Radio DJ Kunhua’s 5-Room Flat is a ‘Rojak’ of Retro Elements
Though it has an undeniably eclectic character, YES 933 DJ Kun Hua’s home is a perfect blend of all things retro.
Interior Firm: Free Space Intent
‘Rojak’ is a word that has more to do with Singapore food than the look of a home, but to radio DJ Zhong Kun Hua (@kunhua_c), it’s the term that best describes the new look of his 5-room HDB flat in central Singapore.
“It’s really a mish mash of all sorts of retro elements from different parts of the world,” says the 36-year-old bachelor who works for local Mandarin radio station YES 933. “There are graphic tiles, embossed glass, ventilation blocks, and all sorts of other old-school features that I’ve chosen.”
Clockwise from left to right, Leon Luo and Raymond Seow of Free Space Intent and YES 933 DJ Zhong Kun Hua.
Given Kun Hua’s choice of metaphor as well as the myriad of decorative elements within his flat, one could understandably get the mental image of a home that’s a mixed bag of incompatible features – but such an impression cannot be further from the truth.
With Free Space Intent (FSI) interior designer Leon Luo’s help, Kun Hua took a methodical approach with bringing his desired ‘rojak’ aesthetic to life, resulting in an eclectic yet cohesive bachelor’s pad. To find out how the renovation process went, we sat down for a chat with both Kun Hua and Leon!
About the flat and its new look
The living room, pre-renovation.
Kun Hua (KH): I’ve always lived in the central part of Singapore near Chinatown, so when I was looking for a place of my own, I hunted for a flat in the vicinity. Luckily, I was able to find this 5-room flat that ticked all the right boxes. It’s in my desired location and spacious enough for a family, even though it’s a bachelor’s pad now.
I started off looking for a 4-room flat, but nothing caught my eye until I came across this 5-room flat on a property website.
My reaction to seeing the flat for the first time was “Wow, it’s big”. Another thing that I really like about it is how there are windows on all sides. This keeps the entire house well-ventilated, regardless of the direction the wind is blowing in.
WATCH: DJ Kun Hua and Free Space Intent designer Leon Luo take us through the flat’s design process
The original floor plan of Kun Hua’s home.
Leon (L): Aside from creating the retro ‘rojak’ look that Kun Hua wanted, we also altered the layout of the flat to create larger spaces with better flow. The biggest changes were made to the kitchen, study, and master bedroom.
Previously, there were a total of four bedrooms, but two of them – the original study and the original master bedroom – were merged to create an even larger master bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe.
The floor plan of Kun Hua’s home, post-renovation.
To achieve the right aesthetic, we were extra-careful with picking out the lighting and colours for the house. Kun Hua is a big fan of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai (WKW), so to replicate the vibe of his movies, we used warm lighting to create contrast between lighter and darker areas.
But at the same time, Kun Hua didn’t want his home to look as saturated as WKW’s films, which is why the colour palette comprises only of green, brown, and grey. Sticking to this combination gives the surroundings a suitably retro appearance that isn’t too striking.
KH: Essentially, all of that was to prevent my house from looking like a ‘Cha Chann Teng’ (HK-style café)! (laughs)
I became a WKW fan after watching his second film ‘Ah Fei Zheng Zhuan’ (Days of Being Wild) when I was a teenager – it was the unique cinematic quality and narrative that made me fall in love with WKW’s works.
During my university years, I did some film modules while on exchange in HK, and that experience played a role in shaping my current preference for retro movies and design as well.
On the entryway’s re-design
The entryway, pre-renovation.
KH: There was a storeroom right in front of the entrance, but I decided to have it torn down; it’s the first area that visitors will see when they enter the house, so I thought about turning it into an Instagrammable spot with a light box instead of keeping the storeroom. Besides, I’ve always wanted an entryway that’ll give guests a warm welcome.
As for the grilles beside the entryway, they’re part of the reason why I describe the aesthetic of my home as ‘rojak’; it’s a bit of everything because there are all sorts of ‘retro-ness' present throughout – the grilles have a yesteryear Singapore vibe, the kitchen lights are Danish retro, and the living room furniture is mid-century Japanese.
L: To add on, the design of these grilles is fully original. After researching vintage grille designs in Singapore, Kun Hua and I came up with ten different variations before sending the final one to a metalworking factory to be manufactured.
The mild steel pieces that make up the entire grille were fabricated individually before they were welded together to create the end product that you see right here.
About making over the kitchen
The kitchen’s exterior before the renovation.
Previously closed off, the kitchen’s exterior walls were demolished to create an open-concept setup with an accompanying breakfast counter.
KH: Bachelors don’t cook. Well, at least I don’t! (laughs) I’m not a home chef, so my kitchen is fairly basic. You can prepare food in it, but only simple dishes. There are no fancy pull-outs or special compartments for utensils either, just regular cabinets.
On the other hand, I was quite particular about the materials used for the kitchen. For instance, I wanted the backsplash tiles to be in a specific shade of dark green, so I went across Singapore to search for the right ones. Eventually, I found what I was looking for at a family-run store at Defu Lane called Unlimited Enterprises.
The countertop is made of terrazzo, which I felt was a must-have because of how frequently it shows up in retro homes.
About revamping the yard and common bathroom
KH: I got the idea of having saloon doors from Chinatown shophouses, and they’re quite useful for separating the yard from the kitchen. They provide privacy without blocking off the flow of light and air through both spaces. Plus, they’re thematically on point!
To accommodate the sink, the wall adjacent to the common bathroom had to be lengthened.
L: The common bathroom is compact, so to create more space on the inside, the vanity was shifted out into the yard. From a space planning perspective, this layout also makes sense because it allows guests to use the sink even when the toilet is occupied.
Inside the bathroom, there’s another special feature, but it’s very subtle. You probably can’t tell, but we used outdoor paint for the top portion of the half-wall. It’s more water-resistant and longer-lasting compared to regular emulsion paint.
About renovating the dining area
The dining area before the renovation.
KH: My dining area is quite a simple affair; the only major additions are the pegboard as well as the dining furniture. I got the extendable dining table from a retro store called Lorgan’s while the dining chairs are a mix of pieces that I bought from Taobao and another local store, Second Charm.
I know that a pegboard isn’t something that you’d find in a home in the past, but I ordered one from Taobao anyway because it would give me the flexibility to display my vinyl collection as I please. Putting the board up on my own was also really tiring, but it was worth it!
On the living room’s new features
KH: You can say that this spot is a culmination of all my hobbies because it’s where all my books, LEGO models, and movie DVDs are on display. The bookcase is a custom-made piece, and it’s designed to act as a partition between the living room and dining area. Leon also gave it rounded edges at the side, so it looks less overwhelming despite its size.
Some of the shelves were deliberately left open to promote cross-ventilation as well as to create negative space around the displayed objects, which draws attention to them. And because there aren’t any shelves that are dedicated to specific items, I’m free to move everything around to create a different look whenever I feel like it.
I sourced all the living room furniture on my own – there’s a nest side table that I bought from Prestige Affairs, a coffee table from Bed and Basics, and a rug from iRugs. The sofa and side chair are from Retro Colony, which carries all sorts of furniture for small spaces.
On the master bedroom’s new configuration
As part of the process of turning it into a sleeping area, the study’s entrance was sealed up with ventilation blocks.
KH: During the planning stage of the renovation, one of the retro design elements that I told Leon I wanted was ventilation blocks. I couldn’t figure out where to place them in the house, so I was quite surprised when Leon suggested using them to seal up the entrance to the study, which is currently my master bedroom.
I feel this was the right decision because the blocks act as a partition, but still allow air and sunlight to flow freely, just like the saloon doors in the yard. There’s also a fluted glass door with tightly packed reeds that can be used to cover up the openings whenever I need privacy.
For furniture, I ordered a pair of side tables as well as a bedframe from Second Charm; it’s customised with pencil legs as well as rounded corners that hide the edges of the mattress for a neater appearance.
To ensure visual consistency, the same graphic tiles were used for both the entryway as well as the new passageway in the bedroom, which was created when the wall between the study and the original master bedroom was torn down.
About creating the walk-in wardrobe
KH: The walk-in wardrobe is another one of my must-haves because I need plenty of storage space for my clothes. To me, Leon’s suggestion to turn the original master bedroom into a walk-in wardrobe made sense because it occupies the same space as the en suite.
For storage, Leon designed a long built-in wardrobe that’s flushed to one side of the room. Although it looks like there are four standalone closets, they’re all linked together by a long overhead compartment.
The walk-in wardrobe, previously the master bedroom, before the renovation.
Aside from functioning as a changing space, the walk-in wardrobe also serves as my quiet corner. There’s a day bed in the room, so whenever I feel the need for some me-time, I’ll escape here with my laptop to relax or get some work done.
On the en suite’s new look
An ‘On Air’ lightbox mounted over the en suite’s entrance lends a personal touch to the space. “I bought it off Etsy from an Australian seller,” shares Kun Hua.
KH: The design of the en suite’s sliding door is identical to the common bathroom’s. The only difference is that this one doesn’t have a privacy film stuck on the back. The details of the embossed glass panels can also be seen more clearly, especially when the sunlight hits at the correct angle.
“To create the bathroom doors, we had to purchase the embossed glass separately before installing them into the door frames,” says Leon. “Luckily, our usual fabricator was understanding about this special request. (laughs)”
The inside of the en suite is also almost a one-to-one match for my common bathroom, only that the colour of the tiles and wall are inverted. One fixture that I really like is the basin, I got it from Sim Siang Choon at an affordable price; the WC is from American Standard and the shower set is from GROHE.
The master en suite before (left) and after (right) the renovation.
To sum up
KH: I’d say this entire experience has been quite fun and enlightening. I’ve learnt a lot about home renovation simply by visiting different local stores and browsing online for the right furniture and materials. There’s a fun element of surprise as well because you’ll never know what you may find along the way.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that finding the right interior designer matters. I had spoken to quite a few of them and even met some through Qanvast at the beginning of my renovation. That’s when I found out the importance of working with someone whom you can communicate well with.
Leon was nothing but accommodating and patient the entire time, so working with him was a joy. Plus, he’s one of my listeners too! (laughs)
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