FRESH healthy greens sit in pots of various sizes, contrasted attractively by spots of colour from some beautiful blossoming flowers. In the corner, the sound of trickling water from an earthen jar injects a sense of calm to the surrounding. There is a subtle sweet scent floating in the air and a sense of freshness akin to that of a morning walk in the woods.
The only tell-tale sign that we’re on the roof top of The Gardens, Mid Valley is the tall new glass building structure gleaming across the balcony. And if you strain your ears hard enough, the distinctive sounds of vehicles below will remind you that you are actually in the middle of Kuala Lumpur city.
“Hi! Welcome, welcome! Come on in…” a friendly man in a fisherman’s hat over shoulder-length hair greets me.
A quick introduction and I learn that he’s Desmond Ho, owner and founder of Terra Garden, the little sanctuary we’re standing in. Beside him are Phua Chin Eng, the managing director and founder of Landart, as well as Desmond’s sweet daughter and business successor, Rina Ho.
The trio is a “medley” you wouldn’t expect to find among the assortments of garden paraphernalia and plants. But it is this trio whose voices are championing for nature to be sustainable inside and outside of the home. Both Phua and Desmond were recently invited to speak at the The One Academy’s ID Week 2018 held at TGV Cinema Sunway Pyramid.
The two industry experts spoke at length on the relationship between interior design and landscape.
This idea of bridging the gap between outdoors and indoors may still be quite a new concept in our country but it’s a growing one. People are slowly becoming more aware of the benefits of having nature indoors, especially in urban areas where much of the greeneries have been replaced with grey concrete.
“We used to be the last people to be called on site for any building projects. We tended to be an afterthought to the grand plan of development,” shares Phua, continuing: “But now, it’s the opposite. Our advice is the one most developers seek out first nowadays before planning even begins.”
“When I first began my journey in this industry, our core business was to bring the comfort of the indoors out by building outdoor rooms,” reveals Desmond as we take our seat in his lovely office filled with potted plants and innovative movable furniture. A wall of floor to ceiling glass windows reveal more nature outside while a mini fish pond sits in one corner of the room providing a soft water soundtrack.
Continuing, he says: “However, now we’re seeking to reverse that by bringing nature indoors because properties are becoming smaller and land prices higher. Most homes, especially apartments, are not well equipped with a garden like it used to be.” In addition, he believes that the beauty of nature should be holistic and incorporated indoors to combat the unhealthy cooped up lifestyle we’re are prone to these days.
“Indoor gardens may have first come about as an elitist hobby where only the upper class homes were able to afford it. But not anymore,” he confides, adding “Currently and probably in the future, it may not be a want anymore. Instead, it may become a need to have green spaces indoors. It is by far the most natural way to combat worsening air quality, plunging environments in the city and sick building syndrome.”
Sick building syndrome is described as an illness that comprises various nonspecific symptoms such as headache, nausea, eyes, nose or throat irritation and many others that occur in the occupants of a building. However, occupants afflicted with this syndrome have reported to feel relief once out of the building.
“Like the nature we get outside, what we recreate inside will certainly help improve both living and working environments,” chips in Phua. It has been proven scientifically that having some greens in your home or work spaces will enrich memory due to the fresh oxygen given off by plants, he explains. It would also help improve health, heighten happiness as well as increase quality of work and concentration.
NOT JUST A POTTED PLANT
However, the trio is quick to point out that having just one pot of plant in the corner of your living room does not constitute a green space.
“There should be functionality when building a green space within a home,” shares the affable horticulturalist Desmond, continuing: “It has to appeal to the five senses and cater to the lifestyle of the individual. It has to take into consideration the people living in the household too. Whether there are elderlies or toddlers, a couple or a family of 10!”
Besides that, 25-year-old Rina advises us to take note of where we want to place our plants.
“If your placement is gloomy and dark, you will want to source the plant in the nursery that is also placed in the gloom and dark,” she says, continuing: “The worst thing to do is to get a plant that is opposite from your indoor placement area. Do not go against nature or try to force a plant into a space, especially flowering plants.”
“It’s not just plants; natural lighting and spatial manipulation helps as well,” adds Phua, the lanky landscape architect.
He recommends that the interior and exterior should blend together as best as possible by using windows or simple lattice screens. Widening the space from inside out will also bring us closer to nature.
Currently, this popular approach, known as the biophilic approach, is used in many building designs that seek to connect building occupants more closely to nature.
Stemming from the word biophilia which means “love of nature”, it incorporates natural lighting and ventilation to help bridge the gap between humans and their innate attraction to nature.
“In simple words, we sometimes need to ‘borrow the landscape’ to make our space more comfortable,” he shares.
The term was popularised by American psychologist Edward O Wilson in the 1980s when he observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnection with the natural world.
Hence, the principle behind biophilic tries to integrate natural landscape features and elements indoors to create a more productive and healthy built environment for people.
So, how do we start building our own green space indoors, I ask, interest piqued.
After a pause, Desmond replies: “Begin with a small potted plant. Something hardy and easy to take care. Place it on your table top or present it in a more unique way like hanging it from a bracket or place it inside a terrarium. Most importantly, do not take it as fixed furniture! Nurture it!”
He also adds that people shouldn’t feel scared about bringing nature indoor. “Plants like any living being can and will die. They cannot live forever. But that doesn’t mean you should fear it,” he says, adding: “The worst thing to happen is when people give up on plants and shut themselves from nature. When that happens, I feel like something dies inside of me.”
Offering a designer’s point of view, Phua advises: “Before selecting a plant or even a space to convert, you will need to first understand its purpose. Take into consideration other elemental features like the hardscape — paths or walls — the architectural aspect of your space that is immovable. All these elements have to come together properly to form a functional and practical space.”
“As much as we have so adapted with modern technology in our homes, we should not forget the basics of nature. Literally, the roots of earth,” reminds the petite Rina, continuing: “Because, it is nature that will provide the best sense of belonging and a sense of representation as well as expression for us Malaysians even though it does not seem like it. Nature is something we have taken for granted because it’s all around us. But when it is gone, we will never get it back.”
Suddenly, a knock on the door interrupts our discussion. My photographer peeks in apologetically and signals to his camera. Without further explanation, we get ready to head out.
But before I leave the trio to my photographer, Desmond turns to me with a sparkle in his eyes. “You have to remember, nature is not just plants. It also encompasses animals and humans too. It is an ecosystem you need to keep moving. So, you need to keep that balance in your living space,” he says.
Adding, like a parent passing down some life secrets to a child, he concludes: “Always remember that plants are living things. They may not talk or move like a dog or a cat, but they are living. So, take care of them and they will take care of you.”
Desmond Ho, founder and owner of Terra Garden Group
An architect by training, Desmond is a household name in this country as well as overseas for his Neo Nusantara-styled garden that spots his signature kain pelikat lattice or batik patterned screens. His first foray into the business began when he opened a little garden centre between Subang Parade and Aeon Big (previously Carrefour).
Phua Chin Eng, founder and managing director of Landart Design
With offices in Penang and KL, Phua has more than two decades of experience in the field of landscape architecture. He has bagged several landscape awards for his works such as the Gurney Roundabout at Gurney Drive Penang, and the Ledenga@Southbay at Batu Maung Penang.
Rina Ho, managing director of Terra Garden Design
At 25, this petite lady has grown up with nature. For more than four years, she has been managing the company by her father’s side. She aims to bring nature and the business to another level and following in her father’s footsteps, she hopes to one day create something uniquely Malaysian that will show off our cultural hotpots.