Malaysian Timber in Applications

Telegraph Pole House Langkawi, Malaysia

Perched atop the hills in the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi, this timber house with its extensive roof assumes a commanding position overlooking the valley below, like an eagle poised to take off in flight.

During the design stage of their home, a British couple, Bob and Angela Gabriel, wanted to adopt some feature of a native longhouse from the Malaysian state of Sarawak. In keeping with the spirit of the longhouse blueprint, they wanted a home built entirely of timber with just one big roof, large overhanging eaves, open air and multi-functional living spaces.

Architect BC Ang of Building Bloc had designed the main supporting columns of the house in huge, chunky logs. However, the cost proved to be too prohibitive as it was not easy to procure such huge logs for the project. It was the main contractor who came to the rescue. He knew of a timber stockist, but who collected mainly recycled timbers. This suited Bob and Angela just fine as they have always been environmentally conscious and wanted their house to be as eco-friendly as possible. The stockist did not have timber posts large enough for the column size required by the design. What he did have were salvaged timber lamp posts which were still technically sound. The architect then came up with the ingenious idea of putting four lamp posts together to form a structural column. This is how the moniker “Lamp Post House” came about. Everything then fell into place, and the existing grooves on the timber columns facilitated the connections with the timber beams which are roughly of the same size.

This house has no main door on the ground floor, as this was designed as a completely open living and entertainment area. The entire space is only book-ended by a brick-and-glass-walled kitchen on one side and a bathroom and store on the other. The kitchen is the only air-conditioned room in the entire house. One side of the living hall opens to the gardens while the other side opens to an infinity pool which runs the full length of the house.

As one moves further into the open living space, one’s eyes are led to the swimming pool and the panoramic kampong views beyond. All the lamp posts that have been put together to form structural columns were deliberately left unfinished, and many still feature their serial numbers. This original touch lends an air of authenticity and quaint rusticity to the whole house.

A sculptural flight of stairs featuring chunky yet seemingly floating timber steps (fashioned and recycled from yet more lamp posts) suspended by slender rods welcomes one to the upper part of the house, which hosts the resting and sleeping quarters.

In adapting the traditional longhouse design, verandahs run the whole length of the house on both sides of the upper floor. The verandah overlooking the pool is the perfect spot for a sundowner, as well as for looking beyond the kampong for miles on a clear, sunny day. The recycled timber wall panels for the upper floor were sanded but not completely, leaving the remains of the old paint showing through, thus giving it a touch of pectinated character. The entire first floor is enclosed by mainly glass sliding doors to keep out the insects, and to facilitate the fusion of the outdoors with the indoors.

The central living/family space is furnished with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, and flanked by bedrooms on both ends. The whole house shares a huge ceiling visible only from the upper floor. The ceiling features a spectacular lattice of timber trusses interspersed with a random pattern of roofing shingles. Knowing that timber dissipates heat well, the couple installed only ceiling fans as a cooling agent for the master suite, the family room and the two guest bedrooms on the upper floor.

The house is devoid of architectural decorations. One exception is the carved wooden birds attached to the first floor composite beams which jut out over the swimming pool. Bob had bought these wooden birds during one of their sojourns to Malacca in search of antique furniture. These wooden birds now sit happily above the pool, looking out to the kampong, fields and the sea beyond. These birds have since become the talking point for visitors. They seem to have blended in quite nicely with the recycled timber theme of the house.