T House's secret gardens blur the line between outdoors and indoors

The koi pond, creepers and leopard trees contribute to cooling the interiors of the T House in Seri Petaling. Photos: T&T Architect

With black gable roofs and louvred shutters against a white facade, the T House stands out quite prominently amid the other houses in its vicinity. But beyond aesthetics, it is what lies within the structures that makes the house unique.

Owned by architect Datuk Tung Mun Kiat, the 544sq m bungalow is located in a gated community in Sri Petaling, Kuala Lumpur. Tung bought the North-South facing unit – which is almost 30 years old – six years ago. Tung and his family moved in two years ago after a year of renovation work, expanding it from its original 384sq m space.

The original gable roof design, a common sight in the neighbourhood, was maintained but given a modern twist using double layer expanded metal mesh. Balcony extensions, enveloped by stretches of louvred aluminium windows, were added to the upper bedrooms. And within these balconies lie hidden gardens which serve as a cool oasis and private space for the family.

“The concept of this house is that every room has a secret garden which cannot be seen from the outside,” explains Tung, who is also T&T Architect’s managing director.

Gabled roofs and louvred aluminium shutters house the secret gardens within.

When asked what brought this idea about, he says with a laugh, “Well, to be honest, I don’t have much of a view!” Tung goes on to explain that they wanted the gardens to serve as privacy barriers and also to cool the house.

“The trees shade the house and act as a sunscreen. The cooling effect also comes from the koi pond below,” says Tung, 45, as he shows us around the house.

His wife Yardly Cheng adds, “We wanted the gardens to feel like part of the rooms. We also like the idea of not having grilles; that’s why (the rooms) look more open, yet they are secure. “And the idea is that the kids actually have a garden to play in,” says Cheng, 45, mother of two boys aged eight and 15.

The house design focuses on cross ventilation – the permeable facade and balcony floors facilitate vertical and horizontal air flow. The design also blurs the lines between the indoors and outdoors, as well as redefines the family gathering spaces with a seamless, open concept in the living, dining and kitchen areas.

A high wall wraps around the room on the ground floor to offer privacy and garden space.

There are three generations living under this roof. The room on the ground floor is for Tung’s parents and senior-friendly, featuring wider door frames and bigger bathrooms. A high wall punctuated with ventilation holes – set according to his parents’ zodiac signs – wraps around the room to offer privacy as well as space for a garden and outdoor shower. At certain times of the day, shadows form a playful display across the room.

The T house features a double height living room complete with a unique, grey feature wall. The mixed concrete wall was designed using a rectangular mould to create a geometric pattern. This pattern is also repeated in other parts of the house, namely the pond, powder-room and basketball corner, giving the house a sense of continuity.

The double height living room is accentuated with a geometric-patterned feature wall.

We walk up to the second floor and to another living room, a place where the family of four usually spends time together in the evenings. It is located next to the master bedroom, where a perfume gallery – comprising multiple shelves fitted with warm lighting and a ceiling mirror to create a spacious feel – greets us as we enter.

If you look out to the garden, you’ll see leopard trees that rise from the ground floor through floor gratings and creepers stretching down to form a thin cascading veil over the side of the house. “I have always wanted to have a room where I can see the top of trees,” shares Tung with a grin.

His favourite part of the house is nestled right next to his bedroom – a cosy area that he calls his “cave”, which is fitted with a simple workspace and a single bed. Originally the room’s balcony area, it also looks out into a small garden.

From the master bedroom, one looks out to the top of leopard trees rising up from the ground floor through floor gratings.

Tung and his wife Cheng at the guest room garden. Photo: The Star/Art Chen

“It has also turned into our younger son’s favourite hiding place!” quips Cheng, who is also an architect.

The house interiors are furnished with modern, metallic decor items as well as warm furnishings like the wood slab coffee tables and bamboo-based kitchen lights. Both artificial and live plants dot various corners of the living room.

Outside, the wooden deck veranda is the favourite hangout place for the family, who also entertain friends and relatives here. A few trees including red palms and floral shrubs dot the simple landscape.

“Actually, we have a very small garden space, and it’s mostly paved for easy maintenance,” says Cheng, as we walk towards the herbs and vegetables garden at the back.

Since moving into the house, one thing’s for sure – Tung’s parents tend to sleep better because their room is airy and cool, without the need for air-conditioning, as they can leave the balcony door open at night.

And that fulfils one of T House’s main design purpose.

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