THE CHIC APARTMENT

Art Deco to match facade

Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above), and made the front door the toilet door (left). Art
Sliding doors delineate spaces in the 807 sq ft Tiong Bahru flat. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above), and made the front door the toilet door (left). Art
A faux fireplace houses the television set in the 807 sq ft Tiong Bahru flat.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above), and made the front door the toilet door (left). Art
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above).PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above), and made the front door the toilet door (left). Art
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler, recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen, and made the front door the toilet door (above).PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Doing their part to preserve bits of the past, Mr Chue Guan Lin and Ms Leem Pei Shan, with their son, Zhi Ler (all above), recycled wooden crates, used as storage containers in the kitchen (above), and made the front door the toilet door (left). Art
Art Deco features, such as this lampshade with a geometric design, dot the flat.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

From the tiles to the decorative items, husband and wife give their 1930s Tiong Bahru flat a contemporary update

Ms Leem Pei Shan and Mr Chue Guan Lin, who grew up in newer neighbourhoods in the west of Singapore, have kindled a love affair with Tiong Bahru's 1930s flats like the one they own.

The husband and wife also love their 807 sq ft unit's nostalgic Art Deco interiors, which they worked with their interior designer to recreate.

Three years ago, they bought the ground-floor unit that was retrofitted with elder-friendly home fittings for its then-owner. They had no plans to overhaul the interiors - until they chanced upon a similar unit on the third level.

Mr Chue, 37, a stay-at-home father, says: "The apartment was so beautiful, it gave us the motivation to do up our flat too."

While they were eager to start designing, their $60,000 renovation budget threw a spanner in the works. Some interior designers were out of their budget, while others trotted out trusty templates that the couple felt did not meld with the aura of Tiong Bahru's history.

Their search for an interior designer led them across the Causeway to Moonstudio Interiors in Kuala Lumpur. Designer Victor Loh suggested remodelling the interiors after the facade to "respect the architecture", says Mr Chue, who married Ms Leem three years ago. They have a 10-month-old son, Zhi Ler.

He adds: "We'd seen some other homes in the area and were disturbed by how the owners gutted them and did them up in a style that disregarded the exterior."

Their two-bedroom flat underwent an overhaul in a contemporary update of the Art Deco style, including new floor tiles and turning one of two bedrooms into a living room.

One can explore the house by walking in a circle unobstructed. Start at the entrance, which opens up into the dining room, go past the sliding doors of the living room before heading into the bedroom.

A small door, which doubles as a shoe cabinet, opens up into the back of the house, where Mr Chue has a tiny study space overlooking a lush backyard garden. The tour ends in the open-concept kitchen. Art Deco features, often geometric and angular, dot the house.

A faux fireplace, which was a fashionable option in 1920s New York, houses the television set. It is set between two chunky columns, with stepped borders, and is a space for displaying knick-knacks.

In the bedroom, sliding plywood doors meant to hide the closet are carved with sunrays, a common Art Deco motif.

Ms Leem, 29, who is an audiologist, says: "There was dead space between the two cupboards because of the vanity area. The rays draw your eyes out of that space and also add a bold touch."

While most of the fixtures such as the doors, lights and windows were from Kuala Lumpur, the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood also became their hunting ground for decorative accessories.

A provision shop where Ms Leem used to buy biscuits from was closing down. The owner gave her a ladder, which she uses in the bedroom to hang clothes. A fruit seller, who also left the neighbourhood, gave them wooden crates, which they display around the house.

Ms Leem says: "Many shops come and go in Tiong Bahru and they sometimes throw away items that are now hard to find. We keep them as a little part of the area's history."

They also tried to salvage good pieces of the old house. For example, they wanted scissor-style gates for their entrance, so the old front door became the toilet door instead.

Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing estates here and the first project undertaken by the nowdefunct Singapore Improvement Trust. The flat's age showed when they scraped off old plaster during the renovations and sand came pouring out.

Mr Chue says: "We're enjoying our flat, but redevelopment might come soon. We know we're living on borrowed time"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Art Deco to match facade TheChicApartment'. Print Edition | Subscribe