Designing A Tropical Dream Home Part 3: The Importance of the Outdoors

The Importance of the Outdoors

Because we are mainly considering the tropics in this book, two chapters are dedicated to the outdoors. We look at loggias and lanais, verandahs and decks and the way that semi indoor/outdoor living is inherent in tropical architecture. Courtyards are an integral element in many tropical homes, as are verandahs, pavilions, salas and such like. Even in the earlier chapters where we discuss the living and dining room, the bedroom and bathroom, there may be reference to gardens or garden courts.

We don’t touch too heavily on landscaping - if we were to consider gardens we would be writing another book! - but we do look at landscape elements like pool forms, water features, poolside decking, paving, outdoor furniture and lighting, and more. Top architects and landscape designers, some of whom are considered leaders in their fields, have designed many of the villas featured. In our opinion, old can be the new new (think how hip 1930s Shanghai or retro 1950s furniture is), so we aren’t afraid to showcase older homes that have withstood the test of time. Others are fairly recent additions to the tropical dream-seeker repertoire but all are unified by a commitment to a design excellence that embraces individuality.

In the indoor/outdoor sphere, we turn to Asia’s foremost architect Geoffrey Bawa for advice. Bawa’s pavilion style has been copied, distilled, distorted and diluted over the decades but it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that his influence still lives on. Plenty of his devices can be seen in this book many of the works by more contemporary architects and designers bear his hallmark blurring of boundaries between in and out and we even have some photos of his former Colombo office now renovated into a lively gallery cum restaurant. And even though Bawa insisted that you couldn’t see or explain what he was trying to do with courts, verandahs, pavilions, colonnades and gardens without actually walking through the spaces themselves, we think many of the photos tell a different story.

Another great lover of the outdoors is designer and writer Madé Wijaya, Asia’s foremost landscape designer and arbiter of taste in the tropical world. Wijaya advises that landscape and architecture, as well as interior design, should all be formulated together in the planning stages of a project. “All too often,” he laments, “the garden is left to the end when the budget has shrunk to nothing.” As with Bawa, he advocates treating the outdoor elements with the same care and consideration as are bestowed on the interior.

Says Wijaya: “Even though many recently designed tropical homes and gardens have moved away from the romantic and more towards the formulaic, one can be modern and still poetic. If envisaged carefully, using the artful, natural and ornamental oriental style of Balinese landscapes, one can plan a garden that works beautifully with an indoor/outdoor tropical home.”

Take Wijaya’s landscaping at the Four Seasons in Jimbaran, a resort that comprises a series of interlocking villas, paths, public spaces, pools and water bodies, all fronting a gorgeous Balinese bay. Here, inspiration came from the backyard plantings in the neighboring village of Pacatu tight clumps of frangipani, pandanus and cactus which were interspersed with cooling water elements, Balinese village walls, interconnecting pathways and lots of poetic corners. It’s an example of how architecture can be furthered by a carefully planned garden. Each individual villa with its own plunge pool offers glimpses of layers of landscaping in front and to the sides, all the while framing views of the bigger picture.

Our living room and garden chapters look closely at such views, picture windows, peepholes and the interconnection of outdoor courts with indoor elements, giving various options as to how the outside may be coaxed into the house. It also takes a close look at decoration local wood and the revolutionary inroads in garden furniture design. The overall message is that inside and outside need to work together, so that different moods may be achieved at different times of the day but whatever the season or time all work together in a harmonious manner.

This is because, ultimately, harmony is what we are seeking in the tropical home or in any home for that matter. Mark Twain once famously remarked: “One may make their house a palace of sham, or they can make it a home, a refuge.” We’re showcasing refuges and homes in this book: We don’t expect you to like all of them, but we do want you to gain inspiration and ideas from at least some of them. If you take some of our suggestions and use them in your own home we’ve done our job.

tropical outdoors
Tradition mixes with modernity as an old Thai farmhouse is transported to a Bangkok poolside. The sinuous curves of a Chinese-style water urn work well with azure mosaic tiles.
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