Paradise on Earth, an Expat's Home in Sabah

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


“It’s not a bad view is it?” chuckles Terry Mills, gesturing out from his decking to what must be one of the best sights in Sabah. Located over 1,400ft above sea level on the edge of virgin forest 30 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, Terry’s home offers a panoramic view that sweeps from Mount Kinabalu, across acres of lush greenery, and rolls out towards the glittering South China Sea. As the sun sets, the vivid pinks and creamy swirls of the melting sky makes the view almost unearthly.

But the view is not the only thing that makes Terry’s home extraordinary. Sinurambi – which translates as “jungle hut” in the local Kadazan language – is one man’s dedication to the woman he loves. Making the decision to build a home and his life in Sabah was a way for Terry, a retired Brit, to convince his now wife Rose that he was serious about her. The two met back in 1998 when he first came to Sabah. “She was working at Sutera Harbour,” Terry recalls, “and it took me from January till October to convince her to come on a date.” Rose, a Malaysian of Kadazan descent, was gradually charmed by Terry’s eagerness, and the couple are now happily married with a gorgeous 6-year-old, David, and the trio inhabit a home worthy of the gods.

The home may now be akin to paradise, but the journey was not a smooth one, however romantic the intentions. While they were delighted with the architect who came on board in 2001, the actual build was “a nightmare. After 18 months we sacked the contractor and finished it ourselves,” Terry explains. It was completed in 2003, almost a year behind schedule, but is a true testament to the Mills’ desire for a house at one with the natural environment. Sinurambi uses locally sourced sandstone in the iconic walls, ample windows makes the view a feature of the interior, and a locally-grown fern provides a motif for doors, handles, and gates.

Furnishing was the easy part. “Once we had the architects drawings we were able to plan all the furniture and get it custom made, as a friend of mine has a furniture workshop in Indonesia,” Terry explains.”When the container arrived – bingo; our house was furnished!”

And what furnishings: the natural feel is continued throughout, and knowing that almost every piece is unique only adds to the splendour of the family home. “My favourite piece is the dining table,” says Terry, gesturing to the long, smooth table that sits proudly in the centre of the dining room. “It is made from a single piece of Angsana. I can’t imagine the size of the tree it came from!”

The outside of the house is no less splendid, and the wide expanse of deck offers the perfect place to sit and watch the sunset, while the swimming pool seems to melt into the lush green jungle. “We have 26 acres of forest,” Terry explains, “and visitors love to wander the grounds.”

Visitors, as one would expect, came thick and fast as soon as the house was completed, and it wasn’t long before the family decided to turn their spacious home into a bed and breakfast. The tower – which houses a billiard room, a library, and a circular bedroom – is now earmarked for guests, and three stand-alone cottages provide isolation for those who want to enjoy some peace.

“We really enjoy having guests,” Rose says good-naturedly. “We are fortunate to be able to share our home. We get people from all over the world, and they all have such interesting stories to share.” That said, both Rose and Terry found that personal space was becoming increasingly limited as guests streamed in, leading them to decide, less than a decade since they moved in, to build themselves another house.

“I think it will be much easier second time around,” Terry says optimistically. “We have found a brilliant contractor and previous experience will help.” The site – located just across the road from Sinurambi – is similar in size but offers a 360-degree view of the area. The vista will be celebrated in the design, with bedrooms offering sunrises and living areas being angled for the sunset.


“I just love the sunrises and sunsets,” admits Rose, as she shows me the fiery pictures taken at dawn and dusk that hang in the kitchen. “There is something magical about them. I have loved them since I was a little girl.” While Rose’s fortunes may have improved since a childhood spent in the rice paddies, she has never lost her appreciation for the area and its natural beauty; a passion that is shared by her industrious husband. “I grew up in a fish and chip shop,” chuckles Terry as the last of the sun slips away over his beautiful jungle retreat, “so things have certainly improved!”

This article was written by Sarah Rees for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat October 2012

Read more:

Register for free on

"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Click to comment

Most Popular

To Top