#haven* High up on a hill

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IT’S A SERENE drive up to the Berjaya Hills Resort in Pahang where architect Adrian Lim has built himself a retirement home. The road winds gently around the lush incline, the air fresher and the view greater with every metre climbed. Adrian’s home lies near the foot of the resort at 700m above sea level and is marked by a smart driveway.

The formal entrance is a lovely patio bordered by 4ft-high freestanding columns, but the Lims prefer to use the casual front door, perforated to correspond with the vertical cutouts in the foyer’s façade. Through these, hints of a view tease, a concept hard to understand until the door opens to reveal an absolute vision.

Guests would be hard-pressed to notice the easy sitting area before them — all eyes would immediately be drawn to the vista beyond. An extended cantilevered balcony stretches out into nothingness and taking pride of place is nature’s beauty: vivid, verdant and wild. Berjaya Hills rises directly ahead with French-themed village Colmar Tropicale perched at the peak. Greenery flourishes across the width of the view and the air is rich with bird calls and the chirp of cicadas.

“You should see this place at night,” enthuses Adrian, to whom this home was entirely a labour of love. “The clarity of the stars and moon is astounding and you can see the twinkling lights of Colmar in the distance. It is beautiful.”

The foyer and balcony form the left wing of the L-shaped house, unencumbered by walls to give dominance to the view. “The house comprises three types of spaces: open balcony, covered balcony and enclosed space,” says Adrian.

“I designed the house around this view — every room opens to this, so no matter where in the house you are or what you’re doing, you can look outside.”A great nature lover, Adrian has filled his home and garden with flowering plants and trees, using native flora to better complement the immediate environment.Said view is precisely what Adrian paid for when he purchased the 15,000 sq ft parcel in 2004. There was a great deal of apprehension about hillside developments after the Highland Towers tragedy, so it was only in 2010 that his plans were approved. Adrian designed his home to stretch horizontally across the slope line rather than down it to ensure every room had a view, realised with a total of nine balconies. It was also simply the more economical approach. “We had to consider the layout to minimise construction costs — there are two roads, at the upper and lower ends of the lot with a height difference of 20m,” he says. “Logically, it was better to access the building from the upper road and sit the house on stilts or columns over the slope. It also promotes cross-ventilation, which keeps the house cool enough throughout the day for us to do away with air conditioning altogether.”

It took two years to complete the house because Adrian was adamant about minimal use of machinery in the building process. “Everything was done by hand where possible — it took four months to shovel and drill the construction area,” he says, adding that the house is built to withstand tremors.Interiors are minimally designed and furnished with hardy, inexpensive furniture.Adrian studied in the UK and designed his house around the notion of weekend homes in the countryside. He was looking for a place with a view, fresh air and close proximity to KL. Cameron Highlands was deemed too far and cold; Genting too high and commercialised; and Fraser’s Hill too high and wet. Berjaya Hills Resort is a convenient hour’s drive away, easy for the Lims to travel to and from regularly.

The resort had another feather in its cap — the cool hills are home to over 200 bird species, a thrill for the avid bird-watcher. “I started bird watching about 10 years ago and have travelled everywhere, from Thailand and Australia to China and Tibet, to bird watch,” he enthuses. The Japanese and Botanical Gardens at Colmar Tropicale were a natural draw for him, but he doesn’t need to venture far to indulge in his hobby — his little feathered friends build nests and flit from tree to tree in his own neighbourhood. Adrian mimics some calls remarkably well and acts as a free bird guide of sorts to enthusiasts who travel up for a weekend of bird watching. He also photographs his finds, the best pictures framed and displayed around his home.

“I enjoy trekking and while it can be tiring carrying the photography equipment and sitting in hides for hours, I love being out in nature,” says the gentle architect. “I recently spotted the Liverbird and the Mountain Peacock-Pheasants here are somewhat tame and friendly.”

Offering prime watching position from his home is the ground floor balcony, Adrian’s favourite corner of the house. Constructed from high-grade cement and 40ft steel bars extending from the porch, 14ft of this structure is cantilevered — when viewed from the right wing of the house, the timber deck surface appears to float amidst the panorama. A table is pulled out here on sunny mornings for breakfast and to read the papers.

A folding door separates the hall from the porch and when opened, allows a seamless, organic flow of space from the open-air balcony to inside the house. Overall interior design has been kept to the minimum so as to not distract from the drama of the view. The furniture and materials are hardy for easy maintenance — 5ft by 5ft marble slabs with invisible joints make up the floor in the eggshell white living room with cushions on the L-shaped sofa providing pops of colour. The faux fireplace in the hall, composed of pinewood, is a deliberate tribute to England.

In fact, most materials are native to the area, especially hardwood such as pine and timber. “It was important to choose something that white ants can’t eat since, well, look where we are,” laughs the architect. “I really wanted the house to complement its environment, so I used mostly local materials.” The surrounding flora and fauna are also brought into the house through potted plants and animal sculptures, from the tableau of bronze ants jamming on the marble ledge beneath the TV to the braided horses and giraffes around the hall. Dogs, elephants, lizards, frogs and zebras worked in wire, wood and metal with different degrees of realism are scattered throughout. “I love animals, but we can’t keep any here since we won’t be able to exercise them regularly,” smiles Adrian. “Instead, we have pets we don’t have to feed.”

Four bedrooms are located along the right axis on the ground and lower ground floors, each with generous windows to maximise the picturesque scenery outside and attached baths. The resulting privacy emphasises the resort-like feel of the home with guests able to escape to their own sanctuaries at the end of the day. The master bedroom (above) features clean lines and warm colours and materials, creating an elegant, cosy sanctuary. The attached bath (below) is executed in luxurious marble, a tiny garden within it reflecting the verdant view as seen through the full-height windows. The master bedroom is at the far right of the ground floor and is executed in a medley of warm textures and colours. The pair of pear-shaped rattan chairs indicates a reading nook by the window overlooking the garden outside, reading materials such as Top Gear, EVO and bird books arranged on wooden shelves slated between narrow wall columns to form a makeshift bookshelf.

The teak flooring leads seamlessly to the expansive bathroom, completed in luxurious materials and with no door obstructing its access. Brown marble with heavy veins, reminiscent of the forest of trees outside, forms the interior structure. Twin sinks stand beneath a wide mirror and pinewood logs stacked in the cutout at the top of the wall separating the bedroom from the bathroom serve to filter the light of the connecting rooms. A shallow tub rests against a large window for gazing while soaking, although the bathroom itself is not short of fauna — coconut husks with bird’s nest plants and a little garden within the space bring the outdoors indoors.

Back in the living room, a dusky purple contrast wall flanks the staircase leading to the lower ground floor where the open kitchen and dining room are. The formal dining table for eight is only used on occasions such as Christmas and is backed by a textured wall adorned with outsized wire lizards. Every seat at the table has a view: if you have your back to the stunning panorama outside, you will face the natural slope of the original grassy hill, left untouched during construction. Adrian padded the slope with sand and installed a water wall, the water flowing down over the moss and native plants to collect in a narrow fish pond located at the lowest level. An island divides the dining area and kitchen, and should the curious guest venture to the left wing, a study awaits. Another intake of breath is inevitable here: the modestly sized marble slab table overlooks a spectacular vista, no doubt a source of much inspiration. A guitar rests in a corner, but the sound of cicadas is natural music played in surround sound — you’re fully immersed in the setting of this back-to-nature escape.

Down the final flight of stairs is a cutout wall with a built-in wine rack hosting suspended wineglasses, Old and New World wines and a small selection of whiskies and beer. Grab your pick of poison and duck through the door on the right to the relaxed entertainment area. The open architecture allows in a constant breeze, the final element needed to complete an evening of unwinding to a glorious sunset. Coasters carved from fallen acacia trees in the area rest on both the long and round tables and the cement floor is made visually intriguing with leaf prints — Adrian pressed real leaves into the wet cement for the imprints and painted in the colours.

Earlier, from the kitchen, we had watched a storm approach and pass over us, and the air now is clean and fresh, heavy with the splendid scent of rain. The clouds have cleared to once again expose the picturesque horizon. “I mentioned earlier that we kept the interior design minimalist and this is why,” smiles Adrian, nodding at the wide windows from his seat at the dining table. “You spend most of your time here looking outside. That’s a million-dollar view out there.”

This article first appeared in The Edge haven, on Issue #67 June + July 2014.