Building for the future in Phnom Penh

Building for the future in Phnom Penh

An elegant two-storey family home sits on a private block surrounded by young palms, which will eventually provide a luscious jungle-like atmosphere to surround the villa in Ta Khmau, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The light-yellow home, which took nine months to build, is an elegant fusion of old and new, east and west.

The owner, a British expatriate who moved to Cambodia 20 years ago to escape work in England’s banking sector, was able to buy the land because his wife is Cambodian.

The couple bought the land about three years ago with the intention of building, after they became sick of the “rabbit warrens” they had been renting.

The building process was very straightforward, he said.

“It was about the least stressful thing I’ve ever done.”

Soil tests were carried out once the family purchased the land, sketches were drawn up, a competent builder was hired, and nine months later the family are enjoying their new home.

The ex-banker, who now works for a health NGO, said he encouraged other people who to build homes in Cambodia, but it was imperative to hire a competent builder.

If you cannot test them on another project, then make sure you have a look at their work, he said.

It was also important to get a good plumber and electrician.

It is also advisable to purchase appliances – most of which were imports – fittings, and furnishings yourself, and then have the builder install them at cost price, that way a mark up by the builder can be avoided.

And it was important to be very clear about what you wanted, he said.

“You can’t make the assumption that they understand, because chances are they don’t.”

The father of two said the low land cost of the 25-by-49-metre plot at the time of purchase and low labour cost meant they had more freedom to maximise on space, and build their ideal home.

The family chose the location because it is quiet, affordable, and the homeowner said he believes Phnom Penh is likely to extend south towards Ta Khmau.

The 20 minute commute into the city did not bother him after the two-hour trips he experienced each day in London.  

Though it was hard to pick a favourite aspect of the impressive yet homely villa, he said the space in the hallway, and the high ceilings were a real draw card.

“It’s not at all claustrophobic.”

Since the family of four moved into their new home three months ago, finishing touches have been added continuously.

All of the furnishings and décor were chosen through compromises between the couple. They never had any intention of hiring an interior designer or decorator.

The villa is filled with old and new décor from England, Cambodia, and even a little from Laos.

The all-wooden floors, complimented by the dark wooden cabinets, shelving and wardrobes, tie together the different rooms in the house, and give the house a British feel, which is off-set by the eastern touches throughout.

The wood for the floors was purchased locally and left out in the sun to season for months, an important process to avoid the wood splitting once it has been installed.

The one set-back the family faced was a problem with their chosen carpenter.

The carpenter’s work was rough, and he did not season the wood for the cabinets, shelves, and wardrobes, which caused the dark wood to split.

However, it was fixable, he said.

The ground floor houses the main hallway, or entranceway, which gives off a “Catholic” feel with the dark-wood archway that leads out the back to the kitchen and dining area.

The lounge is situated at the front of the house, with French shutters on the windows, which looks out on the front driveway.

The master bedroom has a Cambodian touch: a four-poster “princessy” bed, which was insisted upon by the lady of the house, as well as a large walk-in wardrobe and an ensuite bathroom.

The children’s bedrooms were also on the ground floor.

From the ground floor a wood and cast iron staircase leads up to a large family area, which features a home entertainment system, extensive book collection, and shelves full of leather shoes and boots; another indulgence.

A small bathroom and office are also upstairs.

The first floor has a black and white or sepia tone to it, caused by the family photographs, pictures of Cambodian starlets, and old black and white prints from the Cambodian archive, which adorn the walls.

Outside, a front and back veranda make casual entertaining an easy option.

There is also a detached gazebo ready for a barbeque, and old-fashioned bird-cages (without birds) hanging from the beams.

The garden has been given a lot of love, and with a bit of time will hopefully grow into a lush, vegetative retreat, which will separate the staff accommodation from the main house.

It was nice to own a home rather than live out of a 12-metre container, not knowing when they would move to the next rental property, he said.

Owning a house also meant there was the opportunity of partaking in a house swap.

“We could get a nice place in Paris for Christmas.”

Despite the family’s love of the home, the house is for sale.

The family would happily stay where they were if a buyer did not come up with the right amount. But if they could make a good profit from the home with enough left over to invest in building another house they would do it in a heartbeat.

“I enjoyed the process. We learnt so much from it,” he said.

“We will do it again, and push the envelope a little bit more.”

It would also be good to have financial security.

“This is our greatest asset.”

While he did not expect Cambodia to face economic problems, it was better to be safe than sorry.

“Cambodia’s very fragile … It wouldn’t take very much. You’re always looking at how you can mitigate risk.”

The family were looking forward to going through the building process again.

“I know nothing about building a house at all, so if we can do it…”

• If you are interested in this house, it can be viewed at


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