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Sembawang HDB EA Oozes Vintage Charm with Old-School Colonial Look

Rather than rely on built-ins, this home was designed as a ‘blank canvas’ to let the antique furniture shine.

IKEA and Taobao may be a homeowner’s go-to for furnishings, but there’s just something about antique furniture that people love. So, when Insight.Out Studio designer Roy was asked to renovate this executive apartment in Sembawang around his clients’ antique furniture, he readily agreed.

“Personally, I think that loose furniture and decor speak more about the house than built-ins,” says Roy. “And when [my clients] told me about their antique furniture, I saw this renovation as a way to create a blank canvas that lets the furniture tell the story.”

View this project by Insight.Out Studio

But renovating this home had its set of challenges. Other than its odd fan-shaped layout, Roy also had to consider the lifestyle needs of the entire household – which is no easy feat when there are a total of seven people. To see how everything came together in this old-school family home, keep reading!

About the flat and its occupants

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The family’s home, pre-renovation

Roy (R): When they first came to me, I knew it was going to be challenging. There are seven members in this house – husband, wife, three kids, grandmother, and their helper – so including everybody’s different lifestyles into the same space was going to be tricky.

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The family’s home, post-renovation

Plus, the house has a weird layout. Unlike the usual HDB flat, this one is shaped like a fan, with lots of slanted walls. That made things like carpentry work quite challenging.

Since they wanted their antique furniture to be the focal point, they naturally wanted to do a vintage style. It just so happened that our office had a colonial, Indochine theme that they really liked, and after some discussion, we eventually decided to do something similar, but with a Peranakan twist.

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Insight.Out Studio’s office | Source: Insight.Out Studio

WATCH: Insight.Out Studio designer Roy talks about the flat’s renovation

About renovating the foyer

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R: Since the family are avid cyclists, they own quite a number of bicycles. They actually asked for a cabinet to display them – I thought this was a bit hard to do at first, but eventually, we felt that the best place for them is right by the front door, since it gives the owners easy access to their bicycles.

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Essentially, this whole ‘foyer’ was meant to give them ample space to put on their gear and prepare for a ride. To separate it from the living room, we built a privacy screen/partition using ventilation blocks and filled the floors with patterned tiles.

This concrete border around the flooring was actually unintentional – there used to be another set of tiles here, but we hacked it away because the owners thought it looked strange. It just so happened to look nice!

About renovating the kitchen

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The kitchen, pre- and post-renovation

R: I think the kitchen had the most major changes. Initially, the kitchen was quite small and had an odd shape – it made carpentry work quite difficult. I had to hack a few walls to reconfigure the space and give the family more room.

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I vaguely remember the owners saying that they wanted an open kitchen, but this couldn’t be done because of the structural beam above. Plus, the grandmother cooks a lot, so I thought this wouldn’t be a good idea.

This curved entryway was, in a way, a compromise. It allows the family to move in and out freely, while also limiting the spread of cooking fumes.

About renovating the living room

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R: Since we wanted the antique furniture to capture people’s attention, we kept the living room clean and simple.

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The living room, pre-renovation

I think the only thing we did here was installing the false ceiling and plastering the walls. Before the renovation, they were covered with wallpaper, and weren’t in good condition once they were stripped bare, so we had to plaster them first to smoothen the surface.

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The living room, post-renovation

About renovating the common bathroom

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The common bathroom, pre-renovation

R: There were originally only two bathrooms – the common one and master en suite – but since there are so many people in this house, we thought they could use an additional bathroom. So, to do this, we erected a wall in the common bathroom to create a wet and dry area.

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Design-wise, the owners decided to let their eldest daughter have a say, since everything else was chosen by them. It was her who chose these baby blue subway tiles. As a finishing touch, I added a Peranakan-style sink and black louvred doors that I thought matched the retro colonial vibe.

About renovating the balcony

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The view from the balcony

R: One of the reasons why the owners bought this home was because of the view. From here, you can see the Sembawang River, and there’s a lot of greenery that makes you feel like you’re in a resort.

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So, to make good use of this view, we removed the windows and grilles, and installed a bar counter so the family can eat, chill, or study here – essentially, they wanted this area to be their relaxation corner.

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The black-and-white bamboo blinds are one of the most important features here; I feel that they are the key to achieving the colonial look. We also decided to paint the walls in this dark green shade to make it more outstanding.

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The balcony entrance, pre-renovation

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The balcony entrance, post-renovation

I proposed this arched door after seeing a similar design online; I thought it would look unique. But since it’s not the usual type of door, I had to get it custom-made. Fitting it in was also quite tricky – we spent a lot of time reshaping the entrance, since the old rectangular shape wouldn’t be able to accommodate the new curved doors.

To sum up

R: This house required a fair bit of work, but generally, there weren’t a lot of headaches. I think part of the reason was because the owners really trusted me to make every single call. Brainstorming for ideas with them was also quite smooth-sailing, since we had very similar ideas.

Overall, I’m very happy with the outcome. When I started this renovation, my goal was to build a blank canvas for them to let their furniture tell the story, and looking at it now, I believe we managed to achieve that.

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