Inside the Singapore home of the designer behind the Ritz and Shangri-La
HL Lim is a seasoned designer behind a collection of luxury hotels around the world. His hillside home in Singapore, a three-storey edifice that sits on 11,000 sq ft of land, is a tropical paradise.
Sitting at the verandah of her 6,500 sq ft house, Christine Lim started to tell me about her garden. This fruiting season has yielded them bananas and avocados. The bananas are not so good this time, Lim says, but the avocados are tastier than anything you could find in the market.
There is a hummingbird that likes to visit this frangipani tree. It finds simple happiness in the flowers. That palm across the pool has a remarkable history. It had followed the family in a series of moves, from house to house. It is over thirty years old now.
As Lim continues to tell me about the black-leafed cordyline – a gift from thoughtful friends that became the perfect addition to this side of the garden where she keeps her collection of white-flowering trees and shrubs – it becomes clear why this is all quite a paradise.
Nature, privacy, freedom, the company of friends and family. These are the house’s provisions – its true luxuries.
I put it to Lim that it feels like we are in a resort villa, but that is stating the obvious – given that her husband is HL Lim, the founder and principal partner of LTW Designworks.
LTW Designworks has worked on the interiors of over 120 luxury hotels and resorts in the past 40 years, including for brands such as Conrad, Four Seasons, InterContinental, Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, St Regis, and Shangri-La.
Needless to say, the house is a kind of Shangri-La.
“It is a very homely house,” HL Lim said of the three-storey property set on a hill, which he shares with just his wife – their adult daughter lives in New York. Entrance is on its second floor, level with the road. The main living areas of the house are below street level. This means the house can stay open and still enjoy privacy.
“The view is unobstructed for miles,” HL Lim said. “I can look all the way down to the southern coast.”
Below their plot, a landscape of private houses stretches out until the skyline of the city rises in the distance. The view is incredible, considering how so many properties, in seeking privacy in densely-built Singapore, end up with a more enclosed and inward-looking design.
“In a three-storey house on 11,000 sq ft of land, we have many different options of spaces we want to spend our time in,” Lim said of the property, which he had designed together with his friend and architect, Ali Reda of AR+D.
The idea is to create a comfortable home suited for tropical living, with a sense of freedom about spaces.
Just for dining, there is the dining hall, the verandah, the pool pavilion, and the open deck on the top floor to choose from.
Lim grew up in a terraced house on Cairnhill Road where he shared a room with his siblings and grandmother, as was common in multigenerational households of that time.
“There were five of us living in one space then,” the designer recalled. “So perhaps the idea of the luxury of space came from there. Having space and having choices for different types of spaces, with different views, are important to me.”
Creating these spaces has proven to be practical. Family and friends from overseas who come to stay often are accommodated comfortably.
Christine Lim, who has long been involved in fundraising work, has also hosted several charity dinners in this house since ballrooms were shut by the pandemic.
The house uses design strategies seen in old colonial bungalows. Eaves and overhangs shelter the house while keeping it open, so the house enjoys all that the tropics brings –even when it rains.
The property is so open that birds and bats sometimes come through, the couple say. Imaginably, these unannounced flypasts bring great excitement.
The doors and windows only close on rare occasions when the air-conditioning is turned on. Even then, the house continues to enjoy unblocked views – through glass doors and windows.
“All these windows and doors are made of steel rather than aluminium,” HL Lim pointed out. “Steel windows and doors really go back a long time. You would see them in some of the old colonial houses.”
“The reason is that steel is stronger than aluminium, therefore the members can be much thinner,” he added. “In our house, the thickness of the steel glazing members are only 2.5cm wide. If aluminium is used instead of steel they probably need to be 7.5cm wide and therefore would obstruct the view.”
The main living area is open and airy. The interior architecture of bridges and open-riser stairs, with the vertical sculptural installation, accentuates the spaciousness.
The pool comes right up to the living room’s edge, so it feels like a pavilion over water. All throughout, the house welcomes daylight, breezes, scents of the garden, and the activity outside.
Even in the most private of spaces, there is a sense of freedom and openness. The master bedroom has direct access to the pool and garden. It extends on the other side to a generously sized ensuite, which looks out to the side garden. All these expand the spaciousness.
The pool floor is clad in black granite. The dark stone absorbs the morning sun and warms up the water quickly. It invites a pre-lunch swim. After activity, the water returns to become a calm reflecting pool – a perfectly dark mirror that holds in reflection the sway of foliage and movements in the sky.
But the house has a bold side too, as seen in the use of Corten steel in the exterior of the house.
“When I saw it, I thought, oh my goodness, it's going to be like an oven,” Christine Lim said. “It does get hot, but it's held away from the house. So it's actually quite cooling for the house. And once it does its thing it doesn't really need maintenance.”
A metal developed by US Steel in the 1930s to build railroad coal wagons, Corten later became an iconic material when artists such as Richard Serra used it to create large, walk-in sculptures. When left to the elements, it develops a layer of rust – a protective oxide film that slows down the corrosion of the metal underneath.
This raw, industrial character is balanced by travertine, which exerts a softer, quieter presence. Travertine is known for being used in Roman architecture. The famous Trevi fountain is made out of it.
In this house, the stone is used brushed and washed, and left unpolished and unfilled. It can be pleasantly found in the floors and parts of the walls, and even in the elevator. It also meets water beautifully in the pool and courtyard.
In contrast to the quick rust of Corten steel, travertine is veined and textured by the passage of time – a process that now continues in this tropical paradise.