The site sits on a steep slope, which the architect decided to integrate into the home’s design.

Designed by architect Melvyn Kanny to embrace the lush tropical environs, the home is also an ode to its owner’s love for the Far East.

They say that the best things in life are worth waiting for, and the five years it took to transform this house in Ukay Heights is definitely a test of patience. However, if the results are anything to go by, it is an aphorism which rings true.

Ukay Heights Bungalow

Despite the sorry state of the 18,000 sq ft (1,672 sqm) property at start, Paul Smith, an expat who has worked for the oil and gas industry in Malaysia for a number of years, was taken by its setting – located as it was towards the highest peak of Ukay Heights amongst green vegetation and rain trees aged over a hundred years old.

He then called on Melvyn Kanny of MJ Kanny Architect who had designed Smith’s first house in Malaysia almost a decade ago. In search of a solution that would not interfere too much with the site, Smith and Kanny brain-stormed for a number of options.

The designer created a distinct Asian look for each floor of the house.
The designer created a distinct Asian look for each floor of the house.

Bungalow on steep slope

While the site offered spectacular views, it was also on a very steep descending slope with access only from the top of the property.

“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, yet gives privacy from the neighbours.” Kanny explains.

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The extra volume ceilings in the home allows hot air to escape through the vents at the top, while letting cold air fill in the spaces naturally from below.
The extra volume ceilings in the home allows hot air to escape through the vents at the top, while letting cold air fill in the spaces naturally from below.

Roof Shingles

To this effect, Smith adds: “Since I wanted to blend the property into the prevailing terrain as much as possible, I felt this was best achieved by an irregular roof-line.

Remembering some tremendous houses I visited in Bali, where the roof-line 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.”

Although renovating the existing structure was considered, the ultimate decision was made to tear
down and start from scratch, which allowed Kanny to design a house which responded specifically to the climate and site topography.

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The design of the interiors was kept as open as possible to retain the spacious feel.
The design of the interiors was kept as open as possible to retain the spacious feel.

Hot air vents

“As the temperature in Ukay Heights is cooler than other parts of [Kuala Lumpur], we took full advantage of capturing the breeze into the house. All the rooms and spaces have high level ventilation slots, allowing 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.

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

The impressive cascading roof was also manipulated to the best advantage to allow for a lack of external walls. Since it acts as an exterior canopy in many areas, extending the roof in certain areas also provided shelter and respite even throughout the hottest afternoons.

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Natural textures blend with solid dashes of blue and red to create a lush and tropical atmosphere.
Natural textures blend with solid dashes of blue and red to create a lush and tropical atmosphere.

Skylights

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.

After living in Malaysia for many years, Smith had developed a keen appreciation of equatorial living.

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Slanted vents in the bathroom allow for natural ventilation without compromising on privacy.
Slanted vents in the bathroom allow for natural ventilation without compromising on privacy.

Wood ceilings & floorings

The natural finishes like the timber ceiling, stone and timber flooring, and even large timber-framed glass doors in key areas reflect the tropical theme.

To complement this, the interiors were realised by Smith’s longtime friend, interior designer Peter Cann, who showcased Smith’s eclectic taste and oriental antique collection.

“When considering the interior of the house, we realised that the floor area was enough that each of the three floors could have their own distinct mood, promoting a transition through Asia from floor to floor. The top floor is the entrance lobby, library, and guest suite as well as a family area.

Asian antique interior design

We decided to go for an Asian antique feel here, as we thought it would complement the high, timbered roof structure. The middle floor is essentially the sleeping floor, entered through 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.

My concern for the middle floor was the lofty ceiling height, which I felt made the walls too large and slabby. 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,” enthuses Smith.

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Southeast Asian design influences are seen throughout the home’s interiors.
Southeast Asian design influences are seen throughout the home’s interiors.

Swimming pool

“The lowest floor houses the kitchen, lounge, and open dining area. This floor is modernistic in appearance and function. The kitchen is the centerpiece of this area and provides everything a modern kitchen should, whilst ensuring that those doing the cooking are not excluded from the party.

The huge swimming pool is a direct result of such a large plot of land – around 18,000 square feet – and the need to keep everything in scale.

As the flat garden is bounded by an arc rather than a straight line, it was sensible to have the pool follow this line also. The result, especially when viewed from above, is both different and spectacular.”

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The open dining area next to the pool is one of the homeowner’s favourite spots for taking in the views surrounding the house.
The open dining area next to the pool is one of the homeowner’s favourite spots for taking in the views surrounding the house.

Antique doors & screens

While Smith engaged trusted professionals to realise his vision, being a hobby author with a nomination for the Dublin Impac Literature Award meant he was also deeply invested 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 into the design.

Smith reveals that many of these artefacts were found either in Kuala Lumpur or Malacca, using nothing more than interest and a keen nose.

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Full length glass windows are used to allow the interiors to merge fluidly with the lush greenery outside.
Full length glass windows are used to allow the interiors to merge fluidly with the lush greenery outside.

Expat in Malaysia

Smith’s unfailing effort and patience has evidently paid off as he speaks glowingly about his satisfaction with the results: “Apart from the joy of owning such a beautiful home, I particularly enjoy the pool, which is large enough to swim in, and the upstairs Lanai outside the library on the top level of the house.
This elevated, open area seats you amongst the tree tops.

Facing a jungled small gorge, it is delightful to read late at night listening to cicada buzz and the occasional distant wild boar. The real joy of this house though, is the lifestyle it so easily promotes. From the front gate, I can go mountain biking or jungle trekking at the drop of a hat.

My work at KLCC is just a ten-minute drive away, allowing me to swim in my pool as KL sits gridlocked.” Truly tropical living at its most idyllic.

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