Old Meets New in This Rare, 1950s Post-War HDB Flat
In today’s landscape of cookie-cutter BTOs, old-school HDB flats are rare gems, coveted for their unique layout and architectural features.
And nestled right in the heart of Tiong Bahru, Jake and Jia Ling’s quaint, post-war HDB flat is a classic example of such a space done right. One can say it was a lucky break; after tireless attempts to get a BTO (10 times, to be exact), their patience finally paid off when they managed to score a self-contained, 3-room SIT apartment.
“The previous owner was a 93-year-old uncle who found it increasingly difficult to climb 3 flights of stairs to his home, and wanted to move to somewhere newer with a lift.” Jake explains.
But of course, the stairs are just a part of the 60-year-old apartment’s storied charm. Along with double balconies, old-school transom windows and retro terrazzo floors, the young couple’s new abode is a stylish step back in time - with a fresh twist. Carefully restoring most of the flat’s original features, the apartment is equally injected with fresh, modern touches – from white, minimal-looking walls to clean-cut furnishings.
The result? An airy, relaxing space that perfectly plays up its history and heritage. Definitely not your typical HDB, we pop by to find out how the two flipped over their old-meets-new resale apartment.
Qanvast: What made you decide to get this unit?
Jake (J): We actually applied for a BTO 10 times – we were quite picky when it came to location! Initially, we tried for the projects in Bidadari, but didn’t get them. So in the end, we decided to get a resale unit and this flat was the perfect fit. It’s near my parent’s place, our offices, and there’s a market right beside.
Jia Ling (JL): Though the flat was already 60 years old and the short lease was a concern, we decided that we could deal with that. We liked the layout of the space, and when we saw the unit, we could already envision what our home would be like.
Qanvast: What were some of the renovation works done to update the space?
J: We liked the terrazzo floor in the living room, so we kept that; it’s in a nice, neutral colour. Some of the interior designers we met suggested hacking it away, and that’s where we knew that we weren’t on the same page! We also decided to keep the parquet in the bedrooms, though they were in pretty bad condition. We thought it might be beyond saving, but our contractor assured us that after some sanding and polishing, it’d be fine.
JL: Most of our carpentry works were in the kitchen. We got ideas from Pinterest and showed them to our contractor. Based on standard measurements, he came up with this design for us. I liked those shaker-style cabinet doors, so even though it came with a higher price tag, I was willing to pay for it.
Qanvast: Those kitchen knobs!
JL: Those were purchased off Lazada, for only $2 each! We couldn’t really find a knob or handle that we liked, and they were all very expensive at the stores recommended by our contractor. He showed us how to change them, so we can change them in the future if we want.
Qanvast: Other than the kitchen, what were some other items that took a bulk of your renovation budget?
J: We spent quite a bit on electrical works, as well as hacking and plastering walls, separating our study and service yard with a wall, extending the bathroom and removing one of the bedroom doors, which was initially where our TV console is currently placed.
We opted for a false wall in the living room (about $200 to $300) and a real wall at the service yard, which cost almost twice the price (about $800 to $900). The false wall was pretty sound proof too so we thought it’s alright. The flat’s pretty old, and the walls are pretty solid. While hacking, the workers were commenting that it’s been a long time since they’ve hacked such a solid wall, and it took longer than usual! Luckily, the previous homeowner didn’t have much built-ins, so we saved on hacking those away.
JL: We also wanted to get wooden casement windows for the rooms – just like how it was originally – but it was too expensive.
Qanvast: Sounds like you kept a lot of the original elements, and did a bit of “restoration".
J: Yeah, we even took a look across at our neighbour’s place and realized their bedrooms had beams above their windows, so we got our contractor to add that in for us.
Also, we told our contractor to add in frosted glass in the frames that were used to provide ventilation and light in the house, for privacy, requesting for it to be as similar as possible to the original glass used.
Qanvast: The bathroom has a different feel from the rest of your home.
J: Actually, we didn’t really know how we wanted the bathroom to look like, but when our contractor brought us to Hafary to select tiles, we both saw the green tiles and had to get them. It’s something that we immediately agreed on.
To prevent it from looking too dark, we decided not to tile the wall fully. I think we were quite fast to select all the tiles; we only spent 10 minutes at Hafary picking out the bathroom and kitchen flooring and the kitchen backsplash.
Qanvast: Where did you get some of your furniture pieces?
J: We bought stuff from Castlery, FortyTwo and IKEA. Our pendant lamps are from Taobao. We bought some extra lights, just in case. After switching them around, we sold those we didn’t use – and at a profit!
Qanvast: What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?
JL: Honestly? I’d get those wooden casement windows (laughs).
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