My Turf

A jumbo love for jumbo flats

Mr Nurul Hatta Takim, with his wife Hafiza Yahya, and children (from left) Eryna Amelia, eight, Haziq Mateen,14, Ryan Zuhayr, 10, and Aydin Ezra, two. Mr Nurul Hatta and Ms Hafiza hacked down a wall and expanded their master bedroom to create their d
Mr Nurul Hatta Takim, with his wife Hafiza Yahya, and children (from left) Eryna Amelia, eight, Haziq Mateen,14, Ryan Zuhayr, 10, and Aydin Ezra, two. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Real estate agent Annie Koh's jumbo flat in Woodlands.
Real estate agent Annie Koh's jumbo flat in Woodlands. ST PHOTO: NG HUIWEN
Mr Nurul Hatta Takim, 39, who lives in a jumbo flat in Woodlands with his wife Hafiza Yahya, 35, and four children.
Mr Nurul Hatta Takim, 39, who lives in a jumbo flat in Woodlands with his wife Hafiza Yahya, 35, and four children. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Ms Annie Koh's flat in Woodlands boasts an eclectic style.

Much of it is modern, with a monochromatic colour scheme, light brown wood furnishings and sharp, clean lines.

But part of the flat is fitted with Oriental-style furniture, such as an antique coffee table and carved-wood armchairs, as well as Chinese watercolour paintings.

"I like that even with so many of us in the flat, we can still each have our personal space," said Ms Koh, 44, a real estate agent.

Accommodating the varied tastes of her family members is no mean feat given that there are nine people residing in the unit. Ms Koh and her husband, a 44-year-old IT consultant, live with his parents who are in their 70s, their four children aged nine to 16, and a maid.

But it helps that they live in a jumbo flat - a 179 sq m unit comprising two living rooms, a family area, dining hall, four bedrooms, a kitchen, a maid's room and a study.

The couple bought the corner unit on the seventh floor of a block in Woodlands Street 82 for $710,000 two years ago.

Jumbo flats are a sought-after rarity in Singapore, numbering just 2,900 out of a total pool of about one million Housing Board flats.

They emerged from a one-off move in 1989 to give unsold three-room and four-room flats a new lease of life. The Government combined them to form "jumbo" flats by knocking down the wall between two adjacent flats. About 80 per cent of the jumbo flats are found in Woodlands, the first town to see such converted flats, said HDB. The rest are in Yishun, Jurong East, Bedok and Tampines.

They have since gained popularity especially among large multi- generational families, and command a premium, costing about $650,000 to $950,000. They range from 147 sq m to 199 sq m in size .


Mr Nurul Hatta and Ms Hafiza hacked down a wall and expanded their master bedroom to create their dream walk-in wardrobe. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

By comparison, a five-room flat in Woodlands, which averages 110 sq m, costs about $450,000.

The Straits Times understands HDB currently has no plans to combine more flats into jumbo units in the future.

Earlier this month, former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said that she hopes to continue living in her Yishun jumbo flat, even if she is elected president.


Mr Osman Abdul Hamid, artistic director of Era Dance Theatre, lives in a five-bedroom jumbo flat in Woodlands and over the years, the 172 sq m unit has become the "central point" for his family and relatives. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Madam Halimah, who announced that she will run in the upcoming presidential election, said that she is comfortable in her flat, where she has lived with her family for over 30 years. She is married to businessman Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee. They have two sons and three daughters, aged 26 to 35.

In a Straits Times interview in 2013, she said: "More than 80 per cent of our population live in HDB flats and if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for me."

Theatre practitioner Osman Abdul Hamid, 55, understands well the appeal of jumbo flats.

In 2003, he moved into his second-floor unit in Woodlands Street 32, which he bought for $395,000. Today, 11 people live in it: his wife, three sons, his mother, two older sisters, his sister-in-law and two maids. His two other sons moved out after starting their families.


Ms Annie Koh's jumbo flat boasts an eclectic style. Much of it is modern, but part of it is fitted with Oriental-style furniture, reflecting the varied tastes of her family. There are nine people living in the unit. ST PHOTO: NG HUIWEN

Over the years, the 172 sq m unit has become the "central point" for his family and relatives, witnessing both happy and sad occasions. For instance, Hari Raya Aidilfitri every year is a "huge party", with up to 40 guests filling the house comfortably.

When inspiration hits, Mr Osman - who is Era Dance Theatre's artistic director - moves some furniture in the living room and choreographs his dances. And during his sons' growing years, one of the five bedrooms was a games room.

His mother-in-law moved into one of the bedrooms last December, after she had a lung infection and was bedridden. The bedroom, which could easily fit a hospital bed, enabled family members to care for her round the clock. She died from her illness in May.

Said Mr Osman: "With the space, I didn't have to worry at the time that my mother-in-law could not have family members close by."

Having a huge household, with his extended family visiting often, has rekindled the kampung spirit of his younger days, he said. "I don't feel lonely in a big flat because it brings the family together."

Similarly, for Ms Koh, the draw was the ability to have everyone live under one roof. "My parents-in-law were already in their 70s and living on their own, coping with the household chores and cooking. We felt it would be more reassuring if they could live with us."

For teachers Nurul Hatta Takim, 39, and Hafiza Yahya, 35, moving into a jumbo flat has given their children the opportunity to learn important life skills. The family splits the household chores as they do not have a maid to help, and the older children are responsible for cleaning their rooms and bathrooms.

The couple, who bought their Woodlands Avenue 1 flat for about $700,000 three years ago, have four children aged two to 14.

"It was challenging to maintain the flat at the start, but we now have a schedule going. We have no regrets, as we really wanted a home where the kids could run around," said Mr Nurul Hatta.

The long space near the flat's entrance, for instance, has become a "racing track" for two-year-old Aydin Ezra, who has a toy sports car.

The couple, who previously lived in a five-room executive flat, spent four months working with an interior designer to create spaces that suited their needs. Their current flat has a floor area of over 186 sq m.

Ms Hafiza, who is a fitness buff, used to jog alone in the estate at 4.30am daily, but found it could be dangerous. Now, she begins her day by working out at home, after she transformed one of their five bedrooms into a gym.

The couple also hacked down a wall and expanded their master bedroom, so they could create their dream walk-in wardrobe. Their plans were also made with the future in mind, including an option for it to be partitioned so that their parents could live with them if they wished, but still have their privacy.

Said Mr Nurul Hatta: "It took us a while to find the right place for our family, but having the option of a jumbo flat turned out to be perfect for us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'A jumbo love for jumbo flats'. Print Edition | Subscribe