Tiong Bahru 5-Room Flat Gets Contemporary Japanese Makeover
It’s an open, white-and-wood themed ‘kindergarten’ in the day, but at night, it becomes a cosy space for a family of four.
Space isn’t much of a problem when you’re only living with your spouse. But try adding kids into the picture, and you suddenly realise you can never have enough space in your home – which was exactly what SS and husband learnt after starting their own family.
“Initially, we were living in a condo in the North-East area,” said SS. “But after our 2 kids were born, we realised that the house was just too small. So, we began looking for a bigger house, and we decided that getting a HDB flat over another condo was more practical.”
Aside from having more space for practical storage fixtures, a larger family home also meant that SS would be able to bring her idea of a big, open, and sofa-less living space to life – or as she describes it, a “kindergarten at home” where her two children are free to play around.
To find out more about the creation of this 5-room resale HDB flat in Tiong Bahru, we got SS to share with us the entire renovation process from start to finish!
About herself and her home
SS: I came to Singapore from China about 15-16 years ago, and I eventually found a job and settled down here.
I’ve always liked the way Japanese homes look – simple and cosy, with lots of storage options that prevent the house from looking messy. This is essential to us since having two kids means more toys and books, and we needed to find a way to keep everything neat and nice.
Contemporary Japanese homes also tend to have minimal colour apart from white and wood tones. For our home, we decided against having bright colours; I find that they get boring easily as tastes change over time.
About making over the living and dining areas
SS: Most houses in China have large sofas that take up most of the living room space, but I didn’t want that. My focus was to create an area where my kids have the freedom and space to do whatever they want, because I believe in promoting independence and creativity.
For hygiene and maintenance reasons, SS chose vinyl flooring for her living room. “I initially wanted parquet flooring, but I’m thankful we ended up picking vinyl,” she says. “You know how kids can be, so it’s better to have something that’s easier to maintain!”
We aimed to incorporate Montessori principles here, which emphasise independence and playtime as a form of individual expression. To do this, we created this big open area with a home library as well as a settee by the window; the settee shelves were deliberately built at a low height so that my kids can easily reach for their toys whenever they feel like playing.
Other than forgoing a large sofa, we also chose not to have a TV. We don’t watch many broadcasted shows these days, so we decided to get a projector that lets us stream all our entertainment on a larger screen.
Capitalising on extra space in the dining area, SS turned half of it into a compact bedroom for her helper.
The floor plans before (left) and after (right) the renovation.
Another impactful change that we made was carving out a compact bedroom from the suggested study area. It’s for our helper; she used to have one of the bedrooms to herself before our kids came along. Still, we wanted her to have her own space, so we requested for this room to be created.
On renovating the kitchen
SS: Our previous home had an open kitchen, and the heat from our cooking caused our air conditioner to malfunction quite frequently. This time, we opted for a semi-open kitchen, which confines the heat and smell to the kitchen without compromising on the large, spacious vibe we wanted.
Since I cook and bake a lot, I was quite particular about the materials used here. I knead dough frequently, so the countertops had to be smooth, yet stain resistant. We eventually went for matte sintered stone, as the quality of this material outmatches that of materials like quartz and marble.
Other than the kitchen, we have a pantry in the communal area. It’s also a display area for some of the handmade coffee cups I got from Japan. I tend not to like decor items as they don’t serve much purpose, but since they’re both functional and pretty, I took this as an opportunity to show them off.
About renovating the common bathroom and master en suite
SS: Both our bathrooms have the same white-and-wood theme as the rest of the house. Our floors, walls, and fixtures are all white, while the shower area is demarcated using tiles with a wood texture.
The common bathroom and its new interior layout.
Initially, the basin of the common bathroom was facing the toilet bowl. It made the standing space very narrow, so at our interior designer’s suggestion, we altered this layout and made it so that the basin is positioned on the right side of the toilet bowl; this freed up a significant amount of space for the dry area.
The master en suite’s shower area.
Also, other than the corridor, the bathrooms are the only spaces in the house with false ceilings that were built by the previous occupants. I didn’t want false ceilings in the rest of the house since my husband is very tall, but I made an exception for the bathrooms since they kept the toilet pipes hidden and made them look more seamless.
About the master bedroom and junior bedroom
SS: Our master bedroom is quite unique, you can find three sets of windows in it – there’s a small one beside the en suite, and two more near our bed. The window next to the en suite was previously sealed up, and we got the Ovon Design team to reinstate it since we wanted our bedroom to be as bright as possible.
As we wanted to maximise space, we asked Ovon to tear down the partition wall between the master and junior bedrooms too and in its place, they built recessed wardrobes. The ‘wall’ that you see beside the closet in front of our bed is actually the back of our kid’s wardrobe.
The junior bedroom and its recessed wardrobe.
We also chose not to have wall decorations as I find that they don’t serve much purpose. They clutter the room, and I’d rather have something meaningful displayed – like my kids’ drawings, for instance.
To sum up
SS: We’ve been living in this home for about two months now, and I have no regrets. We got what we wanted, and my kids love that they have a lot of space to play in. My son can’t stop telling me how much he likes our home!
Working with Gary and Leon from Ovon Design was a lovely experience. They were very detail-oriented and ran through every detail with me, no matter how small. What I particularly like about their service was their willingness to explore budget-friendly solutions.
I’ve heard how some IDs adopt hard-selling strategies to push renovation costs up, but they never did that. Instead, they’d tell us what would work and what wouldn’t, and we’d come together to find suitable ideas.
Their project management was superb too – we thought there may be delays due to the COVID-19 situation, but there were none. We collected our keys in March, and by June our house was done!
In the future, I may create a study area. My husband and I are both working from home, and with our current setup, we don’t have a dedicated space to do our work. It’s something we’ll think about after our kids are a little more grown up, but right now, we love our home just the way it is.
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