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Family’s 4-Room BTO Flat in Queenstown Gets Serene ‘Japandi’ Makeover

Where Scandinavian chic meets Japanese minimalism for a cosy and functional home.

It’s no surprise that many homeowners are taken by the ‘Japandi’ concept – this fusion of Japanese and Scandinavian interior styles features simple designs and tranquil colour palettes while incorporating natural materials for an aesthetic finish.

That’s what the owners of this 4-room BTO flat in Queenstown wanted for their home too – especially since it would also reflect the husband’s Japanese roots.

They reached out to interior designer Gabriel Ng, from HOFT, to transform their home and the results are nothing short of impressive!

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We spoke to Gabriel to find out how he helped the owners to achieve their desired look and include elements like a bathtub inspired by those found in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns).

As he shares, “The final result is very well-balanced, both in terms of layout and colour scheme. It doesn’t overdo the Japanese elements and overall, it’s very comfortable.”


About the homeowners and their home

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Gabriel (G): When we were planning the renovation, the owners of this 4-room BTO flat were fully aligned on a ‘Japandi’ concept. Since the husband is half-Japanese, he and his wife wanted to blend in some Japanese-inspired elements.

They also have a young child, so they wanted a simple and cosy space where they could all relax.

Since the house is rather compact, our main challenge was to keep it feeling light while making space for their needs, like storage solutions and appliances.

WATCH: Designer Gabriel talks about giving the home a makeover


On renovating the living room and study/play area

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G: I’d say this ‘TV island wall’ is the first thing that catches your attention when you enter the home. It was an idea we suggested to open up the communal space.

What we did was hack the original junior bedroom wall and build a TV-sized ‘island wall’ in the middle. We also fitted two wooden slat doors on either side so that there are two entrances. It’s essentially like a feature divider between the spaces.

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Pre-renovation floorplan

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Post-renovation floorplan

G: If we had kept the original wall, the TV feature wall would be next to the bedroom door in this awkward position that’s off-centre. Redoing it helped us to align everything to the centre while maintaining enough space for the slat doors.

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G: Since the owners needed storage space, there’s a full-height cupboard in the space behind the island wall. Apart from that, this room is split into two areas: half is a study area for the couple, and the rest is a play area for their child.

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G: Since the doors have slats, the owners can also keep an eye on their child, no matter whether the doors are open or not. Design-wise, this also helps to keep the space visually open.

To further emphasise the connection between this study/play area and the rest of the communal space, we used large-format tiles (60cm by 60cm) throughout.

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G: The homeowners also wanted to include some unique Japanese-style details and displays in the living room. For example, there’s a customised traditional Japanese curtain hanging over the household shelter, and ‘framed’ bonsai displays.


About the dining room

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“These customised rattan-look pendant lights were made by tying the strings to the oak frames of the lights,” says Gabriel.

G: For a cohesive communal area, we kept the whole colour palette to a neutral theme with soothing tones. We also layered curtains over blinds across the living and dining areas to create soft, natural lighting.

Apart from that, nailing the ‘Japandi’ look boiled down to the natural elements we proposed; there’s a mixture of wood, stone and other rough textures that elevate the whole concept.

Because of space constraints, we didn’t add built-ins in the dining area, which could look plain. To bring attention to it, we did a ‘backdrop’ with this stucco wall inspired by various Japanese interiors we’ve seen.

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G: It’s very versatile, so in terms of colour, we could have it in this subtle beige-like colour to match the rest of the living room.

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A close-up of the stucco wall

G: What’s also great about this rougher texture is that it’s not a standard pattern. There’s an element of ‘randomness’ to it which the homeowners loved.

Thanks to the textural look, the patterns have a unique appearance under different lighting conditions, and when shadows fall on them.

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G: Since the owners still needed some storage space, we built a seamless L-shaped cabinet that extends from the entrance to the living room wall, which includes a shoe cabinet.

On the living room side, the cabinet is like a dry kitchen or pantry. The homeowners mainly use this space to prep their kid’s food and to store some dry items. It’s much more convenient than going back and forth from the wet kitchen.

On the whole, we kept the built-ins to a minimum in this space so that it doesn’t get cluttered.


On making over the kitchen

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G: The kitchen is rather small, so a major challenge we faced was concealing the necessary piping for the gas heater behind the built-in cabinets.

To make sufficient space, we hacked the service yard wall and then clustered the different appliances by function. While you can’t see it in the pictures, there’s the washing bay with the washer and dryer units, and an industrial-style sink for washing rougher or heavier items on the left.

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G: While we kept an overall wood look like the rest of the home, we used EDL Compact for the backsplash. Not only is it easy to maintain, but it also comes with this ‘raw’ cement look.

We also used Dekton for the countertops, as we did for the dry kitchen, since the material is durable and has natural grains and textures.


On changing up the common bathroom

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G: The common bathroom has deep greens and shades of grey to capture the atmosphere at a ryokan, which is what this space was inspired by. For me, the highlight is the accent wall backing the bathtub, made of green finger mosaic tiles.

The owners were keen on having a ryokan-like wooden bathtub initially, since it was one of their dreams. However, it wasn’t practical since the bathroom is a wet area and maintenance will be a pain.

So, we suggested a built-in bathtub instead. While the master ensuite was too small for one, we managed to fit a full-sized tub in the common bathroom.

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G: For the vanity, we fashioned the customised sink entirely from the same slab of industrial quartz. We didn’t use a porcelain basin so that we could keep the look seamless.

We had to compromise the depth of the sink though, to ensure enough walking space into the bathroom.

If you look closer, you’ll see the little niche we included – it extends from the sink area so that the owners can sit here and bathe their kid.


About the master bedroom and ensuite

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G: For continuity to the rest of the home, we used a light palette in the master bedroom. It’s a simple, restful space with a single wardrobe with sliding doors – this also meant we didn’t have to worry about swing space.

This simple colour scheme also allows the homeowners to create a different mood/atmosphere just by changing their bedsheets.

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G: The door panels were actually made from Japanese-inspired wood and fabric laminate finishes, which is what gives the wardrobe a Japanese feel.

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G: In the ensuite, the owners wanted to switch things up and mimic the darker ryokan kind of style they’re more inclined towards.

That’s why the finish is much darker – there are wood-look tiles for the flooring and walls, and a granite stone sink we selected together for a touch of the stone-like elements we have in other parts of the house.


To sum up

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G: Personally, I enjoy this kind of soothing and functional concept that makes the most of the space – I’m quite happy with how it all turned out. I had a good experience working with the homeowners too, since it felt like an open collaboration and we could always find a middle ground for our ideas.

I would say this home is like a canvas for the homeowners. There’s not too much carpentry, so they have the flexibility to update their home with loose furniture and decor in the future.

But for now, what’s most important is that they’re really enjoying how cosy their home is!


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