Cover Paul Smith’s bungalow stands tall at the peak of Ukay Heights despite the unusual, challenging topography

Designed by MJ Kanny Architect, Paul Smith’s modern tropical home is an ode to its lush environment and a reflection of the owner's love for Asia

An enviable setting. An owner with a keen appreciation of equatorial living. A deft architect with a knack for open tropical concepts.

These are the magic ingredients that went into Paul Smith’s modern tropical home in Ampang's Ukay Heights.

Smith, an expat who worked for the oil and gas industry in Malaysia for a number of years, met Melvyn Kanny of MJ Kanny Architect when the architect designed the former's first house in Malaysia almost a decade ago. So when Smith came across an 18,000 sq ft property located along the highest peak of Ukay Heights where an old dilapidated bungalow sat among green vegetation and rain trees over a hundred years old, his imagination sparked and he called Kanny up to view the place.

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The site offered spectacular views but was on a very steep descending slope with access only from the top of the property. Rather than interfere too much with the natural environment, Kanny and Smith brainstormed on a number of options over a long period of time before arriving at the final design.

“Smith wanted a cosy tropical sanctuary where he could enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. He was also open to the idea of the house being tucked into the existing slope with minimum disturbance to the surroundings. We toyed with the idea of having spaces that cascade down the hill from the entrance with an umbrella-like roof canopy that provides shelter as well as privacy,” Kanny explains.

“Since I wanted to blend the property into the prevailing terrain as much as possible, I felt this was best achieved by an irregular roofline. Remembering some tremendous houses I visited in Bali, where the roofline was brought down to ground level, I asked Melvyn to follow this concept, using roof shingles as opposed to tiles to engender a sense of the natural,” adds Smith.

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ALL CHANGE

Instead of renovating the existing structure, the decision was made to tear it down. Since it was a new build, Kanny could design it to respond specifically to the climate and topography.

“As the temperature in Ukay Heights is cooler than other parts of KL, we took full advantage of capturing the breeze. All the rooms and spaces have high level ventilation slots allowing for a free flow of air into the house. Most spaces are also provided with double and triple height ceilings due to the nature of the roof design,” enthuses Kanny.

 

“We made sure that at high levels, hot air can escape though the slots we created throughout the house. Ventilation slots were also created at the semi-basement levels to allow cool air below ground to permeate through the spaces.”

The cascading roof was also manipulated to make up for a lack of external walls, since it acted as an exterior canopy in many areas. Extending the roof in certain areas also provides shelter and respite even in the hottest of afternoons. Skylights and glass floors were used to draw in natural light to areas with a deep floor plate and especially the semi-basement areas which did not have much light coming in.

Since the overall theme was a tropical one, natural finishes like timber ceiling, stone and timber flooring and even large timber framed glass doors in key areas were selected. Smith engaged his longtime friend, interior designer Peter Cann, to bring together the contemporary-looking house with Smith’s eclectic taste and oriental antique collection. 

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INSIDE OUT

When considering the interiors, they realised that the floor area was enough for each of the three floors to have their own distinct mood, promoting a transition through Asia from floor to floor. As such, the top level consisting of the entrance lobby, library and guest suite as well as a family area boasts an Asian antique feel which complements the high, timber roof structure.

The middle level which is essentially the sleeping floor, is entered via the base of the wooden stairs by passing a Zen area, replete with a granite sitting Buddha surrounded by greenery, in an effort to mimic a Cambodian temple. Smith’s concern with the middle floor was the lofty ceiling height, which he felt made the walls too large and monolithic but this was solved by introducing rattan screens at the top of each wall. These screens provide a very colonial feel to the floor and promote a cooling breeze without resorting to air-conditioning. 

Finally, the lowest level is home to the kitchen, lounge and open dining area and kept modernistic in appearance and function. The kitchen is the centrepiece of this area and provides everything a modern kitchen should, while ensuring that those doing the cooking are not excluded from the party.

The pièce de résistance is the huge swimming pool with proportions that are a direct result of the sheer size of the large plot of land and the need to keep everything in scale. As the flat garden is bounded by an arc rather than a straight line, it was also sensible to have the pool follow this line and the results, especially when viewed from above are both unique and spectacular.

While Smith engaged trusted professionals to realise his vision, being a hobby author with a International Impac Dublin Literary Award nomination meant he was also  invested deeply in the artistic side of things. As such, right after the concept was established, he set about finding fixtures and fittings to incorporate into the design. For example, several sets of antique doors and screens were bought early and stored until they were incorporated with the design.

Smith reveals that many of these artefacts were found either in KL or Melaka, using nothing more than interest and a keen eye. Nonetheless, as all true aesthetes know, there is elegance in restraint, and Smith deliberately kept the final furnishings to a minimum.

“I feel it says something for the architectural and interior design when there is no reason to fill a house to the gills with furniture to create appeal. A few distinct items and quality Indonesian teak woodwork are all that have been required to complement the beautiful design that speaks for itself.”

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