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Once Empty, This Second-Floor Attic is Now a ‘3-Room Flat’

After their return from the US, this couple turned what was an unused attic in a generational home into their new family dwelling.

Save for a couple of architectural features, such as extra-tall windows and a traditional pitched roof, Sianne and Kenneth’s (@lightlivingmama) Scandinavian-inspired attic abode feels almost like a 3-room HDB flat now. But rewind to 11 months ago, and this approximately 70 sqm space couldn’t be more different from a heartland home.

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“The attic is just slightly larger than a 3-room BTO flat,” says Sianne. “But before we moved in, this space was rarely used. In fact, there was no air-con up here and the attic was so warm that we could only realistically use it for storage or hosting guests for short periods of time.”

However, all that was to change after Sianne and Kenneth returned to Singapore in January this year after a 6-month-long stay in Florida. “That was when we realised that it was finally time for us to make proper use of the attic,” says Sianne. To find out more, we got the loving pair to share how their home-within-a-home came to be.

About themselves and their home

Sianne (S): This semi-detached house belongs to my grandparents and I grew up here as a child, so when my grandpa passed away and my grandmother got older, my family decided to renovate the house so that it could accommodate all of us. We only recently moved up to this attic after returning from the US – back when we haven’t had our daughter, we used to occupy one of the bedrooms on the first floor.

Our experience living overseas was the catalyst for our decision to move in here. In the US, I found myself missing my family a lot and that was when I realised that staying together with them was a better idea than living in a BTO flat of our own.

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The first floor of the house, which Sianne’s grandmother occupies.

Kenneth (K): Both Sianne are I grew up with our grandmothers, and in my case, my extended family as well, so we find it important that we remain close to them. Letting our daughter, Emmelyn, have that same experience was also another reason why we decided to move in here.

I feel that this ‘home-in-a-home’ arrangement works for us because it strikes the right balance between family life and letting us have a private space of our own.

About the property’s history and initial renovation

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K: Back in 2013, this semi-detached house had undergone a major renovation, but I think it would be more accurate to call it a total makeover. That’s because the original house from the 70s was demolished, before it was re-designed and re-built from ground up by A.J.'s Ingenieurs and our contractor, SPG Contracts Management. Before that, the house was half the size of what it is now and there was only just one storey.

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S: My grandmother currently occupies the first floor and it looks more traditional – there’s white marble flooring and it’s also where most of my grandfather’s antiques are displayed.

Some of the more unique pieces include an opium couch and an authentic Peranakan dresser; the dresser was in three pieces until my mother took it out of storage and had it restored to its full glory.

On creating the living room, dining area and study corner

S: Because of the renovation in 2013, we didn’t need to carry out any major works when we moved into the attic in February.

For example, the parquet floor and the bathroom’s plumbing fixtures were already there. That allowed us to put our focus on outfitting the space with new cabinetry and furniture – however, our communal spaces are still evolving and I’m always moving things about to find the best configuration for us.

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K: Yes, Sianne is always asking me to move furniture around our home [laughs]. Sometimes, it’s a small table, and sometimes, it’s a bigger piece like the sofa, but the fact that we’re always moving things around is the one constant!

S: For example, the dressing area that’s in the living room has changed about five times in the past six months. It started off as a regular dressing table, but because of the cable clutter beneath it, we ended up swapping it for a long chest of drawers – it’s also going to be extra-useful for storage in the future because I’m now expecting our second child.

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Despite its compact size, the zone between the house's indoor lift and the living room’s sofa has been maximised as a multipurpose space that’s both memorabilia display area and yoga corner.

Figuring out what furniture was right for us was a gradual process – we started out with a few loose pieces and then swapped them out if they weren’t right. The IKEA sofa in the living room was originally a two-seater, but thankfully we were able to find a compatible chaise lounge, so we didn’t have to change it.

We also bought a rattan screen off Carousell to create a focal point in the living room and to square off the front of the space where the slope of the pitched roof is; it allows us to hide a couple of large furniture pieces behind it as well, so we can easily rotate them out when it’s time for a change.

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The dining area’s display corner is a new addition. “We tried using store-bought shelves initially, but they didn’t fit perfectly into the space, so we got our carpenter to install one together with the bathroom cabinet and the study corner’s closet,” says Sianne.

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Although there’s a dining area downstairs, we wanted to have one of our own as well; it’s in the right spot because it’s close enough to both the air-con and our pantry.

What’s also interesting is the storeroom beside the dining area. It’s about 10 to 12 metres long and goes all the way to the other side of the second floor, which has another dining area and a display for my mother’s pottery collection.

The storeroom was built during the big renovation in 2013 – we had the option of having a really long balcony over storage space, but due to potential leakage concerns, we chose the practical option instead.

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Located in the other half of the second floor, this ‘mini-museum’ houses pottery pieces created by Sianne’s mother as well as local master potter Iskandar Jalil, a Cultural Medallion award recipient.

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For safety and insulation reasons, the airwell beside the study was sealed with a glass panel that still allows natural light into the darker areas on the first floor.

The study is one of the most recent transformations in our home – it was very dusty and dark, and we kind of ignored it at first because our priority was to get essential spaces like the bedroom and bathroom into a liveable state.

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One of the newest pieces of carpentry in our home is the study’s cabinet, and it houses our Harry Potter book collection as well as handmade photo books; I try to make one yearly from our holiday photos, but due to the current travel situation, there isn’t going to be one this year.

On the pantry’s renovation

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S: This pantry was around before we even moved into the attic, so we simply added a couple of storage options, including a shelf for our cups and bowls as well as a cabinet at the end of the counter with the help of our carpenter, Dajia Pte Ltd (@dajiasg). Before that, there was only a plank shelf, which wasn’t very functional.

One change that we’re planning to make is to get a full-sized fridge, or at least, a bigger one; the current fridge has a small freezer that we can only use to store ice creams. We might cut away part of the countertop to fit the new fridge in, but that would also change how we place items within the space.

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One lesson that I learnt during the renovation is that tiling contractors deserve to be paid a lot [laughs].

The backsplash tiles are actually stick-ons and I pasted them by hand – the corner nearest to the entrance was the hardest to do because I had to measure, cut, and re-cut the stickers so that they would fit around the power sockets. So, just imagine doing all that with real tiles!

About the master bedroom’s layout and design process

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S: If I recall correctly, when my mom and I renovated the house back in 2013, we had intended for this bedroom to be a guest room, which is why there’s an en suite bathroom – now our common bathroom – that’s right next door.

The sliding doors on the side were added so that the bedroom could either be sectioned off or joined with the living space to create a larger gathering space. Now, we use it for extra storage as well – we got some hooks from IKEA to hang our personal belongings on the inside of the bedroom as well as throws and baby slings on the other side of the sliding doors where the living room is.

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Both the hanging rack from Momiji Kids (@momiji_kids) and the dollhouse from En Stories Play (@enstories.co) were purchased locally.

Emmelyn has her own space in the other half of the master bedroom. We turned it into a mini ‘bedroom’ but it’s going to be temporary until she grows older and is comfortable sleeping on her own. We’re going to have a double-decker bed for both her and her future sibling in the playroom on the first floor – that’s the plan, but for now, we want them close.

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Both the dresser and Emmelyn’s bed weren’t in this area previously, the bed was moved upstairs from the playroom while the space where the dresser is used to be occupied by a nursing sofa that’s now downstairs.

About the common bathroom’s new look

S: The bathroom’s counter was here since the 2013 renovation, but we added a mirror cabinet that’s absolutely essential. There used to be a tall bamboo rack right beside the sink, but it wasn’t very practical because things just kept falling into the toilet bowl [laughs].

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Putting in a bathtub is another thing that we’re planning but have yet to do. It’ll be a low sit-in model, which will fit nicely into the shower area. We used to have a Japanese soak tub and Emmelyn loved it, but because I’m expecting, getting in and out of the tub wasn’t safe.

On the playroom’s makeover

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S: Before moving upstairs, this playroom used to be our space. It’s bigger than a master bedroom in an HDB flat, but it wasn’t sufficient for our needs, especially after we had Emmelyn.

The space has changed quite a bit since then. For example, Kenneth painted the top-hung cabinets which originally had wood tones, and also a terrazzo wall below them – it’s actually a collaboration with a local air-purifying paint brand called Gush.

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Originally, we had a cool blue-and-white look in this room, but it didn’t really work because of the warm flooring. So, when the space became a playroom, we tried to give it a warmer, but vibrant look with pastel colours.

Emmelyn really likes this space, and she spends most of her time here. My mom, who ran a kindergarten for 27 years, also home schools Emmelyn in this playroom, which is why there are also a couple of hand-drawn educational posters that she drew herself.

To sum up

K: I think this renovation has been a satisfying experience, especially since I’m the one doing all the labour and moving everything around [S: (laughs)].

My decor expectations aren’t as high as Sianne’s, so I’m fine if the space stays the same, but things will definitely change because she’ll always think of something that’ll improve our home – whether it’s installing a switch or even putting up a 3M hook for a mirror.

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S: As much as I love this space, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the years to come. For example, we might need to get an apartment that’s nearer to the schools which our children are going to attend.

So, when that becomes a consideration, we’ll have to move out of this place. But just like how there’s a space for us here always, there’ll always be a space in our hearts for this home.

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