The neighbourhood of terrace houses sit idle and undisturbed for years – rows of tightly-packed houses like grandparents sitting side by side since the 1960s when they were first built. They too grew old and tired, their eyes picked for any new residents moving to the estate; their creaking bodies waiting for an event to happen. In their fronts, paint flaked wrought iron gates with floral motifs (ala art nouveau traditions harking from trends long gone) swing open to private potted gardens surrounded by chain linked fences. A rusty bicycle may be spotted in a garden here and there. But a new resident has taken root on a unit on the second floor of one of these houses, its secrets hidden behind the facades of the grandparent-houses. Only a door of steel and glass – marked by the diagonals of the unit numbers – allowed glimpses through to a flight of stairs beyond. This is the entrance to the designer loft in Singapore.
It is owned by a pair of young entrepreneurs, Jed and Michelle, whose businesses are in the fitness and children's education industries. They met a decade ago during their university days and have since discovered a common love for children, fitness and travel. They have found themselves backpacking their way around Europe on a budget, souveniring big and small knick-knacks along the way that now sit in various parts of this home that they have built. While everyone doubted their all-too-controversial decision to take the entrepreneurship path, they have since defied the odds. Taking the route less travelled - that must be their mantra.
Eventually, Jed popped the question. During one of their travels, of course! He did so in Lake Tahoe, US, by Emerald Bay. The bottle of wine that they popped that dawn can still be found in their loft. The stories that it tells!
Finally, it was time to find a crib of their own. It took a year before they finally set their eyes on a pre-war duplex home in central Singapore, minutes from the Orchard Road shopping belt and a mere 7-minute drive from the centres they started for children. Again, they met with some disapproving comments as it was clearly old and run-down. It was dark; the sunlight could barely find its way into the home. But they saw just how much potential it had! Despite its proximity to one of the busiest areas on the island, this property is nestled in a quiet neighbourhood - perfect!
They later discovered Liu Guofeng - a local designer and architect- who was not a renowned one back then, young too, perhaps markedly less experienced than many in the industry. But there was a certain boldness in his work. He, too, seemed to enjoy taking the roads less travelled. The first meeting with him was filled with easy conversations and casual banter. Instantly, the pair knew they had to choose him to design this first home of theirs. The journey ahead was going to be long. Surely it had to be spent with someone who would make it enjoyable. He sure proved himself to be incredibly talented, bold and fun.
Jed and Michelle were clear about what they wanted - plenty of natural light let into the home, open spaces with as few partitions as it allowed, a high ceiling, exposed brickwork. Above all, it had to allow for parties with friends and family that would happen often. Having plans for children and being passionate about fitness also meant that there needed to be space for both. They also wanted plenty of storage space.
Most of the furniture was designed and customised. This was hand-made in Indonesia.
The door handle was a precious find in Bangkok, Thailand. It's a beautiful piece of raw timber.
Not having enough space for a full walk-in wardrobe, this corridor in the master bedroom is flanked by full-height wardrobes, making it feel like a regular walk-in wardrobe!
The original timber rafters were retained and repainted to give the home a unique fusion of old and new.
Progress: A view of the spiral staircase.
The spiral staircase which is one of the visual features of the home.
Before: The living and dining area.
Before: The stairway leading to the loft apartment.
One of the progress shots of the kitchen area before the magic began!
Before: This was the entrance to the duplex apartment. The wooden door had evident signs of wear and tear and could barely shut properly.
The exposed brickwork that date back to the pre-Japanese Occupation days. They don't make bricks like these anymore; they have the word "ASIA" on them.
The room with lots of natural light streaming in, to lounge in. It's a multi-purpose room - to exercise, to read in etc. All the wooden beams are original. The owners wished to retain the old charm of this pre-war home, while introducing new elements of modernity.
The masterbed room with crisp white linen, a copper bedside lamp from America and more exposed brickwork that flows from the dining and living areas. The wooden ceiling fan was hand-carried from Bangkok, Thailand.
The view from the second-storey loft.
Beside the plush sofa that's from King Living (an Australian brand), is a beautiful magazine holder that holds a vintage music note sheet that was discovered in a bag in our Danish friend's grandmother's country house. The notes were owned by a previous owner of the old house. Her name was Emelie. The Arco floor lamp with its silver and marble, adds a contemporary touch to the living room. Of course, a spot of green in the form of a fiddle leaf fig plant is the perfect addition to this part of the abode.
The open concept (the dining and living area). The clean white streak across the original pre-war brick wall gives the room a certain edge and modernity, blending old and new.
The coffee table has a rich history - the table top was a gem found in a vintage Danish store; it used to be used by a printing company in Denmark, to store the letterings. Metal legs were then customised for it to rest on, repurposing the letter-holder into a perfect coffee table. The owners love items with a story to tell.
Gems from around the world in various parts of the home:
The 3-metre long customised teak table and benches were made in Indonesia and shipped to Singapore. Both were designed from scratch. On the window seat is an old wooden and brass basket from Denmark and holds a bunch of beautifully dried stalks of wheat. A clay holder sits beside it; it is from The Netherlands.
Up the stairs, the space dramatically opens up to a double volume attic – copper lanterns hang low, suspended from black-painted timber beams and joists that held up pitched roofs up above.
During parties, the chattering of a party of friends – or the solitary soundtrack of a movie screening – echo up and dissipates into the voids above. Respite can be sought via a spiral staircase that leads to a private study that floats above the activity; the attic of the attic and the super space that overlooks into all the spaces beneath it. Throughout the house, a running backdrop of exposed rough and unhewn brickwork walls juxtapose against newly laid timber floors and fresh plastered partitions; the cracks and crevices of the old bricks are remnants and reminders of the former house and the 1960s from the outside.
On special evenings, the smells of an outdoor barbecue waft through the neighbourhood, but the front yards remain empty and there is no barbecue pit in use. The house on the upper storey yields other secrets: its residents step out of the full-length kitchen windows and into the courtyard. Ground materialises, taking the form of an elevated wire mesh deck on which an event is unfolding under the night sky with its fairy light stars.