WHILE most people know what interior design and architecture are, they may be unfamiliar with interior architecture.

“A lot of people think that interior architecture and interior design are the same thing — they actually aren’t,” says Zanish Group Sdn Bhd director and principal designer Lee Su Zane.

An interior architecture firm based in Kuala Lumpur, Zanish was founded in 2006 by Lee and a few partners.

Interior architecture is not just about changing the colour of the curtains or parquet; it is the art of spatial use within a shell — to redesign or build the interior of a property for easy movement and practicality within the space, Lee explains.

“While we do interior designing, we, as interior architects, are more involved in the planning stage. We’re architects but for the internal space,” she says. “We are allowed to alter the space, such as taking down walls when we find that they are not necessary, in order for us to create a practical place for occupants.”

Research is key

Zanish has its own in-house design team dedicated to creating its clients’ dream space, be it residential or corporate. Like architecture, creating a functional space is not as easy as it looks, says Lee.

“Research, research and research — that is what we do before we present a design to our clients,” she says. “It’s the key element to create a practical dream space where you get both function and inspiring designs, whether they are European, Chinese, Tibetan or a fusion.”

While some companies may work based on a given budget from a client, Zanish places more emphasis on its clients’ design requirements.

“Based on our research, we will gather design styles according to the clients’ theme — it could be Balinese or European. Once the clients agree to the design, we will proceed with concise drawings and sketches, which include finishes and flooring measurements.

“A lot of our clients were surprised by how detailed and close to perfection we were with our sketches. With the clients’ approval, we will begin to work with the contractors to materialise the idea,” says Lee.

She recently completed a residential project in Cheras. The 3-storey semi-detached house is home to a Malaysian and Chinese couple. The husband’s parents fly down from China for a visit every so often.

Lee extended the kitchen and bedroom in the second and third floors. The home uses a dark colour scheme, mainly black and brown, accompanied by mirrors and quartz walls along the staircase, giving a tranquil yet modern edge to the design.

“Before we decide on a concept, we look at the house and see if its design is suitable for the chosen concept. As for the house in Cheras, it’s located on the fringe of a forest and I created the home to give the occupants a hotel-like living.

“The couple wanted the house to be bigger, hence the extension. The rooms were extended and there is a small balcony for guests to experience nature right outside, similar to being in a resort,” Lee explains.

She says the dark colour scheme was chosen to allow it to match fittings and furniture of any colour. “It was also chosen because the father-in-law likes to collect antiques and the colour scheme helps make the wood furniture stand out.”

Apart from working on private properties and commercial spaces, the team at Zanish also works with local developers. Its first project was a condominium with a developer from Sabah two years ago. With input from the developer, Zanish designed the lobby, facilities podium and other areas.

Only use what is needed

After almost 10 years of being in the business, Lee has learnt a few things, such as educating clients on how to utilise the space they have.

“Asians need to learn to throw things away and they need to learn that big furniture is not a must, especially if they’re staying in a condo or apartment because they’re not properly utilising the space in the house.”

Lee feels that most Asian families like to hoard. “Most of the time, the things in the house are not used and are kept for sentimental reasons or just for the sake of keeping them. I believe you need to throw out the things you don’t use anymore.”

To ensure better spatial use, she advises her clients to use customised furniture to fit the property.

“Customisation may take a bit more time and cost a little more, but many of our clients like to customise their furniture. To ensure that the furniture is made-to-fit and long-lasting, we pick good quality materials to build these items,” says Lee.

The team also customises fittings for offices and homes, and makes the effort to know and understand the habits and hobbies of the people using the space, she adds.

While Lee is flexible when it comes to the designs, there is one thing she will not compromise on — each space she creates must have long-lasting spatial designs and finishing. She explains that while the designs may change, a property will most likely be in existence for a long time.

“People spend most of their time in the interior of a building. Take a home, for example. You and your family will spend a lot of time in your house, so when you buy a house, you want to make sure it will be a home for the future generations too,” says Lee.

“To make a home last for 100 years, we play with the spatial system to ensure it caters for all generations of the household. A kitchen with an open concept could be turned into a different space should the next generation wish to change it.”

Lee adds that good quality building materials also play a part in providing longevity to the property. This, she believes, is what is lacking in the current property market.

Looking at the trend now, Lee says people are more open to new ideas compared with the previous generation 10 years ago. “The newer generation may have studied or worked abroad, so they know what sort of design suits their needs.

“As for architects and designers, they are able to explore more designs and how to use spaces thanks to the Internet. This is an improvement, but I believe we are still more conservative in terms of ideas compared with Europe or other parts of Southeast Asia.”


This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 23 - 29, 2015.