A lawyer who works for a technology company lives in this ground floor condominium unit. Wanting it to be a retreat to unwind after long business trips and long working days, she sent her brief to Lim Shing Hui, the principal architect at L Architects and a long-time church friend whose work she follows.

Besides these requests, Shing Hui also realised the full potential of this 12-week renovation project. “As soon as I stepped into the apartment, I noticed that the living room and bedroom opened onto a beautiful patio with trees, plants, and water features. I wondered if I could make the living room and bedroom feel as if they belong in a house where doors or windows open up onto a garden,” she adds.

(Related: Somnio: you need an invitation to get an apartment on the world’s biggest superyacht)

In general, apartments on the first floor aren’t the most popular among homebuyers, who prefer privacy and views on higher floors. Well, Shing Hui changed all that.

When the existing false ceiling was removed and the team discovered the additional ceiling space above, it was as if the apartment itself was sending a subliminal message that it concurred with Shing Hui’s vision. The landscaping in the common area coupled with the discovery of the tall, lofty ceiling space provided the very catalyst for the design strategy.

The existing condition of the apartment was old and dark, and it felt cold and sombre to Shing Hui. “It just did not feel like what a home should be,” she says.

“We wanted to use this project as an experiment to bridge the landed house and apartment typologies, and reimagine the negative aspects of a ground floor unit into something as delightful as a landed home. This is especially poignant in land-scarce Singapore where there are so few landed homes and owning one remains unattainable to most.”

Maximising the natural light within the apartment was also an essential part of the brief. Hacking the original kitchen wall allowed more sunlight to penetrate the deep recesses of the interior and extend the dining area.

(Related: House Tour: A Good Class Bungalow that’s built around mature trees on its land)

The floor plan is separated into three key zones: living, dining, and the master bedroom. Because of the high ceilings, each area has its distinct pitch roof, creating the illusion of three little houses inside a large space. They also require crossing thresholds with granite steps surrounded by river pebbles. The intention is to convey the feeling of travelling from one house to the next.

While any designer’s immediate response to an apartment with a high ceiling is to introduce a loft, Shing Hui, chose not to add one because the existing open floor area was adequate for the homeowner who lives a simple lifestyle and does not collect too many physical possessions.

Besides, she adds, pitched roofs and pitched ceilings are closely associated with the imagery of a house from an architectural perspective. “When you ask a child to draw a picture of a house, they will often depict one with a pitched roof.”

(Related: House Tour: Natural history meets modern art in this Chip Bee Gardens terrace house)

Shing Hui’s goal was to remove the stigma attached to a ground-floor apartment in a multi-family block. “People often enter with preconceived notions of what a typical condominium interior should look like. Many are surprised and slightly confused when they realise it has an unexpected house form. “I find that amusing,” she says.

Of course, the house form is not the result of the whims of the designer or client. It is a contextual response to the site. As well as meeting the client’s brief, a good design incorporates reading what the rooms need and putting the spatial meaning behind visually appealing images in context.

“Essentially, we are not simply interior decorators. Designing thoughtful, thought-provoking spaces is our goal.” The homeowner admits that it has changed her. Since she moved in September 2020, she prefers to stay in rather than go out. “I love inviting friends over to enjoy meaningful conversations.”

“This home allows me to do just that and more,” she says.

This article was originally published in Home and Decor.