An abundance of flowers blossom in Da Lat at every corner. They overflow from the front yards of residences and boutique windows, and decorate every patch of public space in this laid-back city in southern Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
We were taking in fresh, fragrant air scented with hydrangeas and roses that grow wildly on either side of the well-paved road before us as we coasted through the hillside with our windows rolled down.
We were on our way to meet Barry Israel, founder and CEO of Dai Phuc Development, and his wife, Le Ngoc Khanh Tam (a Da Lat local). Although Da Lat remains less known to foreign travellers, it is a popular destination among the Vietnamese, who come to honeymoon, play golf and escape their teeming metropolises. It is also becoming a popular place f or a second home, and the Israel couple were among the first to jump into the budding property market. They pioneered to build Da Lat’s first enclosed community of luxurious, Western-style houses—a housing development that sits on a wonderful vantage point, overlooking lush farmlandsand the rolling hills in the distance.
Tam began telling us that the plot seemed less than ideal when they first discovered it. “It was a bare piece of land with a 45-degreeslope from the top of the property to the bottom,” she recalled. “I remember Barry saying, ‘This is where we should start.’ It was hard for the rest of us to understand what he saw in it. But as we worked on the infrastructure, using retaining walls to level out the property, we all eventually saw his vision.” Once the land was levelled and divided so that each of the eight homes could have unobstructed views, it was clear that Barry’s initial hunch was proven right.
And so there, too, at the top of the hill, sits the couple’s dream home. They themselves designed it with the help of Aline Ho, the lead designer of the Ho Chi Minh-based Asiatique Design. Aline found inspiration in Da Lat’s French colonial roots, drawing from the villas built in the city during the 1930s and ’40s for the home’s white facade, graceful arches and large wrap-around verandas that look out onto the breathtaking mountain range surrounding the area. “The verandas are our favourite feature – each floor has one,” explained Barry. “Our favourite time is sitting out on one of the verandas, enjoying the view and watching the constantly changing colours and sky, for which Da Lat is so famous.”
The inside of the home is set in an all-American style. Through the front door, overgrown with orchids, the main floor of the home features a welcoming foyer, which splits off to the classic all-white kitchen to one side before leading into an ample, light-filled formal dining room and living room, crowned by a log-burning fireplace.
The uppermost floor is where the couple’s private quarters can be found. There’s a sitting room, as well as two separate bathrooms decorated to the tastes of each head of household, Tam’s bathroom features a tub made from duck egg lacquer, a prized traditional Vietnamese craft, and a large walk-in closet; meanwhile Barry’s bathroom is in teak wood panelling that’s contrasted by slate blue walls. The rest of the area is taken up by the master bedroom they share, which has a beautiful balcony where they spend their evenings watching the sunset.
On the ground floor, at the base of the handsome curving wooden staircase, is a relaxing enclave where guests can find a bit of solitude. There are two spacious en-suite guest bedrooms, as well as a family room stocked with DVDs, not to mention an enclosed gentlemen’s den off to one side in which Barry displays sports memorabilia along with keepsakes from his former life as a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Everything attests to comfort—the oversized sofas in soft leather that has worn perfectly with age, the king-sized beds to sink into at night and the inviting nooks to curl up with a book. But what gr abbed us immediately was the grassy lawn—a open-air hot tub bubbles away to one side and in the other direction is an organic vegetable patch abound with lemon trees.
We planted our bare feet on the soft green grass and looked up at the clear blue expanse of the cloudless sky, taking the time to slow down and be grateful for this lovely spot in the sun.
Words and Production: Beverly Cheng | Additional Words: Nini Yarte | Photography:Edgar Tapan
Originally published in Philippine Tatler Homes Volume 17 with the title "Secret Garden."