Cover A terrace corner lot turned into a modern tropical home

Rice Design transforms a terrace home in Johor into a lavish home celebrating nature and open spaces

Local design firm Rice Design was excited to transform this 15-year-old terrace corner lot set in a nondescript neighbourhood in Johor Bahru. Instead of stumbling blocks, the designers saw beyond the house's poor ventilation and outdated structure. They saw only the potential in how it could be overhauled into a sleek, modern home. 

There was certainly plenty of space in a generous 4,200 sq ft with one living room, five bedrooms, one living room, and five bathrooms, but the usage of these spaces and how they flowed needed to be corrected.  



"As one does through their choices in fashion and music, a house is an expression of one’s personality and lifestyle to me. I am drawn to old houses for their charm and typology, a quality we rarely get in new developments," explains Silver Chng, founder and managing director of Rice Design.

"And in the process of remodelling an old house, we create something truly unique for the homeowners. Something beyond the physical structure. Above all, I believe the most important outcome is for a house to fit you and your lifestyle needs, regardless of age."

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To this end, the designers modified existing layouts into open-plan spaces and large picture windows. These alterations multiplied natural light entering the home and improved air circulation.

"Terrace houses in the tropics have in-built problems. Having only a front and rear façade and constrained by flanking walls, they are often badly ventilated, have poor natural daylight and have little connection with nature," explains Chng. "The modernisation of ventilation is an important part of a renovation. We found that reconfiguring a terrace house can improve cross ventilation and daylighting by introducing courtyards and light wells."

Another significant structural change was raising the ceilings, which involved a fair amount of work, although Chng believes the benefits were worth the extra effort and cost. 

"Many new homes feature vaulted or raised ceilings, and framing an elevated ceiling isn’t difficult during new construction. In an existing house, however, raising the ceiling in the living room, or anywhere else, is a complicated process," muses Chng. "However it's a crucial part to consider as the height of a ceiling can affect how we think, feel and interact with those around us."

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Connecting the interior spaces to nature was a crucial consideration in the overall design concept, and this was introduced in several ways. For starters, material choices were carefully chosen.

"We wanted a strong connection to nature which we believe enhances the wellbeing of the residents. As such, we chose materials such as bricks, tiles, timber, doors and window frames that can be readily recycled," says Chng. "The house also has lots of greenery inside to freshen up the space, while the open space means good air circulation to ensure that the residence remains cool throughout the days and nights."



The garden landscaping was carefully planned to balance having a sleekness to fit into the modern concept with being lush enough to evoke an effortless tropical vibe. This can be enjoyed best from the "hidden" outdoor bar, which the designers included for the residents' enjoyment.

Unsurprisingly this is also the designer's favourite part of the project  "Our favourite part of all is the hidden outdoor bar, which cannot be seen from the street. It's perfect for chitchat with the family or chilled hangout nights with friends. It also has an outdoor wood panel that doubles up as the skylight to cascade daylight through the house."

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As for decorative finishes and furniture, the designers took an eclectic approach. Wallpaper transforms bare walls into visual feasts and features dreamy landscapes and blossoming vistas as per the nature concept. Plush furniture straddles the modern and mid-century while the artwork is kept to a minimum, with the exception of a classical fresco in a bar area.


The finished result is a unique and unexpectedly spacious home which transcends its original envelope. Chng sums it up: "New is beautiful, but old will always be gold. At RICE, we design not only brand-new houses but also renovate timeless homes into modern masterpieces. Old house renovations are always exceptional, showing how design expertise can transform a space from blah to wow while retaining its timeless charm."


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