Inside a Kuala Lumpur house with a Japanese-style tatami room for sipping tea
This Malaysian family’s new home in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur features tranquil interiors that reflect their quest for a slower pace of life.
Malaysian entrepreneurial couple Wilson Lee and Emily Loo own and operate Beaute Library, a successful chain of beauty specialist centres across the country. They also have three young children aged from two to 13. Work and home life is therefore equally bustling.
The family used to live in a condominium in Kuala Lumpur’s affluent Sri Hartamas district but decided to decamp from the city centre in their search for a larger home. This move was synonymous with a desire for their growing brood to experience a slower pace of life amid nature.
They found their current residence in a strata-landed housing estate that is perched on a hill and surrounded by forest gullies, but only a 20-minute car ride away from downtown Kuala Lumpur.
The couple engaged Wunderwall Design for the interiors, which is defined by a palette of oak timber, precast micro terrazzo floors and marble with accents of PVD-coated steel.
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“Our approach is less about conforming to Japanese or Scandinavian styles, but more on achieving a subtle tonality throughout the house with materials that are light and warm – nothing too strong,” said Ee Wil Ken, who heads the Kuala Lumpur-based firm with Sharmaine Wong and Chia Wei Hoong.
A large pivoting door leads from the car park lots into a double-volume foyer, where a low marble wall with fluted glass marks the threshold into the home proper. An organically shaped mirror offers glimpses into the living room, as well as lets the occupants check their appearance for a final time before leaving the house.
The living and dining room open into a terrace with luxuriant landscape views. To retain their lofty ceiling heights, the design team contained the multi-split air-conditioners in the centre. It is wrapped in elegant cabinetry and reads as a service spine that also contains the television for the living room and kitchen equipment for the dry kitchen.
As the area needed to contain the services was rather wide, the design team made it usable by turning it into a mezzanine and inserted a tearoom on the side overlooking the foyer. While the owners are not avid tea drinkers, they enjoy the communal aspect of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. A bonsai plant viewed through a circular window whisks them away for a moment to a ryokan in Kyoto.
“The first step in designing the tearoom was to omit chairs with legs,” said Chia on replicating the Japanese floor-sitting practice. “We also raised a small platform to delineate the tatami-finished space from the circulation area beside it.” The large, white wall with the bonsai view and a wall of dark shelves enclose the area, resulting in its intimate feel.
Above the table, a Shade pendant from Flos casts a halo on the ceiling reminiscent of the Japanese enso circle – a symbol of Japanese minimalism. The design team customised the table to fit this lamp. It has a split down the centre that is joined by a granite tea tray symbolising the connection between giver and receiver in the act of tea serving.
Thoughtful details such as these are important in creating the house’s restful character. For example, the owners had originally intended to fully clad the dining room wall in marble but the design team steered them toward a subtler and less opulent approach of treating the marble as an abstract artwork.
The resulting slab of uncoated, naturally textured marble is an accent against the whitewashed walls. It also forms an interesting backdrop to the dining table.
Using a few selected materials help reduce visual clutter, but applied in varied ways, the home is far from staid. The marble slab-cum-art piece is one instance. There is also the monolithic Bidasar green marble coffee table in the living room and a Serpeggiante marble bench at the dining that morphs into staircase threads and risers on the first storey, merging furniture and architecture.
The staircase is a key feature in the home. The design team clothed the entire structure, including the balustrades, in oak veneer such that it reads like a singular, sculptural element. There are gaps in parts of the balustrade that prevent the massing from appearing too heavy. From certain angles, it reads as a series of floating planes.
“A staircase spanning five storeys can be visually chaotic. Our response to streamline the design reduces the staircase’s complexity into a simple form of straight lines,” said Ee.
While the common areas are tempered, the bedrooms feature pops of colour and pattern, especially in the children’s rooms.
“Much thought has been put into integrating the children’s hobbies with the design of their own rooms,” affirmed Wong. The daughter chose her room’s carnation-pink colour. As she loves reading, there are plenty of in-built shelves and a reading corner. The eldest son is an avid collector of Lego models and origami, which are displayed in glass-door cabinets.
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SANCTUARY FOR THE SENSES
The owner’s personal retreat is on the top storey. Like on the first storey, the master bedroom’s layout is loosely divided into two halves – one for sleeping, and the other for study and watching television. Behind the custom-designed bed, a tall, scalloped headboard emphasises the space’s loftiness.
The master bedroom’s en-suite was enlarged from a smaller bedroom. Removing some walls enhanced cross-ventilation. The larger footprint also enables the inclusion of a large, built-in bathtub and a standalone island for the washbasins.
A new skylight above the bathtub brings in abundant light; at night, it opens to views of the night sky for the user soaking the day’s cares away.
On the same level is a gym with an attached steam shower room for the husband, an avid outdoorsman. It features a utilitarian-chic design that comes with smart lighting and two types of custom shelving.
“The modular shelf for outdoor gear was conceived as a wall feature to display the owner’s myriad equipment,” described Ee.
While this space is for personal relaxation and wellness, the basement is designed for unwinding of another nature. It houses a small bar, cinema room and rumpus room. Exposed raw concrete ceilings and specialist cement flooring lend an industrial tactility. The latter manifests in stepped profiles – a clever solution to mitigate an existing stand-up beam across the floor while subtly demarcating zones of function.
The family gather here for rest and relaxation at day’s end. It has also witnessed many of the couple’s social functions. The bar counter was specifically tailored to the wine connoisseur husband’s specifications, down to the grid-like wine bottle holder.
The home’s tasteful selection of furniture and lighting was mostly chosen by Ee to complement the serene interior design. Classic and bespoke pieces mingle in a way that reflects a considered analysis of form, space and texture.
For example, the design team designed two coffee tables in the living room that help break up the space's lengthy proportions. “One is a marble top with slim metal legs and the other is a chunky block of marble,” said Wong.
The lighting design of the entire home also goes beyond pure function. “The aim was to divert from the traditional norm of fitting excessive down lights in all the spaces and instead maintain a neat ceiling through careful planning of indirect lighting, which also delivers a softer mood to the home,” said Chia.
Task lights are equally well placed. Above the piano, a Vitra Potence wall lamp designed by Jean Prouve stretches out to illuminate the grand piano without being obstructive. A rhythmic arrangement of Flamingo pendant lamps from Vibia float above the dry kitchen counter mirror that of six George Nelson-designed Bubble lamps in the living room.
This aspect of design is often overlooked by homeowners but is as important in creating the right ambience as choosing the correct material or furniture. Indeed, it is proof of the complexity that goes into creating a holistically restful environment.