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Borneo, Sabah: Sinurambi



Date Posted: 11/1/2004

Malaysian Tatler Nov 2004

Nikki Lugun


Creating one of Malaysia’s most stunning homes was no easy feat for Terry and Rose Mills. However, as Nikki Lugun discovers, this is a couple that has turned adversity into an electrifying triumph.

Momentous changes in life are often accompanied by proportionally large changes in lifestyle. So when Terry and Rose Mills got married, it was time to build their first home together. But even they could not have foreseen what a huge undertaking that would be. The end result would be joy that can be derived from living a spectacular hideaway that touches the spirit of anyone lucky enough to be invited to the house.

The location is truly magnificent. Situated about 30 minutes’ drive from Kota Kinabalu, the house aptly called Sinurambi (meaning a ‘jungle abode’ in the Kadazan language), is perched about 1000 feet above sea level. It is situated close to the boundary of the Crocker Range National Park. The Croker Range becomes into the ridge that grows into  Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu.

Even the owners themselves could not have foreseen the kaleidoscopic slideshows that nature puts on for them everyday. The winds blow down the high ridges that make up the Croker Range and sweep right into the house. After a downpour, the mist slowly surrounds the house and creeps into the rooms before descending into the valley far below. On other days, the sun reflects off the house with shimmering hues and glorious sunrises and sunsets are truly indescribable.

As Terry laughingly says,” it was the place that found us.” During their courting days when Rose, who is of Kadazan descent, and Terry, an Englishman by birth, would drive up every gravel track around KK looking for their magic spot. For Rose, it was going back to her roots as she grew up in the tropical wonderland that is Sabah. “I wanted somewhere which is not too far from the city but still surrounded by nature,” she says.

The Mills can certainly attest to the theory that building a house from scratch us a huge undertaking. “In retrospect we should have been much more closely involved in the day-to-day construction. It has taken us a lot of time and effort to rectify the mistakes made by the initial contractor.”

Once the site was located and secured, the couple approached six of Sabah’s top architectural firms. “Two couldn’t be bothered to respond.” Terry recalls. “Three more submitted ideas for holiday resorts and simply had no concept of what we were trying to achieve. Finally, Ling Fahshing came up to the site. He is a native of Sabah who, after spending more than 15 years in the United States, decided to come home.”

Terry remembers his words the moment Ling Fahshing set foot on the site. “We knew we had found our man.” However, the couple changed a lot of things on the way through construction where they thought they could make simple improvements. For instance, they  door adjoining the bedroom next to the master bedroom is ready for when they have children, for instance. Terry took full responsibility for the kitchen. “I love to cook and that’s my domain,” he says firmly.

There were many problems to contend with while building the house, for instance, the gravity water supply. The Croker Range National Park was helpful in granting them a license to run water from the mountain side. The first spring, requiring 800 meters of 2 inch pipe but the spring dried up within a few months. Another spring, another 800 meters of pipe and another dry season and they were at it again. Finally, two and a half kilometers into the Croker Range they found a spring that ran the whole year round.” But the water is wonderful,” exclaims Rose. “Cool, clear and unpolluted. Worth all the effort when you take an ice-cold shower every morning,”

One of the most enjoyable facets of their lives in Sabah is the wonderful group of friends they have made. “Both Rose and I love to entertain and the house is a perfect spot to gather our friends around us,” says Terry. Sundays are ideal for family gatherings. The dogs and the couple’s pet otters provide hours of fun for the children who come up with their parents. This leaves the girls free to gossip and the men to run the barbecue and work their way through numerous bottles of wine.

“Dinner parties are like United Nations gatherings and because we know so many people from so many different walks of life we love to mix them all in together. You’ll find a pair of visiting Canadian bird fanciers seated next to the operations manager of Raleigh International. A prominent local surgeon will be telling tales of his recent adventures in Afghanistan whilst Ray and his Fu Chow wife are just back on leave from Cambodia and cover the dinner table with beautiful Khmer jewelry and silks.”

In addition, there is always another party waiting to happen. It could be held on their Halverson 80-foot yacht which is berthed at Sutera Harbour Marina. Their idyllic lifestyle is reflected in the way they live and precious times are those that make memories that last a lifetime, for example, waking early to take breakfast on the bedroom balcony watching the sun rise over the mountains with Mount Kinabalu in full bloom, sitting on the deck in the evenings worshipping the sunsets, or relaxing on the verandah watching the lights of the town glittering below just listening to the sounds of the jungle at night.

“You can’t really ask for more,” conclude the Mills, who feel that they have been truly blessed by the peace and tranquility of this secluded home.



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Photo Credit: Mills collection