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An Eclectic Tiong Bahru 4-Room Flat That’s Purposely Messy

December 2, 2020

As people who “buy a lot more than they need”, these homeowners wanted a space that could accommodate clutter naturally.

Thanks to its all-white walls and well-appointed spaces, Lauren and Lloyd’s (@flat_bahru) self-designed home carries the image of a tidy house well enough at first glance – but look more closely and you’ll get why the couple describes their 4-room resale HDB flat in Tiong Bahru as “messy”.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

For instance, a quick peek into a green filing cabinet drawer sitting on one of the living room’s shelves will reveal that it’s almost filled to the brim with all manner of personal belongings – from face masks to pairs of sunglasses. (“To be honest, we don’t even know what we put in here,” says Lauren.)

While any neat freak would understandably baulk at such a home storage solution, the fact is that it perfectly embodies the concept of Lloyd and Lauren’s flat as a space that embraces mess as naturally as it accumulates it.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

“I wanted it to be a home that could very easily incorporate clutter,” says Lauren. “Like if I were to leave books and cups all over the place, they wouldn’t look out of place.”

To better understand this one-of-a-kind design vision, we had a chat with the amicable couple about their renovation that took place over the lockdown period – and also why the process involved literal blood, sweat and tears.

About themselves and their home’s concept

Lauren (La): As a person, I tend to be very messy and I’m also someone who isn’t willing to change myself for my home – that’s why it’s built in a way that I’m comfortable with.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

I guess a lot of Singaporeans tend to gravitate towards minimalist or Scandinavian looks, but that’s something I wanted to avoid because it just didn’t mesh with my vision of a home. In fact, as a person who buys more than I need, I sometimes find the idea of minimalism to be stressful because it's all about buying just what you need.

Someone once asked me what the style of our home is, and to be frank, I don’t know what to call it. That’s because we didn’t really adhere to one style or theme, but if I had to describe the look, I think it’s quite eclectic and also maximalist.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

The living room (right) and study (left) before the renovation. (Credit: @flat_bahru)

Lloyd (Ll): I put a lot of trust in Lauren as the creative mind behind this house. I think it’s because I didn’t really have a design style of my own until I got to know her, but now, my preferences have been influenced by her taste.

There are elements here that I wouldn’t have included in my own room in the past – things like soft furnishings, plants and abstract art. in a way, my style has changed just like our home has.

On getting hands-on for their renovation

La: We were very intimately involved with the renovation of our home. Apart from liasing with the sub-contractors ourselves, we also worked on the house with our own hands. For example, we experimented with wood staining to see if we could achieve the colours that we wanted.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Credit: @flat_bahru

Also, Lloyd was the one who did the sanding of our cement screed floor. Every week, we’d come down with a sanding machine to even out the finish of the cement screed and he’d then painstakingly patch up any holes with putty.

We really did put our blood, sweat and tears into this renovation and I feel that’s what makes the entire experience especially precious to us.

About the living room’s renovation

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: It’s always been my dream to have an extremely large shelf that I can dump all my stuff on because I wanted my house to be a collection of our experiences and everything we like.

But of course, there’s an element of functionality to this part of the living room as well – there was a recess in the wall at the front of the living room that the previous owners had left exposed, so we filled it up before fastening the shelf to the floor and ceiling as part of the facade.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru
4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Ll: One thing that we didn’t want to do was to follow the typical living room layout where the TV is the focal point of the space and it’s why we got The Frame TV from Samsung because it looks just like another art piece.

Our sofa is pushed all the way to the side of the living room; this ensures that it’s aligned to the TV but doesn’t take up walkway space. Also, one good thing about our sofa is that the backrest is movable, so we can configure it as a long chaise which lets us lie down comfortably.

About designing the dining area

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: Because we moved in the day right before the Circuit Breaker started, our home didn’t look like how it does now when we first started living in it. We didn’t even have dining chairs! The rest of the house was also barely furnished because we weren’t able to visit any physical shops; most of the pieces we have here were bought online.

Our current dining chairs were ordered from overseas and the interesting thing about them is that their metal handles were intentionally rusted, which gives them a distressed look.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

The dining area’s artworks consist of paintings bought overseas and pieces painted by the owners themselves. “I chose these abstract paintings because they’re whimsical, maybe even a little crazy,” says Lauren.

Another interesting bit about our dining area is the art wall; one of the reasons why it’s there is because I didn’t want to commit to painting the dining area in a specific colour, like say blue or green.

The idea of having a house that’s like a blank canvas is important to me because it gives me the freedom and flexibility to change its appearance. Just imagine, if I were to remove all of these paintings and replace them with a big one, the dining area would look quite different.

On changes made to the kitchen

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: The previous owner had left the kitchen’s entrance open, so if we had kept the doorway in its original rectangular shape, it would look like we forgot to install a door [laughs], that’s why we gave it a new overhead arch.

On the inside, I wanted the kitchen to be a clean, simple, and functional space and I thought that white walls would contribute to that impression; as a result, we didn’t install a backsplash. However, I’ve since learned how important it is to have a backsplash, and if there’s one thing I’d do differently for our renovation, that would be it.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

We reconfigured the kitchen’s layout quite significantly because the original configuration would have given us only a sliver of usable countertop space. Plus, the space isn’t very large, and we had to be careful about the placement of larger appliances like the fridge, which ended up being in the yard after we opened it up by removing the partition windows.

That said, the current L-shaped counter layout that we have is still quite compact; we opted to have only one sink and a single pair of induction hobs because that’s the only way we’d have enough counter space to prepare food together in the kitchen at the same time.

On the study’s makeover

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: During the lockdown, we spent quite a lot of time indoors and that gave us the opportunity to figure out exactly how we wanted our furniture to be placed in our home.

For instance, the study’s table was initially tucked against the window, but after using it in that configuration a couple of days, we realised that we would be more comfortable facing each other, so we ended up moving it to the centre of the room.

Also, I think this is a good example of what I mean when I say that our design process was iterative, because it involved us living in our home for a while, figuring out what we’re comfortable with, and then making the changes we want.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Ll: The study was originally its own enclosed room, but we made the conscious decision to open it up because that would widen the walkway on the outside and also allow more natural light to enter the house.

The sliding doors are customised from lightweight plywood and if you were to shut them, you’ll immediately notice how much darker the walkway becomes.

About the master bedroom and walk-in wardrobe’s makeover

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: Although we had expanded the original master bedroom by merging it with another room and ‘pushing’ the entrance outwards into the communal areas, our sleeping space is still fairly compact, so we made sure to get a platform bed with storage that allows us to stow away whatever we want.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

It might be less of a house hack than a relationship hack, but Lauren and Lloyd recommend getting two single duvets instead of a king-sized one. “Having two duvets makes adjusting to married life easier, because no one will be pulling on the other person’s blanket at night,” says Lloyd.

Storage was our main criteria when choosing our bed – we didn’t want it to come with any interesting or cool headboards, just a functional low-height frame that doesn’t make the sleeping area look even smaller. We also got a projector instead of a TV, which is great because we wouldn’t need to have additional built-ins in the space.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Not wanting to leave the wall behind the bedroom door empty, the homeowners installed a shallow shelf where they display various pottery pieces as well as houseplants, including a pet “monster cactus” that has outgrown its pot.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru
4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Ll: I guess in a sense our walk-in wardrobe is a multipurpose space because it functions as a study and exercise room as well. We have our exercise bike stored here and it’s also where Lauren works at home.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

La: The thing about working here is that it actually helps my productivity. Because of the partition doors, I’m able to get privacy I need for things like video calls. I really like working here, it feels really cosy and comforting even though it's a small space.

Also, when you have two people working from home, one study just isn’t enough. And from a relationship standpoint, I guess having two home offices helps too – because even if you’re married to each other, it’s still important to each have your own private spaces.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

“To be honest, I didn’t give the en suite bathroom’s design much thought [laughs],” says Lauren. “We just wanted a functional space, so we installed some old-fashioned tiles, a dimmable sconce, and vintage fittings. We were also a bit lazy with the design so we got our sinks and cabinet from IKEA instead of customising them.”

To sum up

La: I think I speak for us as a couple when I say that this renovation is a luxury that we’re lucky to be able to enjoy – it’s only possible because we had both the time and freedom to accomplish what we wanted.

For example, I’m sure that plenty of homeowners will tell you that cement screed flooring isn’t great for family homes, but we were able to indulge ourselves by having this feature in our home and other ‘impractical’ ones, such as having a large walk-in wardrobe, because it’s just the two of us living here.

4-room HDB flat renovation singapore tiong bahru

Basically, if Lloyd and I were to have kids in the future, I don’t think we’d be able to pull off a hands-on renovation like this again, but I’m definitely happy with everything that we did to make our home what it is today. We also now know how difficult it is to get certain renovation works done, and that’s why this project will always be an experience that’s close to our hearts.

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