A Singapore house with a minimalist interior that keeps clutter at bay
In this semi-detached residence, Singaporean architect Ko Shiou Hee uses light timber tones and smart storage design to create a minimalist home.
For many years, this semi-detached house – which has a garden and three bedrooms – was rented out. There was nothing unpleasant about it: The facade with its quaint domed apertures, coffee-coloured glazing, as well as terracotta roof tiles could be considered quaint. But it could also appear dated, and the interior functions were inadequate for the owner, who decided to reclaim the house for her own family.
“While it was rented out, the tenant had furniture and other belongings everywhere. I had no idea how it would look even when it was emptied. After he moved out, I barely had time to go and see the house, as I was preoccupied with work during last year’s circuit breaker. But there was no doubt that a complete makeover was necessary. I wanted a home of serenity, a sanctuary to get away from the bustle of a stressful day,” she said in the brief to the architect.
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The architect turned out to be her second cousin Ko Shiou Hee, who heads K2LD Architects. The Singapore- and Melbourne-based firm has built a strong reputation for its inventive house designs. They include an abode with greenish copper walls that synthesises the building to its verdant backdrop and another with a triangulated roof that reaches skyward sheltering a patio.
There are also boxy constructs that apply his modernist architectural training to the dictates of the tropical climate – think long eaves, screens, courtyards and open plans.
This project, however, is more modest in comparison. The renovation was to be kept within its existing 3,500 sq ft shell while keeping in mind the family’s needs. Of course, aged mechanical and electrical services, as well as plumbing, had to be improved.
“We love to cook, and have friends and family over. My extended family lives mostly in the same neighbourhood, within walking distance. The kitchen has to be functional as well as [impressive]. Moving from a larger home, I have quite a lot of belongings accumulated over the years. Hence, [sufficient] storage was important to prevent clutter, and Shiou Hee knows best how to do that,” she spoke appreciatively of Ko’s smart design ideas.
American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” philosophy was a governing ethos. “The design is about straight lines, smooth curves, simple shapes and flat planes – although it is also about texture,” said Ko. A minimalist approach does not equate to dullness; a variety of textures applied in a singular colour can create interest in a harmonious way, he added.
“The challenge was to retain the existing structure of the house but give it a fresh and timeless look. We replaced the terracotta roof with a new aluminium roof. The curves from the old house were rationalised and erased. Windows and doorways were squared for a more modern look,” Ko highlighted.
He framed the original windows at the front facade with a rectangular aluminium portal, and filled the spaces between glazing panels with vertical aluminium slats so that the overall composition reads as one element. This now slick facade with a black-grey palette turns a reticent face to the street but one can also interpret it as a protective shell for the private happenings of domestic life.
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It belies the warm interior that Ko has created, with plenty of light-toned wood for both the architectural features and cabinetry. The client, who was inspired by the serenity of Japanese homes, leaned toward this palette. A screened wall using oak laminate with rhythmic vertical articulations concealing the main door opens to a living room floored with large, ashen-coloured ceramic floor tiles.
“They were chosen for their neutral colour and vein,” said Ko. This flooring continues up two steps to a dining area where bulbous, skeletal pendant lamps from Foscarini float above a long timber table. Sculpted, classic Carl Hansen CH20 timber dining chairs adhere to the harmonious use of timber while lending a soft touch.
Like the facade, the use of minimal elements is restful on the eye. Sunlight from ample floor-to-ceiling windows further brightens – and lightens – the space. “It also shows the true colours of the walls, floors and furniture, retaining the true essence of the minimalist style,” said Ko.
Above the living room, he inserted another angular feature. “Since it is an old house, the ceiling was quite low to start with. We redesigned the ceiling to accommodate piping for a new air-conditioning system but pushed the centre of the living room up 150mm, which was all we had. In order to create the illusion of a higher space, a black rim was added,” Ko highlighted.
Instead of adding cove lights, as many are wont to do in such situations, he clad the surface with oak laminate panels that match the walls. A graphic effect is created with black, recessed light fixtures and a black ceiling fan.
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The staircase walls and floor employ the same palette of light oak timber laminate cladding and black metal handrails. The vertical slat detail continues on one side for visual consistency, drawing the eye up and inward, as well as bringing the sense of calm from the first storey to the more private zones upstairs.
As the staircase turns ninety degrees, Ko cut an opening in the wall between it and the dining area, and screened the interface to give clue to the comings and goings of the occupants. In front of it is the aforementioned bar counter.
“A deconstructed cage of vertical timber and horizontal metal elements integrate the back of the bar, while allowing light from the top of the staircase to filter through. The design satisfies the practical function of the shelving so that the bottles and other objects do not fall out, as well as protectively enclose the staircase all the way up to the landing,” described Ko.
On the second storey, he discovered a high soffit after removing the old ceiling. “There was potential in creating a more voluminous space in the study room under the sloping roof by using a slanted form, which we emphasised with up-lights,” he said. Exposed timber rafters add to the effect. In the adjacent space where the staircase is, he curved the high ceiling to reflect more light while eliminating shadow.
The deep, meticulous thought that went into the nips and tucks of this house’s renovation is palpable, and the owner is immensely satisfied with the results. “It is inviting and bright, and has sufficient storage. Artwork and furniture fit like a glove. The home now provides warmth and calm.”
“It is inviting and bright, and has sufficient storage. Artwork and furniture fit like a glove. The home now provides warmth and calm.” – The homeowner