Cover Fron this view 38Mews seems to float over the landscape

Designed by an architect for himself, his wife and several cats, this airy open-plan house in Kuala Lumpur brings the outdoors in

Designing your own home from the ground up is a unique opportunity, an opportunity which architect and co-founder of Design Collective Architects, Chan Mun Inn explored to its fullest for his home, fondly known as 38Mews. 

Located in Kota Damansara, the land is a compact 9,000 sq ft adjacent a forest reserve. Chan and his wife had been living in a 1,000 sq ft apartment for eight years with an increasing number of cats and one dog.

"Eventually I had to take the dog to my parent’s house which has a garden so they could take care of the dog, We still had four cats to share the apartment with and it started to feel crowded. That’s when I decided to start looking for a piece of land to build our new home. I wanted to give the cats a bit more space to move about," he recalls.

 

From the outset, Chan was certain he didn't want a big house which led to the built-up of the house to be a neat 3,000 sq ft which provided a good ratio of built-up to land size. The house's intended functions informed its design and that was to have sufficient place for the couple to work at home and ample and secure indoor/outdoor space for the cats to roam freely.

To this end, the ground floor is isolated as a working area away from the living quarters while the residential unit is located on the upper floor with two bedrooms and a large open terrace. The large open terrace has a sliding gate which provides the cats with a large outdoor area within the house to roam freely and securely.

The sloping roof provides for a double volume space that flows vertically into these second-floor master bedroom and study. The roof continues to slope into the bedroom itself and terminates at the large picture window that overlooks and frames the views of the adjacent forest and hills.

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"The house is designed to be 'just enough' for us to use. There wasn’t any need for additional bedrooms, so we only built one master bedroom and one guest bedroom. We had many friends and colleagues that were surprised to find out that our house only had two rooms. The living spaces are one continuous open-plan layout with the living and kitchen occupying one large space. There is no defined dining area in the house. We would usually sit on the recycled wooden table on the verandah for dinner," explains Chan.

"Bedroom doors were designed with the door handle higher up at 5’ instead of the usual 3’. This is because one of our cats has learnt how to open doors in our previous apartments. Windows are also placed higher up at 5’ to prevent them from jumping out, and kitchen appliances and doors are all tucked away behind shutters." 

 

The large open terrace and window are defining architectural features of the house and Chan dismisses any concerns that this is a privacy issue: "How this was designed was that the house is actually placed back with a large garden just in front of the terrace and windows. Large trees were planted surrounding the terrace which provided the necessary screening effect that’s sufficient to give us enough privacy without taking away our garden views and daylighting. Privacy in a home does not automatically mean an enclosed space with small windows which is what I was trying to avoid.

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Apart from reinforced concrete structures and brickwork, the most common and significant material used in the house is glass with large panels of clear, non-tinted glass filling up the eastern façade of the house

"I never liked dark gloomy interiors and have always preferred bright and naturally lit spaces. I wanted a house whereby I never needed to turn on any lights during the day. What surprised me after the completion of the house was that I didn’t need lights for some areas at night as well. The large panel of glass allows external street lighting to flood into the living spaces at the night thus providing just enough ambient lighting for moving about. The large glass facades also allowed a seamless and continuous connection between the interior and the exterior and a wrap-around view of the trees in the garden is possible from the living space because of this clear façade." 

 

 

 

Context and climate were key considerations in Chan's design and 38Mews incorporates a lot of basic modernist elements that are also present in traditional vernacular Malaysian architecture. "This includes elements such as pilotis (or stilts) that elevate the house and improve cooling and cross ventilation. The intricate roof details found in old kampung houses function aesthetically but at the same time channel warm air out of the interior, cooling the inside spaces. 38Mews was designed with this in mind," muses Chan.

"The movement of wind and air and how to dissipate warm air from the house. The sloping ceiling of the house moves warm air towards the top of the house. The windows placed in those areas function as exhausts, releasing warm air out. This is visible, especially in the master bedroom where a high-level motorised window is placed at the top of the picture window to allow for this release of warm air."

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The orientation of the house was one of the most critical design decisions made early on in the design process. Large openings and glass were only designed into the eastern façade, allowing the morning sun to enter the house. The large terrace also comes with a deep overhanging roof which provides shade as well as protection from the rain. The western facades have minimal windows, just enough to light up corridors and spaces without bringing in too much of the hot afternoon sun. 

 

 

 

 

External walls for the house were also constructed with a double-brick cavity wall which provided added insulation to the internal spaces. The warmer outer layer that is exposed to the sun is separated from the inner layer preventing heat transfer into the internal spaces.  All internal spaces are also designed with windows and openings on opposing sides of the room, allowing for cross ventilation.

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As for drainage, the roof was designed as a one-piece single pitched metal roof that flowed in one direction towards an oversized concrete gutter at the lower end of the house. This gutter then transfers the rainwater into a rainwater harvesting tank that is later used for gardening purposes. Excess water is drained off into the storm drains.

Being very clear about what he wanted from the start, Chan states that he barely veered from the initial design. However, there were some minor adjustments that needed to be made once they moved in for the feline occupants.

Soft furniture had to be completely replaced with more durable timber and plastic ones as the sofas were inevitably scratched up within six months. Nevertheless, the house has been so friendly to cats, that the household of four cats has grown to include seven indoor cats, with 2 more ‘strays’ living downstairs in the garden.

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