Transforming a new modern contemporary house into a wooden abode takes more than just money and sourcing for wooden materials from old dwellings. TIMBER MALAYSIA finds out from the owners of such a house in Ara Damansara, an urban residential area on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, on what inspired them to transform their new home into a wooden abode that is reminiscent of an idyllic past.
A four-foot high wooden gate made of age-old recycled Merbau stands out in a neighbourhood where stainless steel and wrought iron front gates have become a common sight. Rust brown-and-white brickwork of the front gate pillars unabashedly evokes images of buildings of nineteenth-century British colonial era.
The four-leaf wooden gate opening broods like a portal to days of old, as if holding a thousand memories. And indeed, beyond the rustic symmetry, one is transported back in time to years gone by. Once past the wooden gates, two sturdy pillars stand guard at the entrance to this double-storey corner house. Full-height foldable doors salvaged from a demolition site partially conceal the interiors to the view of passersby.
Built from a mix of Chengal and Merbau, the main section of the house is quintessentially ‘traditional Malay’ in its design and layout. The timber materials date back to yesteryears, belonging to a period where structures were either old Malay kampong houses, manors of the Straits Settlement Chinese or colonial-styled quarters. And indeed, these were the very structures from which they had been salvaged, and all came together for a renewed collective lease of life in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya.
The owners have traversed the country in search of such treasures, buying the structures and, in the process, saving them from pointless decay. “Some of the materials are from old houses in Tanjung Malim in Perak and other northern states of Peninsular Malaysia like Penang and Kedah while others are from the government quarters that used to be on Jalan Cochrane (in Kuala Lumpur),” explained the master of the house.
These include the entrance and room doors, windows, wall panels and even the roof tiles. The bricks that now adorn the gate pillars were sourced from old staff quarters of the Malayan Railways in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. “I saw one of these houses about to be demolished, and I asked the workers to stop because I wanted to buy the bricks,” he recalled.
While old materials do give the home a nostalgic feel, there are contemporary elements to the house as well. The dining table is a good example. Sitting regally atop a granite base at the patio, the solid tabletop is made of Merbau. Its rough planes and edges make it both bucolic and avant-garde at once. The same can be said about a kitchen sink. It is actually a large rock crater found in the jungle. With a touch of varnish, it is now a conversation piece.
For the lady of the house, the dining area is her favourite spot in the house. And it is easy to see why. Veils of sunlight dangle from the gaps in-between the wooden floorboards overhead. The surrounding greenery and the soothing breeze are nothing less than invigorating.
The lady reckons that it is the timber that creates the warm, cosy atmosphere in her home. “My friends and relatives have nice houses too, but I think it is just not the same when wood is not part of the interior design. For me, using wood imbues a certain level of artistry, that makes a house feel warm and cosy, like a real home,” she said.
The exteriors, too, emulate an old-world charm. In fact, every direction one looks, there is something old that has been reused or given a fresh lease of life. The most fascinating is perhaps the guest chalet. Made of a mixture of Chengal, Merbau and Balau, its structure is raised off the ground, just like old kampong houses built on stilts. An open-air shower is reminiscent of yonder-days’ experience of cleansing oneself by a home-dug well. The guest chalet has a loft for a bedroom.
The chalet is also a showcase for 80-year-old windows and large double doors found in old Chinese manor houses, further testifying to the owners’ love for classic treasures. The Merbau windows, doors and panels have been carefully treated to restore them to their former glory, so that old carvings shine again and what was once relegated is now regaled.
For the master of the house, much of the inspiration came from his childhood. Growing up, kampong houses and colonial era shophouses were ubiquitous features in his hometown in Kedah. “I wanted the home to have a down-to-earth, laid-back feel and serve as a reminder of days gone by,” he said.
As such, it does not come as a surprise that he would spend two years to collect the materials required, and another three years to complete the extensions and renovations. “Even so, there is still more work to be done such as adding the finishing touches to the guest chalet,” he said.
He credits a friend, a shy Thai craftsman, for most of the carpentry and wood carving work. His friend had refurbished most of the old materials and in some cases, fashioned something new altogether from discarded pieces. The kitchen best illustrates his handiwork where through the use of old pieces of bamboo and timber strips, the skilled artisan created doors, shelves and storage space adorned with intricate carvings.
A spacious verandah constructed completely with timber hangs above the dining area. It overlooks a leafy surrounding, the garden below and a river, the Sungai Ara, at the back of the house. This is where the family spends much quality time in the evenings. And this is where, amid the splendour of Mother Nature, it becomes clear that the house is indeed a sanctuary in the city and a woody haven for the couple and their young children to come home to.