A Singapore home where Chinese elements combine with luxury hotel vibes
In this 7,500 sq ft multigenerational family home, interior designer Wilma Wu introduces traditional Chinese motifs alongside accents from upscale hotels like the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and Park Hyatt Milan.
For 15 years, two brothers who ran a regional business together lived with their individual families as neighbours. The two houses were exactly alike, featuring beige-toned granite surfaces, timber gazebos up front and pitched roofs.
Each 7,500 sq ft house was not small, but over time, one family decided to make some tweaks to suit changing needs. In this multigenerational house, the patriarch and his wife were getting on in years and there were now two young grandchildren in the home.
His son, who coordinated the project with Wilma Wu Design Studio, wanted an interior designer who had experience in hospitality design as the family enjoyed travelling pre-pandemic for both play and work. Hotels like the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and Park Hyatt Milan were particularly memorable.
“We wanted our home to evoke the same sense of comfort and luxury that we experienced in these properties,” said the son, to whom the grandchildren belong. His sister also lives in the house, making a total of seven family members.
An acquaintance introduced the son to the firm, which was founded in 2017 by Wilma Wu and her partner Ian Lee. Wu had spent 12 years working in hospitality firms such as Hirsch-Bedner Associates (HBA) and JAYA International. She decided to establish her own business after the latter was acquired by BLINK Design Group (BDC) following its acclaimed founder Jaya Ibrahim’s sudden death in 2015.
One of Ibrahim’s later works was the Capella Jian Ye Le, Shanghai. He had conceptualised its immaculate east-meets-west design before his passing but Wu helmed the execution. Her work on this two-and-a-half-storey home in Singapore captures a similar grace and detailing.
While no structural changes were made, the design team reworked the internal layout for better flow. Beyond the front door, a round table beneath a pendant lamp accords a sense of welcome, particularly with fresh flower arrangements when there are guests.
The design team replaced the cream-coloured marble floors with modern, light grey marble to enliven the tired living room.
“The interior was designed to evoke luxury and understated elegance with a cool palette, and natural and robust materials to withstand the test of time [as well as the hard knocks of the bevy of grandchildren]. We favoured dark, sandblasted veneer and antique bronze [that complements] the silver marble flooring,” said Wu.
“We wanted our home to evoke the same sense of comfort and luxury that we experienced in properties [like the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo and Park Hyatt Milan].” – The son
The television console features sliding lattices, which screen the television and spotlight decorative objects at the side when there are guests. The laser-cut pattern reads from afar as a series of triangles interlocked with squares, but was actually conceived from the Chinese character for “person”.
“The grandparents are a traditional Chinese couple and we didn’t want them to feel out of place [after the renovation]. The multiple Chinese characters in the screen design represents the family’s harmonious relationship in this dwelling,” explained Wu.
The design team also customised the square coffee table. The use of Ice Green marble brings a touch of sophistication into the living room that is furnished with neutral-coloured sofas. Wu shared that on hindsight, the coffee table’s height is perfect for the grandchildren to do their homework together after school with the cousins from next door. She also witnessed how its rounded edges worked well as child-proofing for active pre-schoolers.
Other curved elements in the house contributing to a genteel, relaxing atmosphere include the ceiling’s curved edges and round lighting fixtures. Twin-panel doors lead into a new dining area that the design team fashioned out of a former outdoor space with a sheltered terrace and fishpond.
Opening the linen blinds fills the room with natural light and a view of foliage designed by Wu’s team through floor-to-ceiling glazing. The team custom-designed the circular table with a lazy Susan insert for Chinese-style communal dining and the round carpet beneath, both of which suit the room’s proportions perfectly.
“The interior was designed to evoke luxury and understated elegance with a cool palette, and natural and robust materials to withstand the test of time.” – Wilma Wu
A doorway leads into a second dining area at the house’s rear, anchored by a rectangular table and two golden metal mesh light pendants. The two dining areas were created because the family always had to dine out when meeting with the extended family due to a lack of seating. After the pandemic, it will be able to not only accommodate more people for dinners; the two zones are ideal for separating adults and children, who prefer to dine with their peers.
“The living room, formal and informal dining areas are all segregated proportionately, responding to existing structures and the newly designed landscaping all around the house. Each space can be closed off with a double-door for privacy [such as when the children are watching television in the living room and the adults are having wine at the formal dining area],” said Wu.
Cabinetry with glass doors line the corridor between the two dining rooms, displaying both the family’s business awards as well as showpiece kitchenware. Next to the rear dining table, the design team opened up the formerly enclosed kitchen. Sliding doors featuring the same lattice pattern as the living room television console enhance interaction, light and ventilation between the dining and dry kitchen. The generous island counter in the latter facilitates baking sessions and breakfast preparation with the children.
Wu designed the dry kitchen to look pleasant when viewed through the screens. Streamlined fixtures and appliances neatly complement the dark wood cabinetry. Wiring is integrated into the screen design that abuts the island counter for easy maintenance.
On the second storey, the design team created personalised private zones. “In the master bedroom, the grandfather requested for a study room where he could work from home in the day, and the grandmother wanted more wardrobe and storage space. The bathtub was removed and the bathroom layout changed to accommodate his-and-hers vanity counters, as well as a very large shower room,” explained Wu.
The son’s junior master bedroom was designed like an urban retreat with a large custom-designed daybed that stretches the window’s length. In the walk-in wardrobe combined from two smaller bedrooms, a bespoke standalone dresser with ambient lighting and handsome, curved profiles celebrates the dressing up ritual.
Like the common spaces, the bedrooms feature subtle chinoiserie accents using streamlined geometric forms, minimised ornamentation, tempered colour tones and by highlighting the natural beauty of materials. The overall feel is contemporary and restful rather than kitschy.
Wu’s hospitality expertise is palpable throughout the home. Symmetrically placed wall scones with beautiful detailing frame doorways like in the hotel corridor of a high-end hotel. Awkward structural or surface members are well concealed. And the custom-designed furniture fit perfectly with the house’s dimensions.
“All door frames are specially designed with a shadow gap in dark metal detail. This may look simple but technically, it was a very difficult detail to achieve and required a lot of [coordination] between the carpentry, masonry and plasterwork teams,” Wu highlighted.
She believes that personalising houses for the occupants rather than following trends create timeless spaces.
Added Wu, “For us, functionality matters most. As a result, the design is simple and clean, accommodating the occupants’ living habits. When we design, we try to imagine how the household feels and behaves within the space.”
“For us, functionality matters most. As a result, the design is simple and clean, accommodating the occupants’ living habits.” – Wilma Wu