have been plans to renovate, they kept putting it off, leaving it in disrepair for quite a few years. The opportunity came about when the house was broken into, and they decided it was high time to do something about it," says Eleena.



"The idea from the beginning was to bring in as much light as possible, with plenty of openings, and to take full advantage of the rear garden's privacy. From the outset, I felt that the house has a huge potential to turn into a lovely home without having to do too much."

Appropriately, the starting point was the insertion of a courtyard to bring in more ‘light’ and ‘air’ into the deep spaces of the house on the ground floor.

From this, the internal areas opened up by removing parts of the existing interior walls and floor and relocating the main entrance door to create a more open and fluid layout in relation to the courtyard. To the rear of the house, a new simple rectangular extension was added to serve as a kitchen and dining space facing the back garden.

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As Eleena had a limited budget, she had to consider simple and cheap materials but used them effectively. For sliding doors, custom-designed mild steel folding doors with steel mesh panels were used, while some of the new walls are made from perforated concrete blocks (or ventilation blocks). These resulted in brighter spaces and improved ventilation across the rooms.

The use of these porous materials also gives the house an ethereal quality, as they reflect light and allow occupants inside to observe the activity and natural world outside. The main door was made from checker plate metal and has become one of the interesting features of the house.


Elsewhere, walls are kept in white plaster and the original flooring, such as broken marbles on the ground floor area and timber parquet floors on the upper floor, are retained and polished. Now restored to its gleaming state, the marble floor bounces light around the house. "The use of these different materials and retaining what we could kept costs low compared to proprietary glazing and hardwood door systems," explains Eleena.

The kitchen and dining at the rear extension of the house is a single open space with steel Y-columns placed internally so that the framed mesh panels can slide open uninterrupted. This allows views directly onto the rear garden which is lined by a stone gabion wall placed along the site boundary.

Just beyond this stone wall is hilly terrain with local fruit-bearing trees that attract wild animals like monkeys, squirrels and the occasional flock of wild boars. A long and low bench is placed along with the wide opening, enabling the occupants and visitors to sit and chat and enjoy the greenery.

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Unsurprisingly this area is the architect's favourite part of the house. "The folding mesh panels open fully from end to end, providing uninterrupted views of the back garden, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside. Here, the space feels like outdoors most of the time," she muses. 

The addition of the bench creates a firm boundary between inside and outside. Yet, it encourages interaction and connection to the external world simply by inviting people to sit along the perimeter of the space.

"I think the contractor has done great work on the long and low bench we designed in the kitchen and dining area. It serves as a sitting area that reinforces the relationship between the internal space and the outdoor," she says. " The bench is cantilevered and is less than 100mm thick, which is a remarkable engineering feat. This makes the bench look like it is floating above the floor."  


The unexpected use of material extends to the kitchen and dining space, where interlocking concrete pavers, like those usually found on outdoor terraces, reiterate that this space is neither inside nor outside.

This hardwearing floor allows the area to be used for activities traditionally associated with the outdoors, such as barbecues and messy children’s play. To match this, materiality was kept industrial throughout with kitchen cabinetry comprising of perforated aluminium panelled doors and concrete worktops.

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Another part of the house that directly connects to the outdoors is the study, where the new courtyard stretches into it. Like the dining/kitchen area, sliding mesh panels are used, and they open out to the ‘outdoor room’ with walls of perforated concrete blocks and a single frangipani tree planted on the gravelled ground.

Here, the relationship to the outdoors is more direct, blurring the spatial boundaries between the internal and external, creating a  contemplative space for concentrating on tasks.     


The overarching idea was to maintain the original form as far as possible so that it sits well with its semi-detached neighbours. As such, very few three-dimensional modifications were carried out to the existing external envelope of the house, and the focus instead was on reconfiguring internal spaces toward the beautiful greenery surrounding the house.

Apart from making large strategic openings and adding the rear extension, one of the external interventions was the introduction of a new monochrome colour scheme. This combination of whites and greys makes for an attractive backdrop, especially to the new and existing greenery of the house. 


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