The Timber Malaysia team was informed of the Jacobs’ house in the established residential area in Subang Jaya, Selangor, in August 2009. When we finally managed to secure an appointment with them in December 2009, we were absolutely amazed by the spatial and design creativity that has totally transformed their 1,620-sq-foot single-storey link house beyond recognition.
As we entered the road leading to the couple’s house, we could easily identify the renovation masterpiece from about 50 metres away: mainly because it is the only house in that row (and probably that whole area, too!) that has a wooden façade. The house, despite its modest size, strikes an imposing yet homey pose. It feels like a huge playhouse that most kids would love to own and play in. The carpet grass and simple landscaping in the front garden seemed jealously guarded by solid hand-crafted wooden fencing. The grass and greenery, coupled with raised decking for the area fronting the house’s main entrance, provide a luxurious resort feel: so much so that we felt mentally ‘invited’ to take our shoes off and enjoy the garden and the deck barefoot.
“We have always loved timber as it creates a very warm ambience. We also wanted to achieve that kampong or holiday resort effect through the extensive use of timber,” enthused Mathew, who has two children, Kyle, fourteen and Trisha, nine.
Mathew grew up in a timber house on stilts in Rompin in the state of Pahang. He later moved to Kuala Lumpur to live and work. Sharmila hails from Penang. The Jacobs’ love for timber was developed when they saw more and more spectacular
urban houses with timber incorporated in their designs. When deciding to renovate their home, both agreed that timber would be the main material for their targeted transformation of the house. They were, however, very particular about the quality of the timber to be used for their renovations.
“Partly because of our environmental consciousness, and partly because of our limited budget, we did not want to use new timbers. We wanted something of decent quality without breaking our budget. We used quite a bit of our savings to
incorporate timber into our existing single-storey link house because we like this area very much and this is where we plan to live for the long term,” explained Sharmila.
That was where Sharmila’s former piano student came in: Ar. Azman of Arkitek Azman Zainal, whom Sharmila taught to play the piano ten years before, consulted on the project and he recommended the use of recycled timber. After much
discussions and refinement to the original sketches, they literally raised the roof, among other things!
The result: a radical spatial transformation to a humble single-storey link house.
Unnecessary walls were knocked down to open up and combine living areas. An internal courtyard was created to bring much-needed natural light to the children’s bedrooms and their renovated kitchen. A sizable loft made of wood straddles the wall separating the living and the dining-kitchen area, providing space for additional storage and a quiet study-cum-music room.
Merbau, used for the solid flooring, beams and door frames, made up 70% of the wood used in the renovations. Balau gave the loft and the external decking its rustic but solid touch, and Chengal was used mainly for the fencing. One unique feature of the house is the front doors: salvaged from an old court house in Johor Bahru.
“Can you imagine the history behind these doors and how many people of various backgrounds had walked through them? If only the doors could talk! And our Merbau apparently came from an old rubber smokehouse in Sungai Petani, Kedah. As for the Balau, much of it was salvaged from an old building in the famous Malay College of Kuala Kangsar, Perak,” said Sharmila.
Impressive historical credentials aside, the couple was more impressed by the strength and durability of the old timbers. The renovations took five whole months and so far, the couple’s only major complaint is the fact that dust can be more clearly seen on wooden flooring. But the couple stressed that the benefits of coming home to a resort-like wooden home every day is like a balm to the psyche.
“Even my children love living in our renovated home. The sounds our feet make as they brush against the wooden flooring, the creaking of the wooden stairs as we go up to the loft: all these make us feel like we’re living in an old kampong house. My son and his friends love to hang out here, too, which is great because that’s much better than hanging out elsewhere,” remarked Sharmila approvingly.
Mathew’s favourite spot is the living room, from where he can see the loft, the high ceiling and the cantilevers, whose natural brown contrasts dramatically against the living room wall painted a bright orange. Another firm favourite is the deck, on which he often sits to rest his sight on the beautifully simple garden and admire the external woodwork of his home, and to enjoy the coolness of the outdoors especially when it rains.
Wood, being a natural material, carries a lot of positive energy within it. Metaphysical research has proven that timber has a positive effect on man’s psyche and energy body. This is the only logical explanation to man’s subconscious attraction to all things natural, and why we feel good when we are among trees, for example. On the practical front, however, as a raw material, wood provides the very versatility that allows man to push his design creativity to the limits. With the proper tools and the right skills, wood has enabled man to present his imagination in numerous shapes and forms.
“Our contractor, Mr. Zaki, has a highly-skilled carpenter in his team. We saw him working slowly but steadily on the fence: it seemed as if he and the wood were one and the same. Looking at his working speed, we thought it would take forever, but it actually took him only two days to complete the whole fence. He had so much patience with the wood, which in turn seemed to cooperate fully with his creative energies. Believe it or not, our handcrafted Chengal fence was erected without the use of a single nail!” said Mathew. The overall results are, indeed, nothing short of dramatic.
The re-designed abode provides an additional 540 sq ft of living space to the family. The raised roof and loft have made the house much more airy. The installed skylight and the modest 72 square-foot internal courtyard invite into the home much-needed natural light, which paints different shadows on the bedrooms’ timber flooring at different hours of the day.
But the most dramatic effect of all is this: claustrophobia, something often associated with small living spaces, has definitely packed her bags and left the Jacobs’ abode for good.