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Bukit Merah 5-Room Flat Goes Casual-Chic with California-Inspired Look

Transformed from an old, but well-maintained home into a couple’s nest that’s classy, but not stuffy.

While it’s most certainly stylish – thanks to a harmonious pairing of natural and modern-day design elements – homeowners Elton and Zi Wei describe their 5-room HDB flat at Bukit Merah View as “a home that isn’t designed to impress”.

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“A lot of the features in our house are really just there to ensure we’re comfortable,” says Elton.

“When we started planning our renovation, some of the things that we first thought about were where we could lie down and chill, and whether there would be enough space for our friends and family to do the same. The basis of our renovation was really about making the whole house comfortable for everyone.”

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The living room, mid-renovation.

Relaxing vibes aside, the couple also gave serious thought to the aesthetics of their home, having been inspired by Californian Modern-style interiors, which they had seen on Instagram and design websites.

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“We were looking for ideas from US-based Instagram profiles like Studio McGee when we came upon this particular style called California Modern,” shares Zi Wei. “It’s a look that we really like; something homely and very well-put together but yet doesn’t feel too formal like a hotel suite.”

Next on the couple’s to-do list was to search for the right minds to take their ideas from paper to real-life, whom they eventually found in Anhans Interior Design designers Annie and Schubert. Keep scrolling to see how their renovation proceeded afterward!


About themselves and their home

Elton (E): We’re super-relaxed people, very laidback in general, and because of that, a lot of things in our house aren’t designed to impress; they’re just there to ensure that we’re comfortable, regardless of which part of the flat we’re in.

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Zi Wei (Z): We also wanted people to be able to instinctively tell that this is our home when they walk in. You know how sometimes homeowners will hide all their photos and personal belongings to make their space look very proper and hotel-like?

That’s not something we want to do, so we left all these memorabilia out in the open to give our home more personality. Speaking of which, we chose to have a Californian Modern theme for our home, because it’s relaxing, welcoming, and it has the right vibe that we were going for, which is elegant, but at the same time, very personal and lived-in.

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The living room and kitchen, pre-renovation.

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The floor plan of Elton and Zi Wei’s flat before the renovation.

E: To be honest, we spent almost a year searching for a house that could accommodate all our ideas. In fact, we started in January 2020, and we basically looked at everything, from condos to resale HDB flats, because we didn’t want to leave any stones unturned.

There were some criteria that we had in mind, which this 5-room flat meets. First of all, it’s suitably shaped for the layout that we wanted, and secondly, there’s no rubbish chute in the house – this is a plus for us because Zi Wei is concerned about insects. She also wanted a foyer, and this flat came with one so that’s another tick on our list.

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The floor plan of Elton and Zi Wei’s flat after the renovation.

After viewing this flat, we both knew that it was The One without us having to say anything to each other. Also, to be very frank, the previous owners kept this house in very good shape; everything was clean and well-maintained for its age, which gave us the reassurance that we wouldn’t encounter any unexpected ‘surprises’ during our renovation.

About creating the entryway foyer

E: The reason why we wanted this foyer is so that we’d have a space like a mudroom that’ll help ease our transition from outdoors to indoors. It’s a cosy corner where we can take our time to take off our shoes, put our bags down, and get into the mood to unwind.

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On one side of the foyer, there’s a window separating the entryway from the kitchen, but there wasn’t supposed to be one there initially; it was meant to be an empty space. Then, when we spoke to Annie about kitchen ventilation, we came to the realisation that there had to be a partition to prevent cooking fumes from spreading around the house.

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The entryway foyer, mid renovation.

Z: Back during the 3D planning stage, Anhans had proposed various tile patterns for the foyer, but none of those options really caught our eye, so Elton started Googling for “Victorian tiles” online, that’s when we found options from Italy which matched what we had in mind.

Anhans was kind enough to help us import the tiles that we chose; everything from the liaison to planning was done by them, and they even ordered extra pieces, so we’d have spares if replacements are ever needed.

On the living room’s makeover

Z: The concept for our living room began with our sofa, which is the centrepiece of the space. We had already purchased it before our renovation started, and we told Annie and Shubert that we wanted it to be a part of our home's design.

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It’s hard to tell from the photos, but our sofa is actually really huge. It’s about 3.65m long, and we got it from King Living.

Because of its size, the movers were barely able to get our sofa up the stairs and into the house. We were told that it was way too big for an HDB flat, but we went ahead with the order because we wanted a generous sofa like the ones we saw in U.S. homes.

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View of the living room from the foyer, mid-renovation.

E: Essentially, we wanted to live big in our flat, and having a large sofa like this one would allow us to utilise our living room fully. Also, another living room accessory that’s customised to our liking is our rug from LivingDNA.

We told LivingDNA that we wanted something that looked vintage, but not shabby; and they were able to provide us with a small swatch made of New Zealand wool, which is higher quality and looks less glossy. That gave us a good idea of how the full rug would look like even before it was made.

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A sideboard with tribal prints from Originals stands out against a backdrop of white. “This piece was suggested by Annie, and when she added it to the initial 3D mock-up, we knew that we had to buy it,” shares Zi Wei.

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Z: We actually struggled with what to do for our feature wall, because both of us didn’t know what to go for. So, we left it to Anhans to propose ideas to us. They suggested having an entire wall of wood-look laminates and we were initially quite afraid that it would look too artificial.

E: But anyway, when they executed the idea, we were very happy with the result. What’s behind the feature wall is our storeroom; there’s a door in the gypsum board partition which opens up to a hidden passageway that’s about 1.5m wide and spans the entire length of the living room.

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Part of the original study room was converted into a concealed storeroom.

The storeroom used to be a study beside the living room, and after the wall between them was torn down, we decided to utilise part of the freed-up space to expand the living room and use the rest of it for storage.

Our home is generally tidy because we keep everything compartmentalised in our storeroom, plus the space itself is quite well-ventilated because the original windows of the study are still in there.

About renovating the kitchen

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The kitchen, pre-renovation.

E: When we were looking for interior designers, the kitchen was a point of contention because most of the designers we met didn’t understand our expectations. We approached five design firms, and no one could really grasp the open-concept layout that we wanted.

Only Annie understood what we wanted, and she also explained to us why our ideas couldn’t be fully achieved due to the structure of our flat. For example, although we wanted a kitchen that’s fully exposed, there’s a load-bearing pillar between the kitchen and the walkway which can’t be demolished.

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The dishwasher installed below the indoor window is a must-have for Elton and Zi Wei. “We got to use one during our university exchange and it was amazing,” says Elton.

Z: Some of the designers we spoke to also told us that it would be impossible to have an island in our kitchen, but Annie was able to come up with a layout that’s a balance between what we wanted and what’s realistic for the space.

There were a number of iterations for the kitchen layout, each with differences in the positions of the sink, countertop, fridge, and stoves, but after much discussion, we finally came to a consensus on where all these items should be.

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The kitchen, mid-renovation.

Z: For our kitchen island, I told Annie and Shubert that I wanted it to look more grounded. I know it’s now very trendy to have super-thin surfaces for a cleaner look, but I prefer having an island that looks sturdier, so we requested Anhans to give it a countertop with a bulkier profile that’s about 40mm wide on the top and sides.

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E: We’ve also had a lot of people asking us about the maintenance of our mosaic backsplash, and we ourselves were quite concerned when Annie first proposed the idea to us.

However, she told us not to worry because the grouts were quite large and can be scrubbed easily, but for our peace of mind, a layer of waterproofing was applied over the tiles for extra protection.

About revamping the master bedroom

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Z: I remember that when Annie first presented this wood-heavy look for our bedroom, I felt that it was too plain. But after seeing 3D renders featuring fluted or board and batten walls, I then realised that we’d have to be very selective about the bed frame and other accessories, in order to ensure that they’d match the surroundings.

So, we ended up going with Annie’s proposal to use wood laminates; there’s still some detailing, but not too much so that the final result doesn’t look overcomplicated.

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The master bedroom, mid-renovation.

E: If you noticed, there are no conduits, exposed tracks, wires, or whatsoever around our house. That’s because one of the most important criteria that we had for our renovation was to keep all these parts hidden. Also, for this reason, the false ceiling in our bedroom is very important as it allowed us to install recessed lights instead of exposed ones.

Zi Wei was the one who discussed our lighting scheme with Annie, and they also made the decision to equip our house with kinetic switches from Ganen.

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Kinetic switches are self-powered, which means they don’t need batteries to run even though they’re wireless, and they can be paired with a transmitter to turn on/off any compatible appliances, such as our downlights from Sol Luminaire.

Moreover, having them gave us the flexibility to plan our spaces without having to worry too much about where the wires should run.

On creating the walk-in wardrobe

E: The walk-in wardrobe is like a passageway into the en suite. Some of the cabinets that we have here are see-through while others are opaque.

We use the ones with clear glass doors only for the belongings that we feel are aesthetically pleasing, like my suits, Zi Wei’s dresses, and her handbags. The rest go into the L-shaped cabinets with bluish-grey doors that are near the walk-in wardrobe’s entrance.

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Z: I’m quite particular about how our clothes are stored, so during the planning stage of our renovation, I made sure that our cabinets would be tall enough to cater to the full length of our clothes.

I measured how much space they’d take up when suspended from a hanger, then after that, I informed Annie about these details so that she would be able to come up with plans for sufficiently-sized storage units.

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E: For the makeup vanity at the end of the room, there’s actually a pull-out mirror hidden within one of the side cabinets. I came up with this concept because having a mirror on the desk would block the sunlight entering from the windows. Anhans fabricated the mirror for us, and Zi Wei uses it, so I think it’s a good idea (laughs).

About renovating the en suite and common bathroom

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Part of the original master bedroom (now the walk-in wardrobe) was used to expand the confines of the common bathroom and en suite.

E: Both the common bathroom and en suite are much larger after the renovation because they’ve been expanded outwards by about 1m towards the original master bedroom that’s currently our walk-in wardrobe.

We did this on purpose so there would be enough space for distinct wet and dry areas, which the toilets previously lacked. It’s a trade-off that’s worth it for both safety reasons and because, like I so often tell Zi Wei, bathrooms are personal sanctuaries for guys (laughs).

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Leftover marble flooring slabs from the previous homeowners were used to create the en suite’s niche shelves.

Other than making more space for the en suite, we also installed a his-and-hers vanity inside, so that we don’t have to share a single sink in the mornings. Also, it lets us be in the same space, at the same time, which lets us spend more of these little moments in life together.

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The common bathroom’s entrance before (left) and during (right) the renovation.

Z: The common bathroom has a similar layout as our en suite, but the fixtures are mounted slightly lower so it’s easier for our parents to use when they come over. Likewise, we also added a shower partition so that the rest of the bathroom stays dry.

Another major change that we made was to shift the position of the bathroom’s entrance from inside the kitchen to beside the living area. Doing this gave us more space to segregate the different parts of the common bathroom, and also make it easier to access.

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To sum up

E: We’ve been staying in our home for about 6 months now, and of course, we really love it. There haven’t really been any issues and we’re grateful that the Anhans team did an immaculate job on the house. My parents came over and they commented that the quality of workmanship is very good.

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Granted that there’s a premium price tag attached to our renovation, but it’s reasonable because of the level of detail and number of requests that we had.

Annie and Schubert also provided a high standard of service. Back when we were still renovating, there was a COVID-19 cluster in the area, but they stuck to the promised timeline as best as they could; there was only a one-week delay because some of the workers were infected.

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Z: I think Elton has covered most of what we wanted to say, but I just want to express that we’re thankful that our renovation journey went very smoothly. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from my friends, such as delays due to COVID-19, but nothing really major cropped up for us, and that’s definitely a blessing.

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