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Renovation Journey: Where East Meets West

At a Glance

  • Jonathan Lum, 37, lecturer, and Filip Laco, 38, researcher
  • Size: 65 sqm / 700 sqft
  • Location: Holland Avenue
  • Cost of Renovation: $65,000
  • Interior Design Firm: Free Space Intent
  • Interior Designer: Jia

East Or West, Home Is Always The Best

Originally dark and cramped with a long, but narrow walkway, this compact 3-bedder HDB flat at Holland Avenue was given a thorough makeover by Free Space Intent (FSI), transforming it into an open, vibrant space that fully conveys its occupants’ personalities.

We met up with owner Jonathan Lum to discuss the process of renovating the entire flat, the inspiration behind its eclectically delightful look as well as the DIY work that was done to make it a practical, yet expressive home.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: To start off, could you tell us about the major changes that were made?

Jonathan (J): This place was originally came with 3 bedrooms, but we decided to make it more comfortable by demolishing one of them and converting it into a TV lounge. We also came up with the idea of building a sliding partition to zone off the space to use it as a guest room.

In addition, the bathroom’s shower was extended outwards to accommodate a small vanity and to create a larger bathing area. There was the option of merging it with the adjoining WC, but we chose to keep them separate because it’s nice to have the extra privacy.

This modification resulted in the bathroom eating into the lounge’s space, which created an alcove of sorts. To maximise it, we installed a storage compartment where we now display mementos and other stuff. My partner’s mom is an artist and that piece – the grey painting above the sofa – was a wedding gift from her.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: What about the personal aspects of the design? What were they inspired by?

J: We wanted was a comfortable home that expresses our personalities – somewhere that we could come back to after a day’s work and relax in.

We also wanted it to be a good blend of East and West, so we included a thematic transition that features both cultures. The entrance has a traditional Peranakan appearance, which then switches over to a more industrial look as you move inwards into the house.

The entrance was modelled after my grandmother’s shophouse at Emerald Hill. I grew up there and I have fond memories of its long corridors and Peranakan accents, so I chose to replicate the same feel here by installing a traditional door sill, along with a small alcove that has a half wall and custom vintage-style grilles from Teefta.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: Did you have any ideas that you were unable to implement as part of the final look?

J: We initially wanted to install terrazzo flooring at the step down where the door sill is, but we had to abandon the idea because there weren’t any local stores that stocked (terrazzo) tiles which were large enough. The alternative was then to install cement tiles – which we got from An Huat – as flyaway accents.

This design choice also helped to prevent the house from looking “cold”. We definitely wanted an industrial look, but covering the entire space in concrete screed would be too much. It was a challenge locating the tiles too. Because they were produced in limited quantities, we had to replace several pieces in the original design.

That said, we love the final combination as it creates plenty of visual interest and is more practical because concrete screed isn’t the most hard-wearing choice of flooring.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: We really like your open kitchen! What was the process of creating it like?

J: The kitchen initially had an L-shaped layout and was separate from the rest of the house. We then transformed it into an open concept space and extended it further outwards to accommodate the island.

There was also a drop in the kitchen floor, so we had to level it out to bring it to the same level as the central walkway. We also reconfigured the placement of the kitchen build-ins. The oven was originally in an awkward corner, so we installed it within the island so there would be enough space to handle any hot food safely.

There was also plenty of back and forth on how wide the island would be. We wanted something that was sufficiently large, but wouldn’t obstruct the walkway. The planned width of the island went down from 780mm to 750mm, until we finally decided that 650mm would be the perfect size.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: What was the process of envisioning your home’s new layout like?

J: It helps that Filip is an engineer, while I am in the Arts. Because of that, we both have good sense of how to configure a space.

On top of asking ourselves if our ideas would look right at the end of the day, we spent a lot of time in the original apartment to get a better feel of it. We also discussed things extensively with Jia, our designer, to figure what layout would be best for our needs.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: How was it like working with Jia and Free Space Intent (FSI) to make over your home?

J: It was a really good experience. The company on a whole is very responsive, although there was a bit of a challenge sourcing for materials as Jia would propose some hard-to-find options.

There were also some moments where we had to step in and go: “No, this wasn’t part of the proposal”. For example, the glass panels used for the lounge’s partition doors couldn’t be found in Singapore, and Jia asked about the possibility of replacing them – we then refused her suggestion.

But at the end of the day, they (FSI) managed to source the panels from Malaysia, which really shows their resourcefulness.

HDB Renovation in Holland
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Qanvast: Although Jia was on hand to help, there was also some DIY work done on your part. What was it like?

J: Doing up the house as a couple is nice as we are both working towards a common goal together at the same time, and that helps to foster our relationship.

We put up the balcony wallpaper – which we got from Taobao – by ourselves so the workmanship isn’t perfect (laughs). The overhead storage boxes in the bedroom were also installed by us. It was quite a challenge getting the arrangement right due to the variations in height placement.

Qanvast: Lastly, what did you learn from this renovation?

J: If you plan to use unique materials, be sure to give enough buffer time because you will need to wait when things aren’t available locally.

Also, it’s important to communicate. There will be plenty of disagreements along the way. Whether it’s between your partner or designer, you will need to overcome any differences and come to a consensus on what the most important priorities are. That’s the biggest takeaway for me.

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