The simple architecture of this house in Singapore belies the warm and inviting space that lies within
You don’t always need splashy colours to create a striking space.
With two out of three children already in their teens, the owners of this house decided they want a bigger space. They found a house close to town withan interesting architecture that’s nestled into a steep slope. The main entrance is via the higher part of the land and the spaces trace the terrain, ending with a swimming pool in the basement. Unlike typical basements, this one is opened to views of landscaping with plenty of light and wind.
While the bones of the house by TCLA Architects were good, the interior needed some work. A developer had built the house for sale, which is why it lacked a personal touch. For that, the owners looked to Massoneong. Architecturally trained Elisa Massone and Vanessa Ong, (both had worked with prestigious firms across Italy and Singapore respectively) founded the firm. They are experts in creating inviting, hotel-like spaces through the thoughtful employment of material and thoughtful space management.
The simple architecture of this house – white walls, dark windows and metal-pitched roof – belies the warmth that lies within. Take for example the foyer that’s finished in light timber veneer. Between the living and dining areas in the rear is an interesting lounge space, enveloped by a structure with lower ceiling and arched portals.
“This used to be a courtyard that rose from the basement to the roof, which made the living and dining very disjointed,” said the missus of the house. Massone and Ong decided to close up this voluminous space on all levels to attain more floor area. In fact, this lounge is where many informal activities take place. “I really like this space. It is a very high-traffic area,” said the wife. “We read the newspapers and the children also like to do their homework here. When we have our extended family members over, all the children dine here too.”
To spruce up the space, Ong added a dark green curvy sofa and wooden table. Above it, a chandelier’s petal-like bulbs and shapely brass frame mirror the organic lines of the greenery outside the window. This elegant space could very well be the lounge of a chic boutique hotel.
“We wanted to define this new floor plate extension so that it has its own identity that is separate from the existing architecture and feels like an ‘indoor’ veranda. The arches allow glimpses into and out of this space and alter the proportion of the space,” explained Ong. The timber-clad walls enveloping this space conceal existing structural columns in a subtle way. “The ceiling is lower because we had to hide air-con ducting for cooling this space. Instead of panelling the entire first floor, we only lowered this part so it becomes a focal point and feels like a cocoon,” Ong highlighted.
The arched doorways add a feminine touch to the area and the curves soften the straight lines of the architecture. The organically shaped furniture that Ong chose to furnish the home, such as the curvy sofa and round coffee tables in the living room, as well as the diaphanous chandelier in the dining area, add a touch of lushness. Circular elements are also present in utility spaces such as the powder room, where a round mirror with a protruding orb that serves as a light source hangs above an oval-shaped pedestal washbasin. Ong shared that the sculptural marble washbasin, designed by renowned minimalist architect John Pawson, was selected for its narrow profile to fit the small bathroom.
Throughout the home, Ong seamlessly incorporated plenty of storage. For example, the white shoe cabinet door next to the main door blends into the expanse of white walls, while the same light-grey laminate for the powder room door clads the floor-to-ceiling joinery in the dry kitchen. Part of the former wet kitchen was given up to create this dry kitchen that segues into the dining area. A long, marble counter makes it a delightful entertainment area for when there are guests.
Another important change in the house was the colour scheme. “It was previously very dark. Now it’s warm and more trendy,” she said. Blinds instead of curtains add to the light touch while filling the home with diffused light. A lift was also installed to make it easier to access the four levels quickly.
On the second storey, the floor area reclaimed from the former courtyard is now a study where the wife does her work. “I had also planned for it to be the children’s study area as well but they can do their work everywhere in the house,” said the wife, on the many conducive spots Ong has shaped.
In the master bedroom on the second floor, Ong had created a restful space with neutral tones and soft finishes. In the master bathroom, the floor is matched with grey-stained oak wall panels and washbasin countertops in Arabescato Orobico marble with sinewy veins. Perched in a corner is a small bathtub that is enjoyed by all members of the family, including the children.
All the bedrooms feature similar polish as the rest of the house. Both the boys’ rooms have blue-coloured accents in the joinery and artwork by Singapore-based Malaysian artist Kayleigh Goh that features architectural compositions, and the use of cement and timber. In the attic, the daughter’s room opens out to two outdoor terraces. The pitched-ceiling profile was retained for a lofty feel, and a feminine palette was created with botanical wallpaper and blush-toned wall upholstery at the bed. Against this genteel backdrop, the daughter, who is a passionate dancer, regularly practices ballet.
In the basement, large apertures open up the generous family room to the surrounding landscape and the swimming pool, which was retiled. “Sometimes we will watch television here, or the children will play or do their work. They have also fallen asleep here,” the wife mused on the comfortable and relaxing space that Ong has created.
This basement is another space in the house the family uses regulatly to entertain family and friends. “When the children have friends over, they like to have their meals here or hang out in the pool,” said the wife. The family also had a pool in their former home but this is new one is larger and so more effective for swimming laps, which the husband does regularly. The renovation also makes the house a suitable backdrop to showcase the couple’s collection of art.
“There is no specific theme but we collect art that speaks to us,” said the wife. For example, a painting of a kampong scene by Cheong Soo Pieng, who was a pioneer of the Nanyang art style, welcomes guests at the foyer. “The art is very subtle; it’s very calming and nostalgic because of the theme,” she continued, referring to the image of a group of Malay women under a large tropical tree.
Singaporean artist Boo Sze Yang’s jaunty and colourful artwork Too Young to Die animates a staircase landing, while an oval piece that incorporates Fresnel lenses by Australia-based Singaporean artist Suzann Victor reflects light to brighten a corner at the second storey.
Elements such as these add to the refined character of the interior. Yet, despite the sophisticated ambience, nothing feels too precious. The various finishes in this house can take wear and tear, and the furniture was also thoughtfully chosen for their good quality and usability. As the missus emphasised, this is a home and she wants the children to enjoy building memories here.