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House tour: A three-storey family home in Singapore enveloped by lush gardens

This house contains no less than four gardens on a modest plot – perfect for the owner to indulge in his horticulture passion.

House tour: A three-storey family home in Singapore enveloped by lush gardens

Shrouded in greenery, this house designed by HYLA Architects makes one forget that it's located in a dense residential neighbourhood. (Photo: Masano Kawana)

A lot about nature has been discussed during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of them being the benefits of incorporating greenery into our homes if we were to spend more time in them. Designed by HYLA Architects, the Green Revelation house in Singapore is a good example. Leafy, breezy encounters unfold along a thoughtfully planned trajectory, making one forget its location in a dense residential neighbourhood.

The owner is an oil trader who spent the past five years living in Johor Bahru, Malaysia as his two sons – now aged 20 and 16 – were studying in the British International School’s Marlborough College there. He also has a four-year-old daughter and a fourth child on the way. Green hills and lush forests surrounded their detached house in the tranquil Gelang Patah suburb.

“On hot evenings, you get the smell of cattle dung from the nearby farms,” the owner shared. This might turn off many folks, but not this household. “I always had green fingers. I like plants, flowers, the smell of nature – even bugs,” he laughed. “My family is addicted to green living and we knew that when we returned to Singapore, we would need a place that conveys the same respect for nature as our little hideout in Gelang Patah.”

His Singaporean bolthole is in the east of the island, where the owner bought a plot of land as he had fond memories growing up there in the 1970s. When he first visited, he was delighted to discover abundant wildlife still present. “I think people who stay in the east like the kampong feel and a bit of nature,” he ruminated.

“I like to see nature along the corridors, [outside] the windows and in niches where you least expect, and for nature to blend with the architecture,” the owner elaborated.

Assimilating nature is effortless for Han, whose oeuvre reflects a keen understanding of tropical living. “Many of our houses feature courtyards, internal gardens and landscaped areas that blur the distinction between indoors and out. Our clients are aware of our direction and come to us for help to create this synergy in their houses,” he said.

The result is recognisably modern yet does not jar in this sleepy cul-de-sac of vintage, one-storey houses existing since those kampong days. This is due to the house’s rustic architecture of concrete, greyish-brown bricks and timber that exudes a stoic yet warm character. Abundant foliage wrapping the building – which rises three storeys, plus an attic – also helps.

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Three sides of the 567sqm house are enclosed with walls for privacy from neighbours. The more porous front has perforated aluminium screens that shield from the unforgiving western sun and prying eyes while filtering natural light and ventilation. In traversing the house, one realises its highlight is how it frames, wraps and interlocks the gardens like a jigsaw puzzle.

The most dramatic of these green reliefs is a voluminous courtyard facing the entrance door. This scenery is a verdant foil to the staircase and living space, whose double volume enhances the effect of the dense landscaping designed by boutique landscape company Humid House. The first storey guestroom also enjoys this bucolic experience through operable, full-height glazing.   

The owner’s passion for nature is palpable. Our house tour comes with a running commentary of the diverse plants. At the first storey terrace framed by a timber portal, he highlights the lack of blossoms in the front garden due to the rainy weather; here is also a Koi pond where his daughter sits alongside counting red dragonflies. In the central courtyard, he speaks fondly of his Asparagus ferns and young leopard trees (Caesalpinia Ferrea), whose bark patterns take after the spotted feline.

In his master bathroom is a personal oasis in the form of a palm-wrapped, trellis-topped Jacuzzi. It is accessed via twin pathways lined on one side with dark wardrobe doors and on another with a double-vanity counter. The master bedroom is linked to the study where the owner can work undisturbed. It shares a bathroom with the entertainment room, which faces yet another garden.

“The entertainment room is a very popular space. Sometimes there are family arguments on who should use it at any one point in time,” quipped the owner. “With my boys playing the drums and piano, and my daughter dancing to the music, some of my best moments in the house so far are here.” At our time of visit, a violin has been added to the ensemble. It belongs to the daughter who has just begun lessons.

The family is obviously close knit, and the house is a witness to its endearments. The owner gave his music-loving older son free rein to select the house’s sound system while two framed, childlike drawings made by the owner’s second son – one of over 200 that the proud father has kept through the years – adorns a wall. Outside the guestroom hangs a commissioned portrait of his wife by Chinese artist Zhang Xiang Ming.

The swimming pool and gym perch on the rooftop bordered by plants and coloured by spectacular sunsets. It is the setting for the family’s monthly barbecue where the owner grills his signature steak. The house’s open plan and fluid indoor-outdoor connections make it perfect for large gatherings, which the family will have to wait until after the pandemic to organise.

More importantly, it was been a comfortable refuge for them during the Circuit Breaker.

“We are fortunate that our children had [ample] space to roam and enjoy their games and hobbies,” said the owner. At the dry kitchen counter, his son upped his barista skills while his younger son retreated to the attic to paint the horizon. His daughter practiced cycling and badminton at the expansive driveway while his wife spent several evenings in the Jacuzzi with her favourite red wine and music. Needless to say, the owner’s plants kept him well occupied and contented.

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Source: CNA/ds