House tour: A three-storey penthouse in Singapore with a rooftop Jacuzzi
Wrapped in timber walls and screens, this spacious penthouse’s assortment of lattice designs give optimal shade, privacy and usability to its owners, a pair of newlywed professionals.
It is not everyday that an interior designer gets to work on a three-level penthouse. Dennis Cheok, founder of design studio UPSTAIRS_, was therefore more than delighted to be given the task by a pair of young, working professionals. The newlyweds had bought this 3,500 sq. ft. dwelling from the wife's parents, but the existing interiors were disjointed, compacted and did not cater to their lifestyles.
The owners liked the architecturally-trained designer’s refreshing designs and adroit creation of fluid spaces. Having previously met other interior designers who suggested that not much could be changed to the original layout, they were impressed by Cheok’s creative proposals.
The adventurous couple gave him a free hand, even encouraging him to tear down walls and gut spaces. “At some point, we got worried about the cost and had to hold them back, only to be told to ‘go ahead with what we needed to do [to fulfil our design vision],” chuckled the appreciative Cheok.
To give order to the design, he defined the first level for relaxation and socialising, and the upper levels for rest and study. Removing the wall of the kitchen at the rear immediately changed the first storey’s feel to create seamless transitions between cooking, eating and entertaining activities.
A six-metre-long food counter integrates the kitchen and dining. It is read as a series of clean-cut monoliths made from concrete-finish Caesarstone panels atop a burnished steel base. “For their typical day, quick breakfasts and longer, intimate meals are prepared from counter to table in a fuss-free way,” said Cheok.
With the dining shifted from the living, the latter is now larger. Cheok designed this space for languid lounging, anchoring a configurable sofa at its centre. “It allows the user to face inward where the entertainment system is located or turn the opposite way toward the balcony and beyond to the city skyline,” he explained.
During his first visit, Cheok recalled the unbearable heat and glare of the early evening sun and so placed importance on creating a thermally comfortable environment. He layered a dual screen across the expansive, double-height windows, with vertical sliding panels beneath and horizontal louvres above.
“[For the sliding panels], we designed two independent layers of vertical timber slats so that it can function as screens in a typical usage or form a blackout curtain when the two layers of slats overlap precisely. We took pains to prototype the screens from a small-scale Marquette, and eventually tested them as a full-scale mock-up on site,” explained the meticulous Cheok.
The wall containing the entertainment systems is clad in black-stained oak veneer. It turns a right angle from the living area into the dining, to define another block.
Above it, an intricate slide-fold screen along the room’s length provides a secondary layer of sun protection to the study-cum-guest room, which was formed by combining two rooms. They can shut it up for privacy during gatherings or necessary periods of concentrated work on typical days.
In this home, it is not only the outward views that fascinate, but the upward ones as well. “Each wall was divided horizontally and then vertically, arriving at its own grid when they meet the ceiling. We extruded the grid into a three-dimensional timber lattice, unifying the walls and lending a framework for a complex series of fans and lights overhead,” said Cheok.
The owners term this feature an “inverted crate”, referencing one of Cheok’s former projects that inserted a timber crate into the house’s centre. It adds warmth and a sense of human scale to the towering space.
At the other end of the living room, a handsome staircase sculpts through the space, its sharp lines and midnight shade throwing a graphic punch into the refined atmosphere. “The staircase is easily one of my favourite elements in this apartment. What I love is that the double volume gave us the opportunity to pursue the spiralling gesture in a dramatic way,” said Cheok.
It is framed through large apertures made from removing a two-storey wall. The porosity further enhances spatial connectivity that is vital for only two people living in such a large house, as well as offers views of the lofty space from different vantage points. Its artistic quality also makes an event out of the typically mundane motions of transiting from one level to another.
Cheok gives kudos to the owners for coming up with the idea of removing the walls, which immediately opened the staircase to the living area. They also initiated its bold, blackened steel finish. “We collectively agreed that it builds the general material palette in terms of character and colour,” said Cheok.
Its glossy surface reflects the shine of the slender OMA-designed light tubes criss-crossing in the air, which Cheok explained brings “both light and a sense of lightness to the timber crate’s massiveness.”
Apart from the living area’s delicate ceiling composition, the study room offers a peek of real sky though an existing skylight. “It was the result of a past renovation helmed by the owner’s father. We first encountered it with delight and designed a worktable to sit precisely beneath it,” said Cheok. New sliding timber panels cover this aperture to allow flexibility in mitigating potential over-lighting and glare.
On the second level, shifting a wall at the staircase landing enlarged the master bedroom. “With the expanding floor plate, we then carved out dedicated areas for sleeping, dressing and cleansing, with each space defined by its material palettes,” says Cheok.
The lighter-toned oak timber veneers employed on this level evokes a more contemplative atmosphere. Simple timber sliding screens dividing each section, as well as the rhythmic lines of the timber bed frames, echo the latticed language found in the first storey.
In the master bathroom, a greyscale palette and backdrop of greenery outside the glass walls offer visual calm. The cleansing activity can continue on the third storey Jacuzzi that comes complete with sceneries of city lights and stars. Here is also another bedroom to accommodate the family when it grows.
“There was a beautiful disjunction between the brilliant city view that the apartment overlooked and the sad, brown wallpaper on the interiors,” recalled Cheok on his first glimpse of the apartment. His richly detailed design leaves this memory far behind.
The manifold textured surfaces are a charismatic foil not just for online meetings held at home, but also for emotive light play. Said Cheok, “It is most delightful to witness how rays of sunlight and shadow dance along the surfaces of the home, right before sundown. I’ve witnessed it twice during the project shoot, and both times it was quite spectacular for those fleeting few minutes.”