living: Modern Retro Wonder

This article first appeared in Haven, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 17, 2017 - April 23, 2017.

Mah Sing’s Legenda homes boast strong geometrical lines, accented with plenty of ceiling-to-floor windows, offering grand vistas of Penang island

The colours and patterns of the living room give the holiday home a bright and electric vibe.

Marine print wallpaper evokes an underwater vibe, fittingly, en route to the pool

A cosy corner overlooking the swimming pool

Italian design infuses the home with its signature interior decor sensibilities

The retro bar provides a unique space for Fenn to indulge in her bartending hobby

The specially-designed entertainment room is where Fenn finds rest and relaxation

The surrealist sofa, Flos lighting and movie poster introduce a cinematic ambience

Hong Kong home owner Dr Lily Fenn at her Legenda holiday abode

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A sleek and luxurious bungalow in Penang’s [email protected] resort community redefines the concept of a holiday abode with a brilliant designer showcase of home décor collectibles.


Hong Kong resident Dr Lily Fenn’s first visit to Penang was in 1984, the same year she was admitted to the bar. At the time, she vacationed at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa in Batu Ferringhi. The managing partner of her own legal firm in Hong Kong that just celebrated its 30th anniversary, Fenn recalls enjoying the island and its multicultural cuisine. Fast-forward to the present and she returns to Malaysia’s most populous island, this time as the owner of a capacious four-storey resort bungalow that boasts panoramic views of the sea and lush tropical greenery.

“I don’t have any business in Penang. I come here to enjoy life,” says Fenn in her signature candid manner of her monthly visit to the island. “A lot of people in Hong Kong, including myself, look for properties overseas, and I would like to have an investment and a holiday home at the same time. Penang is easily accessible, being only three hours and 10 minutes via direct flight from Hong Kong. There’s a lot of rich culture and also good investment opportunities as property prices remain pretty firm here even when the economy is not all that good. That’s why I picked Penang.”

Her dream home is in the 28-acre [email protected], a gated residential component of the iconic and multiple award-winning Southbay development by Mah Sing Group, together with Southbay City and [email protected]

So, what about the Legenda mansion impressed the lawyer? “I like luxury and if I want to buy a house like this in Hong Kong, I would have to pay 20 times as much. Also, I haven’t seen such a big house there, and land is so expensive. Even in the New Territories, most three-storey houses, or what are called standard houses, are much smaller with each floor covering only 700 sq ft.”

Her Grande+ home — a vision of geometrical lines, white-painted concrete, glass and steel — has a built-up of 7,170 sq ft and is replete with six rooms and seven bathrooms. It is one of the largest of the 76 exclusive bungalows of three design types in the low-density project. [email protected]’s facilities include a clubhouse, gymnasium and community hall, and it is landscaped with water features. On what helped seal the deal, Fenn says, “I liked the house’s modern architectural design, which is compatible with an Italian interior style that I like.”

A person with definite likes and dislikes, Fenn actually engaged an Italian designer to furnish her Legenda residence. “I like Italian design because it is very innovative, and has the ability to juxtapose or balance modern things with the vintage and antiques,” she explains.

To help the designer envision what appealed to her, the lawyer’s brief was to steer clear of anything old-fashioned or feminine and she listed her interests as reading, music, food, aviation and cocktail mixology. Certainly, Fenn’s accomplishments go way beyond the legal profession — she holds a bartender certificate and is a licensed pilot who is qualified to fly more than 10 types of aircraft, including helicopters. 

A leisurely half-hour drive from the Penang airport to Batu Maung will bring one to Fenn’s doorstep at [email protected]. Her house is built over a cliff, perched midway between the guardhouse and a cul-de-sac at the end of a hilly driveway lined with young trees and flanked by similar bungalows. She welcomes me from behind tall, naturally polished wooden doors and ushers me into the cosy foyer or vestibule with a private lift on the right, and dining and living area on the left. 

It took Fenn three years of planning and six trips to Italy to finalise things with her interior designer and to buy the recommended Made-in-Italy furniture and décor pieces for her Legenda home. The first thing one sees upon entering the house is the dining table made of stunning Forest Brown marble with a lookalike woodgrain finish. Accompanying it are eight acrylic dining chairs, all unique and made by hand using a method that is similar to Murano glass-making.

A designer brand that has endeared itself to Fenn with its craftsmanship, whimsical sensibilities and surrealistic bent is Fornasetti, founded by Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988), an Italian painter, sculptor, graphic artist and interior decorator. The Italian decorative arts company, now headed by son Barnaba, produces furniture, ceramic ware, home fragrances, and home and fashion accessories that employ a monochromatic palette with bursts of colour accents, and which reference Greek and Roman architecture, the sun, time and a 19th-century operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri.

The eye-catching cloud pattern wallpaper behind the dining space is a Fornasetti design, acting as a backdrop for a set of Versace fine china plates — a limited-edition dinnerware collection issued for its 20th anniversary — arranged in the shape of a propeller. The aviation-themed decorative element symbolises not only Fenn’s 20 years of history as a pilot but it also echoes the infinite sign or the number 8, which signifies prosperity for the Chinese.

Another Fornasetti item is a true conversation piece: a cabinet placed to the left of the dining table that is numbered two in a limited-edition collection. Imprinted with perspective drawing of an ancient Roman building, which gives it a three-dimensional quality, this furniture-cum-art piece makes for a collector’s item. In the far right of the room is a retro-looking bar crafted from brass and upholstered in apple green leather with three matching stools purchased by Fenn at an antique shop.

Next to the bar is the kitchen, which features a pièce de résistance cabinet system from Italy with a six-figure price tag. The floor-to-ceiling dark wooden (cabinet) doors provide a clean, polished finish but more importantly, it opens to reveal high-end German-made Miele appliances, a wine cellar and retractable shelves, all integrated into made-to-measure kitchen cabinets that are the epitome of smart design, form and function.

Emerging from the kitchen, one enters a living area that offers a grand vista of the island’s blue skies, the clubhouse, neighbouring bungalows and a glimpse of the sea. The centrepiece here is a soft yellow leather Flap sofa — by Milanese designer Francesco Binfarè for Italian conceptual furniture maker Edra — whose free form and flexible components allow it to be transformed into a host of seating configurations.

Four leather armchairs in different colours by another top Italian designer furniture-maker, Poltrona Frau — founded in 1912 by Renzo Frau in Turin — and a leather-topped coffee table complete the living space. “I like different colours because life should be colourful, especially for a holiday home. Why use a single colour, which is boring?” Fenn asks. A lover of classical music, her sound system from luxury audio manufacturer Luxman — a Japanese brand founded in 1925 — and Eventus Audio (Italy) speakers ensure ambient music wafts easily through all the four floors from a single source.

“I’m not an antique collector but I want to bring old items to blend in with modern ones. The bar is vintage but the rest is modern, so it’s a good plan. My theory for interior design is beauty, functionality and comfort, and the three elements must work in harmony. An item must look good first, then it must serve its purpose and third, it must be comfortable. Of course, all the items must match and be in harmony when put together,” Fenn says.

Another part of the house where she spends considerable time is the level below the ground floor living area. To reflect her love of scuba-diving, an underwater-themed wallpaper sets the tone for this floor, which boasts a swimming pool and mini gym outfitted with a treadmill, cross-trainer and Kinesis strength training system by Italy’s leading fitness equipment brand, Technogym. The colourful palette that adorns the cushions, lantern coverings and other décor items on this level lends energy and vibrancy to the recreational floor, where the laundry room and housekeeper’s quarters are also located. 

With a four-storey house, a private lift becomes a necessity, providing ease of passage when moving between floors, especially when shifting heavy and bulky objects. So, from the basement floor after an afternoon of intense workout followed by a few laps and some poolside relaxation, Fenn can bypass the stairs and head straight to her bedroom or the master room on the first floor using the lift. 

To create a warm ambience, her bedroom’s lighting is kept to a minimum to cast an afterglow effect over the custom-made wooden shelves, writing table and built-in wardrobe, plus timber flooring. Her spacious bed, headboard and linen are also tailor-made in Italy while the raspberry-hued leather armchair from Poltrona Frau is yet another limited-edition piece, numbered 33 out of the 100 produced in the world.

Marble is the material of choice for the attached bathroom, from the spa to the walls, floors and washbasin area. Her room’s bathroom has been completely redone with the original Jacuzzi moved to the en-suite bathroom of the master room on the second floor. In its place, Fenn has installed a Swiss spa system shipped from Italy that functions as a steam room-cum-shower with programmable steaming effects, lights, music and aroma. 

Despite the vast amount of glass within the building, the air is cool and uniform throughout the house. This is because Fenn has invested heavily not only in refitting the entire house with a top-notch central air-conditioning system but also solar film coating on all glass surfaces to block out 99% of UV from the sunlight entering the home. For easy maintenance, she has opted to use mainly marble, granite and wood for her tropical home and one would be hard-pressed to find rugs or carpets anywhere in it.

Planes or aviation is a common thread throughout Fenn’s hoilday home. One notices a unique art piece — a rendition of the Curtiss JN4-D2 Jenny plane used in WWII — on her bedroom wall as well as several miniature fighter planes peppered throughout the house. Why and when did she learn how to fly? “That was 20 years ago. I wanted to do something challenging. Life should be full of challenges,” she replies, revealing so much about this gutsy lady.

It does not come as a surprise then that she is a Leo. In fact, a couple of lions were spotted around the house — a one-of-a-kind lion head of glass handmade in Murano sits on the ground floor and an antique wooden lion figurine creates a point of interest in the first floor guestroom, together with a state-of-the-art exercise bicycle. 

A space in which Fenn takes delight is the entertainment room on the second floor, right above the guestroom on the level below. A siren red sofa in the shape of a pair of lips, a replica of the 1937 Salvador Dali “Mae West Lips Sofa”, provides a sensual and surrealistic touch at the entrance of the home theatre. Together with an original movie poster of the remake of The Great Gatsby autographed by the glitterati starring in it, including Leonardo DiCaprio, the scene here is cinematic. An 11-channel surround sound system, blackout drapes and a quartet of Poltrona Frau armchairs with matching footrests embellish the room that is panelled completely in solid wood from the ceiling to the walls and floor.

Certainly, the notion of design is deeply apparent in Fenn’s holiday abode. Throughout the home, her choice of illumination is sourced from the cutting-edge lighting design innovator, Flos Lighting. Arco floor lamps designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in 1962 for Flos, and the Marcel Wanders for Flos Skygarden hemispherical pendant grace the living room while Flos Kap Surface Suspension lights proliferate above the lips sofa.   

Creating a beautiful spectacle and dangling from the second floor ceiling to cascade over the staircase is a show-stopping Nebula Suspension chandelier — designed by EDIDA 2008 Young Design Talent Joris Laarman for Flos. Without a doubt, interior design and décor gems abound in Fenn’s architecturally modern bungalow and clearly, she has spared no expense to light up the place with the most covetable picks from Italy’s design world and beyond.