Malaysian balconies: Understated and underused

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The wind rustles the curtain of the panoramic window with a cityscape

By Joseph Wong

In the bustling urban landscapes of Malaysia, balconies are a common sight on the façades of high-rise apartments and condominiums. Yet, despite their prevalence, these small outdoor spaces remain surprisingly understated and underused.

A common sight is the clothes rake as residents utilise what should be considered a prime spot to dry their clothes, considering that in cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, where space is at a premium and urban living is the norm, balconies offer a rare opportunity to connect with the outdoors. 

Sadly, many Malaysian balconies are often left neglected, serving as mere storage spaces of broken furniture or lying empty, missing their potential to enhance the quality of urban life.

An overlooked asset

For many residents, the balcony is an afterthought, overshadowed by the interior space of their homes. The hot and humid tropical climate is often cited as a reason for this underutilisation. The intense midday sun and frequent downpours make balconies seem impractical, pushing people indoors to the comfort of air-conditioned rooms.

Despite these challenges, the potential of Malaysian balconies is immense. With a little creativity and effort, these spaces can be transformed into verdant oases, cosy retreats or functional extensions of living areas.

One of the most promising uses of balconies is to introduce greenery into urban environments. Potted plants, vertical gardens and even small trees can thrive in balcony settings, bringing a touch of nature into high-rise living. The practice of urban gardening is gaining traction as more people recognise the benefits of having green spaces. Not only do plants improve air quality but they also provide a soothing and visually pleasing environment.

A step further is to utilise the space as a vegetable or herb garden. With the soaring prices of fruits and vegetables, turning an unused balcony into a thriving vegetable garden is not only a great way to save but also provides a healthier food source as home-grown vegetables are often free of pesticides.

According to some experts, the formula for planting is simple: One extra-large plant per sq ft or alternatively, four large plants, nine medium plants or 16 small plants. For example, one tomato plant, two cucumber plants or 18 carrot plants per sq ft.

Personal retreat

Balconies can also be designed as personal retreats. With comfortable seating, a small table and some soft lighting, a balcony can become a perfect spot for morning coffee, evening relaxation or even al fresco dining. By adding elements like outdoor rugs, cushions and weather-resistant decor, these spaces can be made inviting and cosy, regardless of the weather.

For those with limited interior space, balconies can serve as functional extensions of their homes. They can be used for a variety of purposes, from creating a small outdoor office to setting up a yoga or exercise area. With the right furniture and accessories, a balcony can add valuable square footage to an apartment, enhancing both its usability and its aesthetic appeal.

Naturally, to fully utilise balconies, residents need to overcome the climate challenges. Installing retractable awnings or outdoor blinds can provide shade and protection from the rain, making the space more comfortable and usable year-round. Additionally, choosing weather-resistant materials and furnishings ensures that the balcony remains in good condition despite the tropical weather.

A cultural shift

Ultimately, maximising the potential of balconies requires a cultural shift. As more people embrace the idea of outdoor living and recognise the value of these spaces, balconies will start to receive the attention they deserve. It is not hard to see that there is some cultural shift in balcony usage. It’s slow but steadily growing as can be seen in many YouTube, Instagram and TikTok influencers giving valid and usable ideas. 

Truth be told, Malaysian balconies are an underappreciated asset in urban living. But with some imagination and effort, they can be transformed from overlooked corners into vibrant, functional and beautiful extensions of home life. By reimagining and revitalising these spaces, residents can enhance their quality of life and create pockets of tranquillity amidst the urban hustle.

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