Spatial Delivery


With a minimal budget but maximum freedom in design. Core Design Gallery frees the intermediate terrace house from its inherent limitations.

Text by Jennifer Choo Photography by Idzwan Junaidi

Used as a pied-à-terre during the week, there was nothing remarkable about this intermediate terrace house typical of the mass housing projects built in the late 90’s. However, after having utilised this nondescript house for the past 7 years, the client was ready for a new look and being a relative of Core Design Workshop’s design director, Chun Hooi Tan, put him in a unique position to have a design which catered specifically to his particular requirements.

The brief called for converting this small medium-low cost 3+1 bedroom house into a contemporary living space to fit into his lifestyle and accommodate his small collection of contemporary art. “Although we had a total freedom in designing the space, we had to also work within a smaller budget than we normally do, as to justify the value of remodeling construction in relative to the property value which is rather low in this case,” explains Chun. “So we were left in an advantageous position when we were given a complete trust by our client to explore and experiment on new designs that are beyond the standard brief.”  

Rehabilitating the abandoned backyard was the idea that initiated the concept of the project. The original walls on the ground floor that originally housed one bedroom, toilet and kitchen were knocked down to create a new open plan space that draws visual focus only to the backyard where the only daylight comes from. Now, the ground floor accommodates one luxuriously big living area, a study/ working corner, a dining bar and an open small kitchen. Erected on the rear site boundary, a new 2-storey high cement finished brick wall not only frames the newly revived backyard garden, it filters the harsh daylight into the open ground floor

The main inspiration came from Core Design Workshop’s stalwart belief that linked terraced homes built with minimal spatial quality and experience did not equate to mediocre living and that by analyzing the potential of the space, ideas could be developed within the existing structure of the house. With that, the Workshop decided to subtract all original spaces without disturbing the main structural elements of the house by removing walls and partial slabs: “In order to redefine spaces, we build new walls and built-in furniture. It is the process of destruction and redefinition that has driven the project from the conceptual stage to the final outcome.”

A newly constructed full double height glass door and window separating the house with the backyard garden, blurs the outline of the rear building and creates drama in the new rear courtyard garden which acts as a well lit aquarium garden flooding light into the entire ground floor. In keeping with this natural theme, the powder room was designed with an open air concept and has access to the garden. On the upper floor, another existing bedroom was demolished and half of its floor slab hacked off to create a void above the study area below, to allow for daylight to penetrate. Separated by a sheer curtain, the study is a romantic and cozy reading corner enjoying the natural lighting as well as the backyard garden view.

Passive green design is a hallmark of Core Design Workshop as the designers prefer not to rely on technology to ensure that the home is comfortable. Instead, natural cross ventilation throughout the entire house is provided and promoted with no dead corners in spatial organisation. All the doors and windows are mostly of full height, this not only maximises the space, they are oriented to bring in maximum natural daylight, allow natural ventilation yet limit direct sunlight and heat altogether.

Since the project had a limited budget, materials and finishes were selected carefully for practicality and functionality. “Our priority was to design a spatial experience that can be complemented with the right materials and finishes. The full height wall is cement render finish and located at the backyard. The reason for also using this durable finish for the wall, kitchen sink, worktop and dining bar top is to create a natural look,” explains Chun. “The entire house floor is in timber laminate finish in light and dark hues. For the built-in furniture, perforated metal plates were used for its flexibility, translucency and breathability purposes. We refused to use any opulent materials as the concept is to focus more on the richness of the spatial quality.”

Having carte blanche in the brief meant that the Workshop had the freedom to experiment with some interesting detailing that they had not done before. “One of them would be the free standing cantilevered cast concrete kitchen sink, which also works as a wash basin to the powder room on the ground floor and also the drinking water station. The other is the standalone wardrobe in the master bedroom which is made out entirely of perforated metal sheet. We designed a translucent wardrobe that blurs out the clothing. It adds a different texture to the space and prevents the clothes from musty odor and moldy,” enthuses Chun.

Soft furnishings, furniture and lighting were sourced locally although the items were selected to complement the spatial experience rather as decorative design. As the client has a collection of contemporary art, being able to display it appropriately was taken into consideration in the design.

As the client inhabits the space and the trees in the secret back garden flourish, Chun sums up Core Design Workshop’s raison d’être as such: “We’d like to be portrayed as a contemporary Malaysian design firm through our architecture. The main difference between contemporary design and modern design is that contemporary does not aim for aesthetically successful but rather to understand the three elements, the Environmental, Social and Cultural issues happening at this current time and to reflect them in the development of the design. The results should be something provocative in the mind of the inhabitants.”