Rebuilding designs for houses

Four houses are breaking the mould with unusual, creative designs in Singapore. One is a flamboyant colonial-style bachelor's pad, two can be expanded to cater for new family members and one maximises space on a crowded street. Natasha Ann Zachariah reports

House of colours

Fashion show director Daniel Boey breaks layout conventions with his new semi-detached house off East Coast Road .

Unlike a traditional home that has its communal spaces on the first level and smaller, individual rooms on higher floors, Boey designed one that mixes things up.

"I often feel claustrophobic so I didn't want small cubby hole-like rooms," says the 50-year-old director of his eponymous fashion and lifestyle creative company and the founder of fashion website The 15th District.

"I liken the house to three New York lofts stacked on top of one another. Each floor has its own character and it's been built to fit only what I need."

Boey and his brother's houses, which are side by side, are inspired by colonial black-and-white bungalows. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The entrance to the house is on the second level.

Boey asked for a long, open riser staircase running up the house's facade from the first to the second level, to create a "dramatic entrance".

The living room is bright and airy, thanks to a double volume ceiling. It is also spacious - save for a minimal amount of furniture and a DJ console and music shelf with hundreds of CDs - nothing else occupies the expansive space.

An open kitchen occupies one end of the space.

His bedroom takes up the entire first level. There is also a door there which opens into the driveway so that he can leave the house from his bedroom.

Boey's bedroom (above) takes up the first level of the house and has an area where he can lounge and read. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

The top level of the house is his attic, which has its own balcony and also serves as an extension of the living room when he throws parties. He recently hosted his 50th birthday party for 60 people at his home.

The house is eye-catching both inside and out.

Boey and his brother bought two houses next door to each other, which they tore down. They worked with TLCA Architects to rebuild their houses inspired by colonial black-and-white bungalows - the white facade of the houses is outlined by a black border. Both houses cost about $2 million to build in total.

Boey's younger brother, who is married with no children, lives with his wife and his parents in a more conventionally laid-out home. Boey, who lives alone, moved into his house last month.

Visitors there are greeted by a life-sized baby pink knight made of fibreglass standing outside his front door.

Formerly a window display prop from a retail store, it gives a hint of the unconventionality that lies beyond - and it is not just in the unusual layout.

Boey loves loud colours.

His white living room is accented by an eye-catching teal-coloured alcove that houses a large painting by Indonesian visual artist Dani King Heriyanto.

His attic (above) is an extension of the living room, where guests can go upstairs to hang out. The space overlooks the living room. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

His attic is painted a sunny yellow. His bedroom walls are awash in a riot of shades such as aquamarine blue, blood red and tangerine orange.

The bathroom in a monochromatic theme. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Even the bomb shelter is decked out in orange-and-red stripes - a suggestion given to him by a Bangladeshi construction worker who was working on the house.

Boey took a leap of faith with the multiple colour pairings: "I had the look of the colours in my head, but you never really know till it's on the walls.

"You just have to go with your gut feel."

He was especially keen on having red and orange walls.

"I didn't know the exact name of the paint tones, so I told the contractors I wanted the brand colours of Hermes and Cartier. I gave them a lesson in fashion."

The house is neat and clutter- free.

He made it a point to keep things to a minimum - whatever he did not want from his previous terrace house in East Coast Road was donated or moved to his office.

Even storage space was limited on purpose - he has just three cupboards for his clothes and accessories and a single cabinet that can hold 40 pairs of shoes.

He says: "This is all I'm allowing myself to have. As I was moving here, I realised that I had so many things I had forgotten about.

"Many things had not seen the light of day in years.

"It was time to cull and keep only what I really needed."

Everyone under one roof

His children are only six and eight, but the owner of a multi-generational home in the Bukit Timah area has already made plans for when he has grandchildren.

The bigger house sits on a piece of land that tapers into a triangle at the back. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

He hired architect Wu Yen Yen to build a multi-generational home for his family of five, with plans to put in extra space for when his children grow up, get married and start their own families.

An attic was added to his two- storey house, which was also enlarged all around. The house has a built-up area of 7,093 sq ft and a swimming pool at the back.

The owner of the house, who declined to be named, got inspiration from his neighbour.

The latter had hired Ms Wu about three years ago to increase the size of his two-storey house to include an attic and a lift. Its built-up area is 6,135 sq ft.

He also had her design it in such a way that a house within a house could be carved out in future for his children - a daughter, 19, and a son, 22 - when either gets married and starts his or her own family.

Ms Wu, 38, principal architect of Genome Architects, says that multi-generational homes are becoming more popular here.

"Ancestral houses are uniquely Asian, but aren't discussed a lot. Many people live in such houses, but current houses don't cater for the privacy of each generation - what if they want their own family space in the future? The designs of most houses don't plan for the future.

A bathroom in the bigger house has his-and-hers vanity tops and sinks. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

"These owners wanted homes that would take care of the people living in them now and also incorporate the growth of the family into its DNA."

In the smaller house, two criss-crossing flights of stairs were constructed in the centre of the home. The built-up area here is 6,135 sq ft.

One of these criss-cross staircases in the smaller house can be partitioned off in future. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

One staircase leads up from the main entrance and dining area on the first level to the master bedroom and study on the second level. The second level houses a family recreation area and the 19-year-old daughter's bedroom.

The other staircase links the media room, which is at the back of the house on the first level, to two bedrooms on the second level.

One bedroom belongs to the home owner's mother, while the other belongs to the 22-year-old son.

The 22-year-old son's bedroom loft (above) in the smaller house. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

In future, one of the two staircases can be closed up on both sides to create a separate living space and a private entrance. This would help create a "house-in-a-house", says Ms Wu. The media room would be converted into a living room with a kitchenette, while the two bedrooms would be part of the standalone unit.

It cost $1.34 million to build the house.

The bigger house, which was built at the same time as its neighbour, sits on a piece of land that tapers into a triangle at the back.

The first floor is occupied by the home owner's mother, and the living and dining rooms. There is also an 8m-long pool.

The home owner, his wife and their two sons have their rooms on the second level, while the attic is used as the children's study and play area. It cost $1.68 million to build the house.

The owner plans to purchase a small empty plot of land at the back of his house to build an annex if his sons decide to live with him when they have their own families. His current house just caters for the existing members.

For both houses, Ms Wu used different materials on the facade to "divide" the house according to the different generations and new additions.

For example, in the smaller house, conwood - a natural wood replacement concrete panel - is used on the facade to highlight the part of the house that will be carved out in the future.

The living room in the 7,093 sq ft house faces a pool. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

In the bigger house, the new attic floor and its roof are clad in an off-form, timber-grained coloured concrete, showcasing the new part of the house.

Ms Wu says: "Both houses are multi-generational now though they showcase two families at different stages of their lives.

"The manifestation of each house's architecture depends on the owner's needs and wants, but both are forward-thinking."

The facades of the two multi-generational houses. PHOTO: TAN HAI HAN

Small on the outside, big on the inside

Architect Warren Liu's house may be sandwiched between two single storey terrace houses in Opera Estate, but it hardly feels claustrophobic inside.

Wind flows easily through the house, thanks to large openings in the facade at the front and back of the house.

Pops of green lighten the grey, rough plaster facade of the house (above). ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Instead of windows on the second level, Mr Liu, who is the principal of architecture firm A D Lab, opted for mechanised shutters.

These come down when the family turns in for the night or when it rains heavily. Otherwise, they are up most of the day and help enhance the home's openness.

These shutters are also used on the third level, where there is a recreational area.

The house is so open that birds have flown through it. Mr Liu, 48, who lives there with his architecturally-trained wife and their two children aged 10 and 12, says: "Big windows would have cost a fortune and shutters are a practical, cheaper option. We get so much sunlight here that there's no need to rely on artificial light as much."

There is an airwell in the centre of the house that acts as a wind conduit and channels cool air down.

Although the house sits on a site area of about 1,400 sq ft, it feels bigger than it actually is indoors, thanks to tiered levels linked by short flights of stairs.

Architect Warren Liu (above) in his living room, which is connected to an outdoor garden. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

For example, a couple of steps down the living room takes you to the open-concept kitchen and dining room.

The children's rooms and the recreation room are on the third level, while the master bedroom and guest bedroom are on the top floor.

The guest room has a steep staircase which leads you to a cosy outdoor nook parked in between the two pitched roofs of the house. Here, faux grass covers the floor.

The green-fingered architect has filled his home with plants, such as a leafy ficus tree in the centre of a water feature at the bottom of the airwell.

He built a seating area on one side of the water feature, where one can work or read. It also provides extra seating too if they run out of space at their dining table.

The dining room (above) shares space with an open-concept kitchen and a pool. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The front garden, which is above the car porch, is a quiet, hang-out spot with a view of the street below. Leafy green plants shield the family from passers-by.

The stairs between the recreation area and children's rooms have money plants in hydroponic pots creeping up tension cables, which replace the traditional balustrade. There are also indoor trees planted in big pots.

Mr Liu says: "You get that benefit of being close to nature even if you're indoors. The plants also help to cool down the house."

With space being in short supply, many of their furniture pieces do double duty: A couch in the recreation room can be turned into a pull-out bed, while a treadmill has a built-in desk and can be converted into a bench when needed.

Mr Liu also got creative with the bathroom in the master bedroom. It is housed in a glass box but outsiders cannot look in as one-way mirror glass was used.

The master bedroom opens up to a balcony (above). A roof pitched with faux grass muffles the sound of rain. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

He did this so that he would not have to put up brick walls, which would occupy more space than glass.

The entire house cost about $800,000 to build from scratch.

Mr Liu was able to use the space so creatively that he even managed to fit in a 2.2m-wide pool next to the dining room.

He says: "Even on a small plot of land, we managed to do quite a lot, and still keep the space open and bright."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline Rebuilding designs for houses. Subscribe