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A family home that follows the mantra of minimalism

Keeping things to a minimum makes for a fulfilling life in this semi-detached home.

More is better, is the oft-heard mantra of homeowners when it comes to designing a new home. So when architect Woon Chung Yen’s client said that he only wanted something “adequate”, it marked a refreshing change for the founder of Metre Architects. His clients – Leong Wai Onn, his wife Karen Tan and their three teenaged children – had moved from an intermediate terrace to a 3,401 sq ft semi-detached in Upper Serangoon that’s twice as big, but it didn’t mean that they needed as much living space. So Mr Leong, head of export sales at a paper mill company, simply asked Mr Woon to “design a home that is adequate”. Adds Mr Woon: “Seldom are there clients who choose to have what is enough, as opposed to ‘maximising’ the available space.” With that in mind, Mr Woon reconstructed the single-storey dwelling into a three-storey home designed to address the family’s three requirements: privacy, adequacy, and permanence. As the house stands on the corner of a T-junction, privacy was a top priority for the family. Instead of typical large sliding doors, Mr Woon designed small windows for the side of the home that faces the street.

  • Luxury Homes

    Small but strategically placed windows allow light into the home while giving its residents privacy.

Mr Leong and his homemaker wife were initially worried that small windows would mean darkened interiors, which was the case in their old home, but they need not have worried. The windows, though small, are plentiful and strategically placed such that no neighbours can peep in. Mr Woon also designed the staircase to run parallel to the series of windows. “The staircase is naturally lit during the day,” he says.

Meanwhile, a set of sliding glass doors on the other side of the house open up to a garden, and a high wall keeps the entire home private.

As the family does not have a domestic helper, the home needs to be manageable in size and easy to maintain. The children have their own bedrooms on the second floor, while their parents are on the top floor. There are no spare rooms because there is simply no need for any.

On the first floor, the living and dining areas are kept bare for easy maintenance, with a structural wall dividing the two spaces.

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Of the three requirements, what struck Mr Woon as the most unusual is the request for permanence. “The family see this as a home they would live in for a long time, and not as a temporary home,” says Mr Woon. Often with the latter in mind, clients want houses that have a higher resale value.

Since they would be living here for many years, Mr Woon designed the space such that the family would never get tired of it.

For example, the staircase not only serves the function of connecting the ground floor to the upper levels, but its landing has been designed to connect to a tiered platform which can serve as extra seating or a chill out area.

While the children’s bedrooms have separate entrances, they share an outdoor terrace that runs the length of the bedrooms. When they are not buried in their books, the teens head out here for a game of football.

From the terrace, the family can access the master bedroom on the third level via an outdoor staircase. Or they could also do so the conventional way using the stairs on the inside.

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Ample space, with privacy

As with the other bedrooms, the master bedroom is minimally furnished with its own outdoor deck. This is Ms Tan’s favourite spot to enjoy a view of the neighbourhood while retaining privacy. To keep some sunlight streaming in, Mr Woon designed for the upper floors to be set a distance back from the party wall, which the house shares with its neighbour. Because of this set back, it means that the terraces now look onto the 20m by 7m tall party wall.

Since a plain white wall is boring to look at, Mr Woon painted the wall in strips of varying shades of grey. The straight, horizontal strips provide contrast to the angular outdoor staircase.

“Standing by the side of the road, and looking up at the house, you get an abstract image of the horizon (the grey strips) and the mountain and valley (the staircase),” says Mr Woon.

While some may deem the house to look too sparse and incomplete, the family fully agree with Mr Woon naming this project The Ample House.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

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