A home is often said to be built for life. But the truth is, things change. Families expand and shrink. Needs and habits shift. And inevitably, a home evolves along with the times too.
As was the case for homeowner Cass Xu (@cass.xu) - fed up with water-stains on her walls due to a structural phenomenon and old built-ins falling apart, the mother-of-two decided it was time for a major fix up. Factor in the growing kids and an aging mother-in-law, an overhaul was also needed to match the household’s changing needs.
Redesigning the 110sqm flat into a sleek, modern-contemporary space, Cass opens the doors to her chic home and shares with us how she gave her worn-out resale a new lease of life:
About Cass and her family
Cass (C): Hi, I'm Cass, and I'm a homemaker and full-time mom to two kids, aged 9 and 10. Together with my husband and mother-in-law, we've lived in our 5-room HDB flat in Queenstown for the last 13 years.
On why they decided to revamp their 13-year-old flat
C: We've been living in this flat since 2006. Back then, we didn't have a huge budget to do a full renovation, and we left our bathrooms as HDB provided them. However, within the second year, the tiles in the toilets fell off - and we basically lived with it for the next decade! As the years passed, more and more problems started to crop up - our piping by the washer and dryer had burst and was causing our carpentry to break down and 'rot', water seepage was also causing a smell about the house.
C: Then, there were our two growing kids as well. They've lived in this home ever since they were born. In our first renovation, we opted for a minimalist look, all whites and clean-cut built ins. But with children running and touching the walls - it has all become really grimy and messy. On top of making repairs, we thought it might be a good chance for us renew the space and prepare for our children's future needs - which was why we decided to construct an additional study room which might double as my son's bedroom in the future.
Other improvements they wanted in their revamped home
C: We wanted to install air-conditioning throughout our entire house, as we entertain friends and family regularly. In certain months, there's no wind coming in from our side of the block, and it gets really hot and stuffy with many people in the house. Having cooler air in the living area would make it more comfortable for everyone.
C: I also wanted a communal living and dining space without a TV in it. As we all watch different channels, there's no way for us to share a single TV set - we'd just end up going into our rooms. So, I wanted to create an open space where family and friends could just sit around and spend quality time with one another after dinner, without the distraction of TV.
About the design of the house
C: In terms of design, I've always wanted a monochromatic theme with dark woods in my home. However, my ID advised that a black-and-white scheme might be too contrasting, so she suggested softening the look with dark greys instead. And having learnt my lesson early on with kids staining and ruining the built-ins, I wanted loose furniture instead that I could easily swap out. And as for the plants - well I didn't plan for it! I just wanted to buy something to fill up empty spaces in the living area. But after buying the second one - it started becoming an addiction. And here we are now.
About the works done
C: We redid our kitchen, the two bathrooms, carved out a study room from the existing living area and renovated the living, dining and foyer areas. In total, we spent about $59,000 on renovation works alone. However, a large chunk actually went to hacking, repairs and removal of the old structures.
About working an interior designer over a contractor
C: My husband and I decided early on that we didn’t want a contractor. We’ve heard stories from friends about how problematic resale home renovations can be, and thought it’ll be better to have the expertise of an interior designer. Because there are many existing built-ins within the resale unit, sometimes certain designs or ideas may not be feasible, and you’ll need to redesign. We thought it'd be better to get an ID who can come up with alternative solutions instead of us having to not only manage but also think about the planning of the house.
About working with their interior designer
C: Ash was the last ID out of the 6 we spoke to, and she was also the one who gave us the highest quotation. However, we still decided to go with her, as her quotation was very clearly laid out, and she was able to patiently explain to us each and every detail, which made us assured and aware of what we were getting into.
Some hiccups and challenges they've met along the way
C: We were very impressed with Ash and her ability to provide design solutions, but there were a lot of careless mistakes made. One instance was the half-tiled wall she proposed to help us 'save' costs. We agreed to tile up to a height of 90cm. However, when I visited the house during renovation, I noticed that the tiles came up a bit short, and asked her if it was the right height. She assured it was, I found out that the tiles were not anywhere near 90cm when I was measuring dimensions for my sink cabinet. She had do to the retiling again - and even then, the tiles weren't cut or grouted properly.
C: We also had a problem with wet patches showing up on our living room wall. No matter how many times we repainted or applied sealant, we just couldn't get rid of it. We soon found out that it was because of our HDB block's building material, which uses reclaimed sand that easily absorbs moisture in our humid weather. So, our painter (who's also our friend) proposed using Dulux Vinyl Matt paint to create a sort of 'cement' patina which would mask any stains in future.
Mirror from Crate and Barrel.
Some lessons learnt from the renovation
C: I feel that it’s really hard to pinpoint anything in particular because you’ll only realise things when you encounter them. You can’t foresee everything in advance. For instance, turns out that my kitchen hood is positioned too closely to the cabinets, which is obstructing the ventilation flow and causing flickering flames when I cook. I never knew I had that problem, until I started using it, and by then it was too late to change anything. My ID was also unaware of that problem.
C: Though on hindsight, one of our friends who works in the ID industry noted that we were charged particularly high for our masonry (e.g hacking, building walls), which he said was something IDs might do to provide themselves some leeway for any mishaps that might crop up in resale units. So, that might be something homeowners should watch out for.
On her favourite space(s)
C: One highlight of my home is definitely the kitchen, which is built according to my needs and family habits. Having the dry pantry area is great as I can use it as a prep station and still be able to interact with those in the dining area, whilst heavier cooking is kept enclosed in the wet kitchen. And because my husband and mother-in-law have a tendency to enter the kitchen whilst I’m cooking (back then), to get food from the refrigerator, the fridge is now located by the dry pantry to keep them from making oily footsteps all over the house!
C: The other highlight? My plants! Tending them is such a soothing experience and instantly refreshes my day. And because I have many small plants, I bought a display cabinet from Originals to place them - which I love. Now, the entire area has become a focal point and conversational piece. Everyone who comes in would walk over to the plants and start asking questions about it.
Display cabinet from Originals
Tips on caring for indoor plants
C: Don't water by schedule - water by checking if the soil is dry. Use your eyes to see if the top layer has dried up, or use a finger, poke in to check if it’s damp. I had a plant that had fibrous stems which I watered every Sunday. There was one particular week that had frequent heavy rains, and as a result the plant pot remained damp throughout. However, I stuck to my schedule, watering the plant as usual. By the next few days, the plant had too much moisture, suffered from root rot, and died. So, major lesson learnt!
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