Cover The simple facade of House 44 with its glorious garden

Inspired by the Australian verandah home and designed around the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, this family home in Shah Alam, Malaysia is a relaxed space surrounded by lush greenery

Located in the quiet suburb of Setia Alam in Shah Alam, Idr Joe Chan has created a home for himself and his family that is as soothing to behold as it is to live in. But Chan has something of an advantage as he is an interior designer, founder, and principal of the award-winning firm DesignTone Interior Practice.

 

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Above A perforated screen for privacy

With the two-storey semi-detached house, Chan took on an approach of minimal intervention and disruption to the original architecture so as not to disrupt the neighbouring architecture.

"The approach had to be subtle yet distinct and this was executed by giving an extension of verticality from the first-floor level to the highest point of the roof by using a perforated screen and also to provide a little sense of privacy from the peering into the large window in the master bedroom and bath," says Chan.

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"The demarcation on the existing unit from the neighbour is also subtly punctuated by using a large pot and tree. This further gives character to the front architecture."

Nicknamed House 44, the home fuses the familiarities of a simple Australian verandah house that is in dialogue with Malaysia's tropical climate while borrowing from the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. Chan, who was architecturally trained in Australia, cultivated a love for the outdoors there.

As such, Chan created an environment which has a balanced ecosystem between ‘space’ and the garden: "We took advantage of the generous land size and maintained the open space by curating a large garden, contrary to the typical Malaysian approach. This gesture contrasts with the typical Malaysian approach of filling up excess land with buildings. Instead, we consciously retained the open space, creating a spatial buffer where a micro-climate and an ecosystem could flourish."

Borrowing from the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, the design of the home centres on the aesthetics of imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion. Wabi is expressed through the raw simplicity of nature, materiality, and space; while, sabi is evoked through aged aesthetics.

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"Being urbanites, commuting, working, and residing in the rapid and condensed built environment, our goal is to create a space that is akin to being a gallery, a garden, and a retreat in the attempt to fuse multi-programmatic spaces into a place we call home," Chan muses. "The idea is that being surrounded by natural, transient spaces helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions. Building on the notion that space has an impact on the psychology of its occupants, the house explores the use of natural light, wind, and nature to improve the occupants’ well-being."

Analysing the lifestyle of Chan's small modern family of two adults and one child, the designer explored the idea of the house being a singular unified space i.e. having a one large family room for multiple functions. "Bringing lessons and memories from our past homes, our travels, and our living habits, we explored a contrasting ground and upper floor," says Chan.

 

On the ground floor, the living-dining-kitchen-patio-garden appear as a singular space with its functions and spatial qualities changing throughout the day to suit the living behaviour of the family. Living in a tropical environment, determinants of shade, wind, and light form key aspects of the living environment.

"We created a linear patio as a spatial transition between the inside and outside, mediating between the interior and the garden and shading the direct heat and light from the Western sun. Siting at different spots within the house, we experience a tapestry of view, nature, light, and shade," explains Chan.

 

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Above Natural light streams into the wide open spaces

 "We are able to sense the exterior from the interior - such layering of greens was achieved via borrowing the landscape from external streets. In totality, it is a space where its occupants can live through the sense and engage in daily life through a heightened awareness of their environment."

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With the interior finishes of cement, plywood, natural wood, vintage and aged pieces that are passed down from generations, the house accepts and celebrates imperfections and a sense of impermanence. Amplifying the dialogue between the garden and the interior, the garden was scaled into the interior through the use of a large moss wall art and various plants.

Contrasting the openness of the ground floor living space, the upper bedroom is a private and intimate space, designed to embody the minimalist philosophy of Zen design. Again, the spaces make use of natural materials, rejecting clutter and allowing the rooms to be relaxing and soothing.

 

Only one particular space that we wanted to look polished is the master bath which is purported to contrast from the overall design approach. A perforated screen was installed here to provide a sense of privacy from the large windows to the bedroom and master bath.

While Chan has evidently put much thought into the concept behind House 44, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. Looking at the serene open space bathed in natural light that feels sober yet warm against the backdrop of a glorious garden, Chan has designed a house that has become a living environment–a physical, emotive, and psychological space called home.

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