Lizard and cockroach droppings dotted the apartment, which had been empty for six months. The stove area and kitchen window grilles were covered in a layer of grease.
Others saw filth, but married couple Ericson and Kelly Gangoso spotted the potential of turning the 559 sq ft, three-room HDB flat in Commonwealth into a cosy home.
The Gangosos, who have been married for 2½ years, wasted no time in transforming the flat. Concrete replaced the original 45-year-old floor tiles, which Mrs Gangoso, 29, said had a flower design in "a pukey terracotta colour".
The dirty walls were also given a fresh lick of white paint.
"We decided to stick to concrete because we wanted to spend our money on removing the walls," says Mrs Gangoso, a Singaporean video producer at a government institution. "Also, we have a dog and concrete is easier to maintain."
Renovations started last September. Ms Emily Chang, who was then senior designer at interior design company The 80's Studio, worked with the couple on it.
Ms Chang, now a freelancer, says: "It was fun working with them as they were easy-going and open- minded. And they knew what they wanted, which was important."
After 31/2 months of renovations that cost $40,000, the ground-floor flat is now a chic statement in Scandinavian-industrial style, with exposed black wiring and pipes as a design feature.
The couple moved in last December.
"As the flat is small, we want to make sure it not only looks good, but is functional too," says Mr Gangoso, 32, a freelance director from the Philippines who travels around the region for work.
One steps into the dining area immediately upon entering the flat.
The living room is to the left, with the master bedroom farther down the hall. The kitchen and bathroom are at the end of the flat, which opens out to the community garden via the back door.
As Mr Gangoso does woodwork and crafts leather accessories during his free time, he requested a big dining table that could double as a work space.
The dining table, which measures 2m by 90cm, was custom-made by Singapore bespoke furniture company Constructivity using leftover wood from other projects.
Coincidentally, the dining area is also one of the couple's favourite parts of the flat. Says Mrs Gangoso: "It's like the centre of our home. There's not much room to move around in the apartment, so it's naturally where we end up."
The couple had wanted an island kitchen counter, but there was not enough space. So they settled for blue kitchen cabinets with gold handles and marble-like quartz tops. "The kitchen is more me," Mrs Gangoso quips. "I like white and light-toned wood while Ericson likes black."
Without the luxury of space, the couple had to be careful with the furnishings.
Even though a wooden bench at the dining area serves as storage for their bags and other items, Mr Gangoso, who is a keen skateboarder and surfer, had to leave his boards at his mother-in-law's home, as did Mrs Gangoso with her bicycle.
"We don't have a storeroom," says Mrs Gangoso. "We have to hide our mop and broom in the toilet or between the fridge and wall."
To free up space, the kitchen wall was removed and the living room wall replaced with sliding glass doors, with the glass panels doubling as a noticeboard. The couple use it when they are brainstorming for work projects or for writing down grocery and to-do lists.
Despite the space constraints, the Gangosos' home is cosy and inviting, filled with their favourite artworks and travel souvenirs from countries such as Thailand, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
They also list the community garden at the back of their flat and proximity to Holland Village and Dempsey as perks of living in the sleepy neighbourhood.
Says Mr Gangoso: "Our dog can go to the common area and run around and we can walk to Chip Bee Gardens."
Good thing the couple were not put off by a few lizard droppings.
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