The Chic Apartment

A home that is a toast to Japan

The drinking corner has a customised table that can be lowered and concealed in the platform.
The drinking corner has a customised table that can be lowered and concealed in the platform. PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINE; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN
In the home of Mr Melvyn Yap (above), windows from the rooms on the second floor look into the stairwell.
In the home of Mr Melvyn Yap (above), windows from the rooms on the second floor look into the stairwell.PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINE; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN
There is minimal use of conventional furniture, with the dining table and chairs being the only pieces (above).
There is minimal use of conventional furniture, with the dining table and chairs being the only pieces (above).PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINE; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN

The ambience of Japanese bars and inns is replicated in Melvyn Yap's HDB maisonette

"Almost everything in this home is bought or made in Japan," says Mr Melvyn Yap of his three-bedroom Housing Board maisonette.

His 1,590 sq ft home may be located in a typical Singapore highrise building, but step inside and you are instantly transported to a traditional inn in Japan.

Mr Eric Chua of interior design company Sync Interior gave the cookie-cutter apartment a radical makeover, with a look inspired by traditional Japanese interiors.

Besides making structural alterations to open up the home, the designer created customised built-in structures and furniture to bring out the theme.

Light oak tones, platforms and shoji paper screens are some of the distinctive elements he included. Also, as the Japanese aesthetic is grounded on simple, functional beauty, the home's overall design minimises the use of conventional furniture or having defined spaces and fixed-purpose rooms.

Mr Yap, a bachelor in his 40s, and his mother have been living here for 17 years, but decided to renovate recently.

In the home of Mr Melvyn Yap, windows from the rooms on the second floor look into the stairwell (above).
In the home of Mr Melvyn Yap, windows from the rooms on the second floor look into the stairwell (above). PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINE; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN

Tell us about the design of your home.

It is purely Japanese. A lot of people like a fusion style, but not me. I wanted it pure so the authenticity is retained. The look is traditional, but there's modern technology incorporated.

Furnishing-wise, I tried as much as possible to get everything from Japan and made in Japan.

Why a Japan-inspired look?

Maybe it is because of my love of sake and my holidays to the country. I like the concept and feel of the izakaya (a type of Japanese bar) and ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), and I wanted to bring these back home.

My interest in Japanese culture and aesthetics probably started about six years ago, when I started going to Japan for work.

How did you translate the look and feel into your space?

I combined the concept of a "drinking hole" and traditional inn. The key element is the idea of getting together with friends, just like how colleagues gather after work at an izakaya. So there are pockets of space with platforms everywhere for my friends to gather.

Look-wise, the idea was to replicate the elements of Japanese style - tatami mats, platforms, futons, light wood tones and shoji paper (a translucent paper made from Japanese mulberry trees or shrubs, sometimes called rice paper).

Eric also got the carpenters to make the sliding screen doors and pasted the shoji paper with gold flakes on one side of the acrylic himself.

In terms of the layout and function, what specifications did you have?

The drinking corner was very important. I wanted a comfortable area with a raised table, so hidden in the platform is an automated table that can be raised when I want to use it.

I wanted the rooms on the second floor to have internal windows that look into the stairwell to allow more light in. Shoji paper is also used in the panelling.

The Japanese style is so functional and versatile, and I tried to implement this. For example, the drinking area in the living room can become a sleeping area for guests, when the table is lowered into the platform and a futon is added.

What other elements of Japanese culture have you included in your home and lifestyle?

It is Japanese culture to have tableware of different shapes and sizes, with unique designs, so each person can identify his plate and chopsticks at a glance.

So I have many mismatched plates from Japan rather than a matching set.

Every time I go to Japan, I buy something different - such as sake cups, saucers and plates. All are made of ceramic.

In Japan, tatami is very expensive and was traditionally used only in the homes of nobles. Apparently, the younger generation prefers more modern styles. When I showed my Japanese friends pictures of my home with the tatami, they said I am helping to preserve their culture.

I use futons on the tatami instead of beds, so every morning, I pack them up and leave the space empty, just like how it's meant to be done.

I also have a Japanese black pine bonsai.

Which is your favourite part of your home?

I like my bedroom with the tatami-finished platform and futon, but I think my favourite space has to be the drinking corner, as I see it as my private sanctuary. There, I do my work, drink, watch TV, chill out and entertain friends.

My friends are only too eager to come over. They say my home is even better than the private rooms of some restaurants.

•This article first appeared in the December issue of Home & Decor, which is published by SPH Magazines. Get the August and latest issue now at all newsstands and download the digital edition of Home & Decor from the App Store, Magzter and Google Play. Also, see more inspiring homes on www.homeanddecor.com.sg

•If you have a Housing Board flat or condominium apartment you would like featured, e-mail your pictures, with the header The Chic Apartment, to stlife@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'A home that is a toast to Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe