House of gardens

A finalist in the Completed Buildings category at this year's World Architecture Festival, Cornwall Gardens is a cool, tropical paradise

Many designer houses are inspired by tropical resorts, but a residence in Cornwall Gardens Road off Holland Road takes it to a new level.

The emphasis is on luxe, communal living where greenery and water play a great role.

Visitors entering the fern-filled foyer are greeted by the sound of cascading water from a basement waterfall.

In the two-storey house, all seven bedrooms are built around a landscaped pool. The hard lines of the house are softened by the lush planter verandahs that run along the rooms to the rooftop garden, where fruit trees such as chiku and custard apple grow.

This house, named Cornwall Gardens, was one of 18 designs shortlisted for the House - Completed Buildings category at this year's World Architecture Festival, which started on Wednesday and ended yesterday. The award went to Vietnamese a21 Studio's Saigon House in Ho Chi Minh City.

Cornwall Gardens was the result of a $6-million rebuilt project by Chang Architects' founder and principal architect Chang Yong Ter, 46.

Although he has also incorporated nature into his past projects such as the Lucky Shophouse in Joo Chiat Place and Elok House off Mount Elizabeth road, Cornwall Gardens, he says, is "the most in sync with nature".

It was also the one where he was given the most freedom by his Singaporean client, Mr Choo, who wanted a cool, tropical paradise that could accommodate his three-generation family of 10 and future additions, should his adult children marry.

The house is built on a sloping terrain with a land area of 1,494 sq m. There are seven bedrooms, a family room, an entertainment room and a library over a built-up floor area of about 1,300 sq m.

The owner, who is in his 50s, says: "We thought how wonderful it would be to arrive home from work to be greeted by the greenery, streams and natural beauty one would see only in places so far away from urban Singapore."

He spent his childhood on a rubber plantation in Johor.

He bought the property in 2009 while it was rented out to a French family. Construction started after the lease ended and took 17 months. It was completed in August last year.

A notable characteristic of the house is that it has no living room. Mr Chang says the family, library and patio spaces all double as living spaces.

For extended family gatherings, which can number up to 50 people, guests congregrate in the family room in the basement, which has a wine cellar and a U-shaped lounge with ample seating.

But the family's favourite gathering spot is a sunken pit in the pool with a longan tree that is metaphorically the heart of the house.

The design incorporated a lot of recycled materials.

Railway sleepers were used as flooring for the front porch and foyer, with the inner layer of the sleepers used for the front door and outdoor shoe cabinet. Timber flooring from the old property's bedrooms was used for the entertainment room in the basement.

Most of the materials were imported from China and Malaysia, although some of the steel members, rebars, cables and glass components were sourced locally.

The new home is a far cry from the plain white walls and red-tiled roof of the previous L-shaped property, which had limited greenery, a tiled backyard and a swimming pool.

Charcoal logs, which are natural heat insulators as well as air and water filters, now cover the building's exterior. The charcoal filters rainwater before it is channelled into a water tank, which is then irrigated to the property's plants through a network of pipes.

The tactile feel continues inside the home. For the interior walls, Mr Chang proposed dark grey walls with small washed pebbles, which appealed to the owner's preference for a rustic look and darker finishings to reduce glare from the sun.

One can see right through the house and into the neighbouring property at the bottom of the hill.

To avoid casting an imposing shadow on the neighbours, Mr Chang went with a mesh wall with two bridges, which connects the rooms on the first and second floors to the other end of the house.

Passionfruit is grown on the bridges, with a plan for it to grow and create a privacy barrier while still letting air and light into the home.

Mr Chang says the terraced roof "makes full use of space instead of just having a sloped roof and the plants block most of the sun's heat and cools the rooms below".

Although the new property feels extremely open, he designed a mix of social spaces that include quieter corners for the family to "feel very open and close to nature, yet with a sense of privacy".

Although the bedrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, barely visible metal cables outside the bedroom windows allow plants to creep up and form a little screen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'House of gardens'. Print Edition | Subscribe