How a Toronto architect designed the home in 'Crazy Rich Asians'
It’s kind of a crazy story: a stunning house in Kuala Lumpur designed by a Toronto architect is cast as the home of “crazy rich Asians” in a Hollywood movie of the same name.
And the proud family of five who actually live there have a blast when their home became a bit of a madhouse for 13 hours during filming last year.
The Warner Bros. movie, Crazy Rich Asians, is a romantic comedy based on a novel by Kevin Kwan. It opens in Toronto on Wednesday, Aug. 15.
The plot follows Rachel (played by Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to Singapore for a friend’s wedding. Nick introduces her to his very wealthy family who have different plans for the dashing young man, considered to be the “Prince Harry of Asia.”
Cut to the silent star of the film: Be-landa House, built on stilts among the treetops on a jungle hillside. Designed by Stephanie Maignan, who moved to Toronto last summer after working in Malaysia for 15 years, the six-bedroom, contemporary oasis belongs to Jan and Ineke Hofstede and their three kids aged 15, 18 and 20.
The Hofstedes, who moved to Malaysia in 1992, asked Maignan to design their home on a 34-degree slope. (Be-landa, Maignan explains, means “Dutch” in the local language.)
“They came to us with this jungle lot they bought which was the most challenging place for us to build on,” says Maignan, who partnered with Amanda Teh to set up their architectural firm, 29 Design, in 2005.
“It took a crazy amount of time,” five years from first draft to completion in 2014, thanks to monsoons, landslides and newly-imposed construction requirements.
The house consists of three pavilions on different levels, linked by a glass-walled bridge and seven staircases necessary for vertical connection because of the slope.
“The engineer called me a crazy architect because of what we were asking,” laughs Maignan, who took her design cues from the Hofstedes’ affinity for the tropics and Southeast Asian lifestyle.
“It worked well for filming,” Maignan adds.
In a scene in one of the two living rooms that sit atop each other, Nick’s mother reads passages from the Bible while her guests gossip over tea.
There’s a “really nice drone shot” of the $2-million property, says Jan Hofstede, who’s “very proud of our resort-style house in the middle of a busy city” that boasts 8,000 square feet of space.
Just as well, when 100 cast and crew members plus 26 trucks of equipment, Chinese antiques and art showed up for a day in 2017.
The family spent three days preparing then another two putting everything back, says Hofstede, a regional managing director for a German farming equipment company.
He said it was “quite something” to have their home appear in a Hollywood film.
“An amazing experience from living in a very quiet community to having about 100 people with equipment taking over your house, to complete silence again,” Hofstede said in an email.
Director Jon Chu (“a really nice guy”) took their 15-year-old son under his wing to explain the filmmaking process, he adds.
American-born Maignan, who’s a senior design associate at Toronto-based B+H Architects, is equally tickled by the global exposure of her Malaysian masterpiece.
Will she see it on the big screen?
“Of course!” she says. “There’s a group of us from the office going as the cheering section for Be-landa House.”
How crazy is that?
Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer covering home and real-estate stories. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her at