Many people are lucky enough to own a home these days, but few people get the golden opportunity to create a tropical haven that truly reflects one’s love for the outdoors and timber as a building material. The TIMBER MALAYSIA team often meet quite a few such people, and one of them is Ong Hock Lai, a builder whose favourite building material happens to be none other than timber. We managed to catch up with him recently, despite his packed schedule, to find out more about the inspiration behind his gorgeous resort-style bungalow in the upmarket Sierramas housing estate in Selangor.
TM The theme “tropical resort-style living” has been adopted by many house owners in Malaysia. How do you see wood contributing to this theme?
OHL Wood, due to its warmth, durability and natural beauty, is a perfect complement to any type of décor, theme or style, actually. Personally, however, we love how wood has lent its qualities to our tropical resort-style living theme. We wanted to fuse the indoor and the outdoors through this house, and we wanted the fusion to be seamless. Wood, as a building material, has bridged the indoors to the outdoors beautifully. The use of timber-framed picture windows and doors, for example, are meant to be exactly like picture frames… except that the ‘pictures’ are those of real life tropical trees and plants, and these ‘pictures’ come alive with sounds of gushing water and wildlife.
TM What or who influenced your decision to incorporate the substantial use of wood in the design of your home?
OHL I have been a builder for over 15 years. In all that time, I have experienced using many different types of building materials, but I haven’t come across any building material that is as versatile and easy to use as wood. Knowing your timbers is crucial, however, as you need to know which are naturally durable, and which require treatment to ensure that the final application will stand the test of time. But as far as timber goes, the extra effort invested in getting the species and the treatment right is usually worth it.
TM How did you source for the timbers to build your home?
OHL The Chengal and Yellow Balau timbers were sourced from Terengganu. These were purchased well before constructing the house as the timber needed to be ‘seasoned’ to ensure stability. Other timbers I have used for the house are solid Teak and dark Ironwood from Burma.
TM How have these timbers been used in your house?
OHL We have used Chengal for doors, windows and the columns that adorn our main entrance, and Yellow Balau for the external fence. I have used Burmese teak for the staircase, and the flooring for the entire first floor housing all the bedrooms, as well as the pavilion hall. The flooring in the study and guest room located in the lower ground floor is of Burmese Ironwood.
TM Do you find wood easy to live with and maintain in a home on a daily basis?
OHL How old is the house exactly as it still looks very new to the eye? Provided the timber species is correctly seasoned and installed from the start, wood is extremely easy to live with and maintain. We apply transparent ‘UV’ protection coating on the external surface once in three years. The house is actually well into its seventh year and, touch wood, we have had no termite issues or other problems like cracking, splitting or warping at all.
TM How has the use of wood in your home shaped the way you conduct your daily lives?
OHL The design of the house incorporates the use of timber in a lot of applications like flooring, exposed wooden roof trusses (in the pavilion hall), decking next to the koi pond and around the pavilion hall, doors, windows, internal and external stairs and balconies. All these have contributed to the overall cooling down of the temperature inside the house during the day. The pavilion hall, for example, is mainly made up of timber, with exposed wooden trusses supporting the double-tier pagoda-style roof. These exposed trusses enable air to flow in and circulate freely. There is something rather inviting and friendly about timber when used in one’s living spaces. I, for example, very much enjoy the sensation of walking bare feet on the decking next to the koi pond. There is something almost spiritual about having plenty of timber in one’s living space: it’s almost as if one is reconnecting with nature on a daily basis.
TM Between you and your wife, Anna, who actually decided on the bold choice of fuchsia to complement the dark wood for your pavillion hall?
OHL It was pretty much a joint decision between us. People usually decide on something more neutral like beige or cream to go with timber. We, however, decided that the colour fuchsia would really perk up the place and imbue the house with a hint of vibrancy. The result is both funky and dare I say, even sexy without diluting the classy feel of the whole theme. Fuchsia, combined with the dark brown of the timber, provides a perfect backdrop for the pink, yellow and red blossoms and greenery in our garden. The result is a brilliant fusion of vibrant colours that have garnered many compliments from our neighbours.
TM As a builder, do you use wood in your other building projects? If so, what are the main species used and are they the choice of the property owners themselves or do you specify the species for them?
OHL Yes, I do specify a lot of wood in the building projects that I work on. Personally, I am very partial to Chengal and Meranti, given their durability, which equates to simpler maintenance in the longer term. I also like Burmese Teak. We were involved in the construction of the main public complex, chalets and other timber-based structures in the 40-acre ‘Taman Warisan Pertanian Putrajaya’ (Putrajaya Agriculture Heritage Park) in Precinct 16 of the administrative capital. I specified a lot of Chengal and Yellow Balau for both internal and external uses. The project is now about seven years old and is holding up very well. Intricate traditional features have been incorporated into the timber designs. I must say that Putrajaya Holdings were very pleased with our work. Yes, they did spend quite a bit on beautifying the park and getting it ready for tourists and visitors, but the results, I feel, are really worthwhile.
TM As an experienced builder, what is your advice on people who would like to incorporate timber into the designs of their homes, be it a bungalow, semi-detached or even a terraced house?
OHL My advice is simple: firstly, choose the correct tropical hardwood species for the right application. Secondly, make sure the timber is properly cured and seasoned to minimize shrinkage or warping. Then use proven high quality UV protection if the timber application will be exposed to the rain and sun. This will prolong the lifespan of the timber. For outdoor applications, it is always best to stick to Chengal, which is impervious to termite attack. Properly treated Merbau or Balau is also suitable for outdoor applications. Timber is classic and everlasting. It is so versatile that it can be incorporated into designs that are traditional, modern or contemporary. In that sense, timber is a material that moves right along with the times and will never be outdated.
For further information on the construction of Ong’s house, please contact:
Sin Seong Hin Sdn Bhd.
28-1, Jalan 8/62A, Bandar Menjalara,
Kepong, 52200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: + 6 03 6276 1708
Fax: + 6 03 6276 1713