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Tricky 4-Room HDB Flat Finds New Life as Coastal Aussie Home

We’re totally down for the Down Under vibes of this Potong Pasir 4-room flat!

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As an interior designer from England who has worked locally for the past 3 years, Starry Homestead’s Connie has seen and revamped her fair share of old homes, both in the UK and in Singapore. But renovating this (once-awkward) Potong Pasir 4-room resale HDB flat proved to be a somewhat tricky endeavour even for her.

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The original kitchen entrance (right) and interior (left) before the renovation.

“In England, every house or building [in a neighbourhood] is different, it’s based on era. You can walk down a street in London and one side you’ll see council housing, and on the other, there’ll be these gorgeous Victorian houses,” says Connie.

“HDB flats are more consistently designed in comparison, they’re mostly rectangular [in layout], almost like a nice box, so I was surprised to walk into this unit and see that almost every wall in it was slanted.”

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Potong Pasir by Starry Homestead
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View this project by Starry Homestead

A subsequent gut renovation led to most of these offending partitions being removed, as well as the creation of various relaxing interiors, not unlike those that you’d find in a cosy summer house on the Australian coast.

For more details on how Connie tackled this challenging, but successful home makeover, keep scrolling!


About the house and the process of designing it

Connie (C): The owners are a small family, a Singaporean, an Australian, and their two children, so what they asked for was a more open layout that could fit a play corner and an entertainment area.

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Also, for a touch of home, the owners wanted the flat to feel like it’s in Australia, even though they’re living in Singapore now. There’s a coastal theme and the vibe is almost like being in a beach house.

The husband was very particular about making the space look seamless as well, he wanted to see no wires, no pipes, no trunking, nothing. So, I had to use false ceilings and other methods to conceal all these items.

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The flat’s floor plan before the renovation.

At first glance, their home might seem small and cramped, but it actually had the potential to be quite spacious. Once we knocked down all the walls, it’s huge. I think we ended up using about 145 sqm of vinyl flooring for the entire house; that was after we demolished the walls outside one of the junior bedrooms, around the kitchen, as well as a small storeroom

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The flat’s floor plan after the renovation.

When I went down for the site visit, what I noticed was how old everything was. The good news then, was that we were going to strip the entire house bare. The wiring was old, the paint was falling off the walls, and there was even an insect nest of some sort beside the original DB box. So, we called in pest control before we started work.

About revamping the main entrance and living area

C: The homeowners had bought the recess area outside their unit from HDB, so we constructed a new doorway at the corridor to encapsulate that extra space, and on the inside, we built a partition archway where the original doorway used to be.

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The new main entrance (left) and internal archway (right) during the renovation.

The archway is important because even after purchasing the recess area, you’re required to keep the original door frame intact, just in case HDB ever buys the space back. With the box up, the owners can retain the door frame without it looking completely out of place in their home.

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The living room during the renovation.

Straight past the passageways is the living room, and to hide all the cables, we concealed them in a false wall in front of the sitting area. Everything is inside, the electrical wiring for the TV, projector, sound box, and HDMI cables, all of it.

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The living room furniture placement was inverted to better suit the new flow of the house. There’s a structural wall behind the sofa which we couldn’t hack – that’s where the previous owners had their TV. But because it’s no longer a full wall, it’s now used to mount a projector at the top instead.

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Originally, there was going to be a wall-mounted TV with a console in front of the sofa, but because the homeowners wanted a clear passageway from the entrance into the kitchen, a large TV would end up being in the way. So, it ended up being substituted with a projector setup with a ‘screen’ that’s five times bigger. When it’s turned on, it really feels like you’re in a cinema!

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The living room, kitchen, and play area during the renovation.

About renovating the play area and kids room

C: The play area behind the living room was a closed-off bedroom at first, but now it’s connected directly to the communal spaces.

It’s intended to be a guest room as well, but the owners do have plans to turn it into a private space again if future needs call for it. Also, this is one of the few places in the house where you can see some trunking, which is right beside the aircon unit.

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The play area features upcycled furniture in the form of a walnut Scanteak bookshelf, now painted light blue to match the home’s aesthetic.

The rest of the aircon trunking is located next door in the kids room with the yellow half-walls, and it’s partially hidden beside a bookshelf.

While installing the aircon in the play area during the renovation, we realised that there was a structural wall in the way that we couldn’t run the pipes through. We could have shifted the alignment of the aircon unit on the wall to compensate, but in the end, the decision was made to keep it mounted centrally with just a bit of trunking sticking out.

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Yellow is the favourite colour of the homeowners’ first child, so they let him have a yellow room because their intention was to keep the space fun and playful. It also does a good job of hiding the aircon trunking running along the bottom perimeter of the room, which then goes up the wall and into the play area.

The bed frame you see is modified; it used to be 1.6m high, and then we cut it lower so that it’s safer but still gives a feeling of elevation when you’re lying on top.

On renovating the dining area

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The storeroom-turned-dining-area, prior to the renovation.

C: The homeowners didn’t have any specific requirements for the dining area, so the process of designing it was more about optimising the corner it occupies as well as the spaces around it.

There used to be a storeroom where the dining area’s mirror wall now is. Back then, one of the owners wanted to turn it into a wine cellar, and I told them that they probably wouldn’t want one, especially as a family with their second child on the way (laughs). Plus, it would make it even harder to fit in a kitchen island.

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The dining chairs, bench and island bar stools are all bespoke from Malaysia. We got them made there because it was more pocket friendly, and everything was delivered in about two months after I sent over some reference drawings.

On creating the kitchen’s new look and layout

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C: We explored an L-shaped layout and then a U-shaped one for the kitchen, but since the homeowners wanted an arrangement that’s open-concept and suitable for entertaining, a galley layout ended up working best here.

Aside from constructing the kitchen cabinets, we also built a large wooden storage cabinet right at the end of the space. Everything is in it, the DB box, rubbish chute, water heater, giant water pipes, and even the Wi-Fi router for the smart home system. So, it’s all nicely concealed.

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The kitchen interior, mid-renovation.

One of the challenges of renovating the kitchen turned out to be installing the aircon unit, mostly because there wasn’t one there originally.

Also again, there was a structural column here, so we had to figure out how to get the trunking all the way to a suitable point on the wall closest to the dining area – which we succeeded in doing by running the aircon pipes through the common bathroom itself and concealing them afterward.

About the master bedroom’s new look

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The window recess pre-renovation (left) and en suite’s entrance mid-renovation (right).

C: For the master bedroom, there’s even more box-up work done. There used to be a recess where the green wall behind the headboard now is, so I flushed it outwards with a partition that makes it look like a single continuous wall. The same goes for the recess below the window where the aircon piping goes into the compressor outside.

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The owners also wanted a TV inside their bedroom, so when a guest comes over and occupies the communal area, they still have a private space for themselves where they can chill out or watch shows.

The design of the feature wall was created such that it houses the TV neatly and prevents it from eating into walkway space. And to make the entire setup look more aesthetically pleasing, the owners also asked if we could create some small storage niches at the side to balance out the larger TV recess.

On combining the common bathroom and en suite

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Top-down view of the new common bathroom and en suite layout in 3D.

C: Originally, the common bathroom, which is in the kitchen, and the master en suite were two separate areas that were quite small individually, but at the request of the homeowners, we merged them to form a single large bathroom that’s divided by a thin sliding glass panel.

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Other than hacking the wall between both bathrooms to combine both spaces, we also expanded the confines of the common bathroom so that it now encapsulates the corner of the kitchen where an external vanity used to be. There’s still a tiny triangular vanity in the same spot, but now it’s part of the common bathroom rather than being on the outside.

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The process of creating this joint bathroom was quite tough, and we ran into a couple of challenges that demanded the original proposal be tweaked.

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The master en suite (left) and common bathroom (right) post-hacking.

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The master en suite (left) and common bathroom (right) during the renovation.

The first challenge involved the W.C. in the master bathroom. Even with a floor plan, you won’t always know what’s behind a wall until it’s been demolished, and only after hacking did we realise that the W.C. outlet trap was too far away from the planned position in the proposal.

As a result, the master bedroom’s new W.C. had to be installed in the original location, and because there were all these big pipes behind the W.C., we also had to build a box up with recessed storage to conceal them.

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Likewise, the owners originally wanted to have the herringbone feature wall in the shared shower area. But when we realised that it wouldn’t fit due to the proposal changes, the decision was made to install it beside the common bathroom’s W.C. where it’s still a main focal point within the space.

The tiles are all from Hafary and we had a fun time dry laying them on the floor first to figure out which piece would go where.

To sum up

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C: I love the final result, especially how the entire house looks so much fresher compared to before the renovation. As a designer, I’m also glad that the owners aren’t bored of how their home looks even though it’s been some time since they’ve moved in.

The entire process of designing and revamping the flat was also very interesting. It’s probably the most fun project I’ve probably worked on in Singapore!


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