By Mae Chan | June 04, 2012
Landscape designer Desmond Ho is driven by his passion to create the quintessential Malaysian garden and in the process, has created a home that resonates with designs from his Peranakan heritage.
An architect by training and currently, the proprietor of Terra Garden Sdn Bhd, Ho constantly tries to educate people on the pleasures of outdoor living, particularly with his garden concept dubbed the Neo-Nusantara garden.
Ever innovative, Ho’s single-minded focus and open-minded curiosity has seen him extend the boundaries of his field.
"We always hear about Balinese gardens and Japanese gardens, which have their own distinctive style and design," says Ho, explaining the motivation behind his vision.
"I began to question, what would a truly Malaysian garden look like?"
Ho’s flair for design and keen insight into local heritage have enabled him to create a contemporary Malaysian garden that fulfils the needs of urban homeowners.
Unafraid to take risks, Ho is always searching for new ideas that would reflect our Malaysian identity. In fact, Ho uses his own home to showcase his garden vision.
Driving past an otherwise typical suburban section of Kota Kemuning in Shah Alam, one cannot help but notice an extraordinary, modern-day “kampung” house.
Built on 548sq m (5,900sq ft) of land, Ho spent over a year designing and making the five-bedroom, 372sq m (about 4,000 sq ft) house a reality. The project cost him about RM800,000 to complete.
"It was like a blank canvas for me to create the vision that I have been trying to paint for my clients," says Ho, who adds that Malaysians were not daring when it comes to new concepts, always preferring conventional ways.
"My first visualisation is a house that is very much Malaysian," says Ho, referring to the facade, which was aimed at re-capturing his childhood memory of living in the village.
"I grew up in a typical Baba house, with paddy fields in front and a stream nearby. We had durian orchards, cows, buffalos and pigs," recalls Ho. "There was no electricity or water. It was very basic."
While some may consider the kampung-style, timber facade of his home rather far-fetched, but Ho reasons that it is a welcoming and practical design, built to suit the local climate and lifestyle.
The house is not fenced-in, instead visitors will be greeted by a pond at the front of the property. Cyperus plants surround the pond while water cabbage (Pistia stratiotes) float on the water. Next to it lies a pangkin designed by Ho, a traditional low platform that allows visitors to sit and enjoy the soothing sounds of trickling water.
Walking up to the entrance, Ho – who is of Peranakan descent – uses the wide-angled tangga Melaka steps with its distinctive, decorative tiles. Pass the wooden doors and one would arrive at the serambi, which is the courtyard.
"In a traditional Malay house, the serambi is the first part of the house you come into," explains Ho.
The next turn leads to the main house, or rumah Ibu as Ho calls it. Essentially, the living room of the house, Ho has incorporated design details inspired by his research on local crafts and culture. He creatively used his signature, garden lattice design as a decorative panel just below the ceiling, which features symmetrical lines drawn from the patterns of the kain pelikat, a traditional sarong cloth.
Furthermore, the balustrade of the staircase, which leads upstairs, features an intricate pattern derived from the jungle fern locally called Paku-Pakis.
At the front of the living room, is a set of timber panels carved with a traditional Pucuk Rebung (bamboo shoot) design. While it acts as a decorative focal point, it was designed for function and practicality as the panels can swivel.
"As my house faces west, it was done to control the sunlight. It also catches wind effectively," says Ho.
On the other side of the swivel panels is the Balai Tok Sidang, a narrow balcony that overlooks the water feature out in front of the house.
"It is where the village head would usually stand when adjudicating any issue in the kampung," explains Ho, who loves looking at the evening sky through the living room while the sounds of water resonate.
Ho has always promoted the benefits of deriving pleasure from nature. Therefore, it is no surprise that his home is linked to the outdoors.
"My design direction is from outdoor in," points out Ho.
The spacious outdoor area, connects the entrance of the house, which boasts a large pool as its centerpiece. Overhead, a tall tree with large branches adds character and provide shade.
"I never expected the tree to grow this way," says Ho, who believes that it must be nature’s intervention.
Next to the pool is the kuda-kuda, an L-shaped, two-tier bench designed by Ho for visitors to enjoy nature. At the end of the garden is a pavilion with two wooden deckchairs.
Throughout the house, windows and glass doors provide an immediate connection to the outdoos. At the dining area, a large window provides a good view of the pool, while a low-rise window, next to the breakfast table in the kitchen, is one of Ho’s favourite spots.
On the patio, a comfortable daybed is sited next to the kitchen and outdoor dining area.
"The patio is the spot with the greatest shade in the house and is most cooling, especially in the evenings," says Ho. "It is the best spot to sit."
Ho admits that there are still areas in his garden that he has yet to fix or complete.
“The hardest thing is to try and satisfy yourself,” says Ho, adding that everyone who comes to his house expects to see amazing design.
Calling himself a farmer, Ho is keen to continue exploring new ideas.
“Until today, my house has not bored me," says Ho. “It is my playground, where I can relax, unwind and sketch on my vision and ideas.”