Belgian couple Jonathan Roelandts and Katrien Bollen, in their 30s, laid eyes on a conservation shophouse in Kim Yam Road 2½ years ago and knew at once that they had found their home.
They moved to Singapore in 2010 - Ms Bollen, to pursue her master's in business administration, and Mr Roelandts, on a job posting.
The parents of a young son used to frequent the River Valley area and were thrilled when the opportunity to buy a shophouse there arose. "We love the contrasting beauty of the shophouse against the modern and bustling neighbourhood. We knew that this is where we will begin building our dream home," says Ms Bollen, Google's performance marketing lead for Asia-Pacific.
Despite being foreigners, they were able to buy the 2,842 sq ft shophouse as it is part of a development comprising three pre-war terrace houses and a new 10-storey condominium extension.
Restoration works were carried out from 1998 to 1999, so the shophouse was still in relatively good condition. The interior, however, looked dated, so the home owners decided to renovate it, opting for a colonial style with a modern touch.
"We wanted the charm of a black-and-white bungalow, but with a fresh look," says Mr Roelandts, who is Asia-Pacific sales director of a furniture retailer.
To achieve that effect, they introduced natural elements and kept the styling to a minimum. The original layout was retained, together with the air well - a feature that gives the home a lot of its character.
Working with contractor Heavenly Homespace, they hacked and revamped the kitchen and three bathrooms. The timber staircase was polished and the flooring on the first storey replaced.
Why did you decide not to engage an interior designer, but to work directly with a contractor?
We wanted to be hands-on and very involved in this home-building journey. We also had a clear vision of how our dream home should be, which eased communication with the contractor.
What was your thought process in designing the home?
We laid the foundation first, shortlisting the styles and brands which appealed to us, as well as deciding which areas of the home had to go. Once the groundwork was done, we sought inspiration through social media.
How did you go about selecting furniture, fittings and materials?
We appreciate well-designed, quality furniture that comes with a fair price tag. We are wood lovers and want our furniture to last.
What are the advantages of being so hands-on?
You definitely have more control, from design to budget.
What advice would you give home owners who are tempted to work directly with a contractor?
They must be able to communicate the ideas they have to their contractor. They must provide a clear direction for the contractor to follow.
What is it about conservation shophouses that appeals to you?
We are big fans of old, rustic colonial architecture and are intrigued when we delve deeper into the beautiful and rich history.
Aside from the aesthetic charm, we are also proud to own a piece of Singapore's history, a place that we have grown attached to and now fondly call our home.
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• This article first appeared in the December issue of Home & Decor, which is published by SPH Magazines. Get the February and latest issue now at all newsstands or 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