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Photo: Studio Periphery

Opposites attract, they say. The owners of this house, a married couple in their 30s with two young children, are as different as night and day. While the husband, Tzi Yang, is masculine, extroverted, and boisterous, the wife, Jill, is cool, calm, and composed, with a swan-like elegance.

Their tastes, too, differ. He shares that Tzi Yang’s ideal dwelling is a brutalist concrete bunker, whereas Jill has a penchant for all things sophisticated. This is her natural instinct, honed over the years by exposure to the rich artistic and cultural scenes in Beijing and Hong Kong, where the couple lived for a while.   

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Ethan Lin, principal of design studio TE-EL, daubed the home in a neutral colour palette. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

You’d think that designing a home that marries both sets of inclinations would be challenging. And you’d be right. But Ethan Lin, principal of design studio TE-EL, whom the couple “stalked on Instagram”, took it under his wing, delivering a family nest that exceeded expectations.

“[Ethan] really managed to marry our aesthetic senses,” says Tzi Yang, 38, an M&A lawyer. “I was leaning a bit more to the brutalist side of things. But he managed to find some middle ground. Even though (the design is) elegant and the colours were not as true to my initial instincts, what I really like about it is that it’s very monolithic, which appealed to me very much.”

Functional adjustments

Not that any of these qualities can be appreciated by a bystander. The inter-terrace unit, located in the northeast of Singapore, was constructed as a row of identical terrace houses with monotonous façades. The couple purchased the three-storey, 3,500 sq ft property in 2015 before relocating to Beijing and subsequently Hong Kong in 2018. It was rented out to a family in the interim period. They returned to Singapore in 2021 to be closer to their families. 

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Living, dining, and dry kitchen function as a single space on the ground level, conceived like a pavilion in a resort. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

On what sealed the deal, Jill, 34, a former finance-lawyer-turned-full-time homemaker, shares: “We bought the place without any knowledge of its proximity to schools or whether it was suitable for kids or anything like that. I just knew that we wanted a landed property. Finding an inter-terrace in a new development within our budget was difficult. This one was relatively close to my parents’ house.”

The house was in relatively good shape, but there were a number of issues to be resolved. Chief among these was the issue of privacy. “When we first moved in, people would walk past our house, stand outside and gawk,” explains Tzi Yang. 

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Aged teak frames provide further allusion to the resort typology. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

In response, Ethan installed a natural screen on the façade, comprising a curtain of Lee Kuan Yew creepers (Vernonia elliptica) that cascade from the second storey. Today, the dense veil of creepers provides an effective shield against prying eyes and also cocoons the family in a verdant embrace. 

Level one of the house was entirely reconfigured, while levels two and three went largely untouched, save for remodelling the master bedroom. 

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The open-plan layout is conducive to socialising and play. The low-slung furniture is geared towards the couple’s two young children. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

“(For terrace houses like these), it’s very typical to have a living room, small dining area, semi-dry kitchen, and back-of-house where people do their laundry,” says Ethan. “We redid the entire level, created a dry kitchen to get a more sizable dining area, and introduced a playroom at the back.”

“We moved the back-of-house components to the rooftop. The rear of the house is actually very close to the neighbours, so you don’t get much sunlight coming in. Now all the laundry is done on the rooftop (where it receives ample sun and wind).” 

The comfort of minimalism

In developing the concept for level one, Ethan took reference from a modernist house built by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who famously designed the Sydney Opera House. Utzon’s house is characterised by a concrete framework, timber slats on the ceiling, and timber-framed doors. 

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The study room on the third storey is Tzi Yang’s base for remote work. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

Ethan envisioned level one as a pavilion, a communal space where the family could spend time with each other and their guests. He began by replacing the existing aluminium sliding doors with full-height, timber-and-steel framed glass doors. These were custom-manufactured for this project and installed on two sides of the space to allow maximum natural light.

The walls and floors were finished in micro-cement, with the walls bearing a more textured surface to give it a rustic, organic quality that fit the brief. To complement this, Ethan installed a monolithic TV console hewn from travertine and continued the design language in the backsplash of the dry kitchen. 

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Geometric shapes and solid forms give the house a robust, masculine quality. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

Boxy, robust-looking furnishings balance the proportions of the interior. This includes a Living Divani sofa, a bespoke coffee table and dining table by Singapore-based German furniture maker Till Kautz, and modernist design classic Pierre Jeanneret’s Chandigarh dining chairs. 

Weathered elements

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Ethan looked to modernist master Pierre Jeanneret and his classic Chandigarh chairs to complement the custom dining table. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

“When we (design) a house, we try to make it feel like it isn’t a brand new space, but a bit more collected,” says Ethan. “For the Chandigarh chairs, Ethan chose a weathered teak finish. Ditto for the joinery (aged teak) and custom-designed furniture. Even the brass lights in the dining space were chosen for their ability to age gracefully.

This strategy also works to the couple’s advantage, given that they have a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. To that end, Ethan also made sure to incorporate as many child-friendly features in the design as possible. For instance, the coffee table is just the right height for a toddler to sit and draw.

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The master bedroom continues the house’s streamlined design language. (Photo: Studio Periphery)

“What we enjoyed and are still enjoying is how the house can be a very grown-up space,” says Tzi Yang. “But it’s also perfect for kids. So Ethan managed to marry those two elements very well. If you walk into our home and disregard the Vitra polar bear, it’s a very grown-up space. It’s perfect for hosting. But at the same time, kids can run around and play. Right now, there’s a tent in the living room because the kids want to go camping!”