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A Colonial-Inspired 5-Room HDB Home That Doesn’t Feel Dated

December 26, 2019
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Traditional Peranakan tiles and contemporary clean lines meet in this dietitian’s heartland home with a black-and-white theme.

Just recently, dietitian Annabelle Johnson (@healthyfolk) completed a makeover of a 5-room HDB resale home in Jurong East, which she shares with her husband, Taylor, as well as her two adopted pet cats, Charlotte and Scout. Her inspiration? Traditional buildings from Singapore’s past.

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“There’s such amazing architecture in Singapore,” says the bubbly homeowner who previously resided in Australia for her studies before moving back here. “My dream home is a black-and-white house – like those built by the British in the 30s. I love the look of traditional shophouses too, so there are elements from both of these types of buildings mixed into one.”

Subsequently, this love for classic design led to a home that while “generally quite clean or clear” still keeps “the bearing (of a colonial bungalow) in mind”. To get a clearer idea of what this elegant vision entails and how it was achieved, we asked Annabelle about this personal renovation project as well as the creative process behind it.

About herself and her home

Annabelle (A): Hi! I am Annabelle and I live here with my husband, Taylor. I was drawn to local buildings as a source of inspiration for our home because I think they’re really beautiful and are an important part of Singapore’s history.

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I don’t have an exact name for the style of our home, but I’d say it’s Singaporean with a little bit of an Asian touch to it, and also all of your modern conveniences as well.

About the design process

A: I think we had a very clear idea of what we wanted and how to get them done. For myself, it was about picking out specific design elements, like what materials and type of flooring to include in the house and finding ways to pull them together.

It helped that Taylor has had experience in renovating houses as it tends to be more of a hands-on process in Australia; because Taylor is an engineer, he also sketched out our floor plan on a computer and that came in handy when pinning down the details with our contractor.

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The SketchUp floor plan created by Annabelle’s husband, Taylor.

We’re glad that we found a good contractor as well. When it comes to the little technical things – like ensuring your kitchen cabinets don’t open into the lights or having enough room between your wardrobe and bathroom doors – it’s easy for me to miss these details, because of how focused I can get about the aesthetics.

About her home’s new look

A: I think the living room is probably my most favourite part of the house, and it’s the one that looks the most different. When we’re at home, it’s where we spend most of our time relaxing. Usually, we’d just pick a book and hang around here.

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Jurong East HDB resale flat renovation
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The living room, before (above) and after (bottom) after the renovation. As part of Annabelle’s plan to reclaim space within her home, the original ceiling cove was torn down and replaced with a new false ceiling, but this time with less depth.

What’s more, both Taylor and I aren’t TV-watchers, so we don’t have a TV in our house. Instead, we’ve got this massive bookcase to serve as the centrepiece of our home – it’s the IKEA BILLY, which including the extension for the top row, cost us like what? About $600? Also, it makes for a good conversation starter because the books on it are quite indicative of our lifestyles and interests.

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A large part of how we designed our house was based on the materials that we liked, and that includes wood and other natural materials, so from the start, I knew that a pure solid wood dining table was what we wanted.

We ended up doing plenty of research and shopping for Suar wood tables before finding the right one at Wood Capitol. Our coffee table is a cross-section of a tree, which I think is also quite interesting.

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Designing our kitchen took a long time. It isn’t small, but definitely not as big as some of the ones that you get overseas. Getting the working triangle – the space between your stove, fridge and sink – right took some planning too, and it was a bit frustrating having to fit things around our appliances, but it did pay off because now when people come over, they find our kitchen quite easy and intuitive to work in.

The other design limitations we faced were the positions of the water pipes and power points and having to ensure that the natural light didn’t get blocked out; our solution then was to have the tall appliances, like the washing machine and fridge, placed as far as possible away from the window.

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Oh yes, another design inspiration of mine is Violet Oon, I love her restaurants and cafes. There was some apprehension when I first expressed my plans to have black doors and feature cabinets, but after taking a look at her eateries that have them too, I was convinced they could look good in a home!

Jurong East HDB resale flat renovation
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Jurong East HDB resale flat renovation
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Prior to the renovation, the guest bedroom (top) and master bedroom (bottom) were connected. “The previous owners tore down the wall between them, so we had to rebuild it,” shares Annabelle.

We kept the design for the bedrooms quite simple because it’s just the both of us at the moment. We also didn’t do any built-ins, save for the master bedroom’s wardrobes, to keep the design flexible for anything that we want to do in the future. There’s also an empty nook in the guest room that we filled in with a stack of drawers, which I think worked quite well.

And even though we have our household shelter to thank for as a convenient spot to stow away not-so-nice things like our luggage bags and vacuum cleaner, we have got under-bed storage in both of the bedrooms as well.

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Jurong East HDB resale flat renovation
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The master bedroom, before (above) and after (bottom) after its makeover.

Overall, the bedrooms are quite peaceful, soothing and don’t have too much going on, because we wanted them to feel welcoming for ourselves and any guests from Australia whom my husband might have over.

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Out of all the traditional design elements that I picked out, Peranankan tiles were a feature that I was definitely interested in, but when you have such a strong design, it tends to feel overwhelming, so I made the decision to put them just in the bathroom, rather than the entire house. It definitely worked out nicely, because there’s now this nice contrast between the floor and the concrete tiles used for the bathroom walls.

To sum up

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A: We never know what the future will bring, but for the moment, I am definitely in love and very happy with this place, so there aren’t any plans at all to move out.

Also, I would love for more local homeowners to truly embrace their cultural roots because it would definitely be exciting to see classic designs, like Peranakan patterns, going mainstream and appearing more often in Singapore homes.


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