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Luxury homes: a conservation shophouse updated for modern family life

The pre-war shophouse in Robertson Quay features a harmonious mix of old and new.

Forget penthouses or sprawling bungalows. Sometimes, architectural richness is what counts in a luxury home. That’s certainly what drives the owners of this shophouse.

Not everyone can boast of living in a pre-war shophouse, so when the three-storey property near Robertson Quay was put up for sale a few years ago, the family immediately snapped it up.

While living in a conservation home has historic appeal, it also comes with some modern perks.

“The shophouse is part of a condominium project,” says the owner, who works in finance. “We liked the idea of living in a heritage home, but yet be able to enjoy facilities such as its pools, gym and BBQ pits.”

And unlike a condo, it has 3,905 square feet of living space, enough to accommodate three generations.

But while the owner, his wife, their two kids, and his parents liked the idea of living in a house with architectural history, they also needed it to fit their modern lifestyle.

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They called on Sarah Tham, design director at Cube Associate Design, to turn their home into a harmonious blend of old and new. Ms Tham had her experience of turning shophouses into boutique hotels to fall back on for her first residential project of this kind. It also helped that she is familiar with the tastes of her clients, having designed their previous two apartments. On top of that, they have been neighbours for the past 15 years.

“Sarah knows us well, and more importantly, how we live, so it was a natural choice to pick her to design the shophouse,” says the owner.

While the facade of the home has its charm, thanks to conservation requirements and the installation of new Peranakan floor tiles, the interiors needed major work. “Shophouses tend to be long, narrow and lacking in light and ventilation, so finding ways to make them brighter and more spacious are top priorities,” she says.

Ms Tham had the entire house gutted out, save for the structural walls. She had the shophouse’s original 3.5m high ceiling reinstated and this immediately made the living and dining rooms feel less cramped.

  • Modern Shophouse

    In the living room, storage is cleverly hidden behind the wooden panels, while the marble floor resembles a piece of calligraphy with its brush stroke-like pattern.

While the original courtyard provided some ventilation and light, Ms Tham and her clients felt the space could be improved. The courtyard was opened up by tearing down the concrete walls surrounding it and replacing them with glass sliding doors.

“There is now a seamless flow from the entrance of the home to the kitchen at the back,” says Ms Tham. The glass sliding doors also allow more natural light to enter the home, and when these doors are left open, there is more ventilation for the bedrooms on the second floors too.

To further enhance the courtyard, vertical greenery was added, together with some colourful seats. “We like chilling out after dinner in the courtyard,” says the owner. “And when we do have friends over, there are plenty of spaces where everyone can sit and chat on the first floor.”

While the courtyard is a distinctive heritage feature, the modern touches on this floor include the installation of a lift, a wine cellar, and the eye-catching Bocci 28 pendant lights above the dining table.

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On the second floor are two sets of bedrooms. The one nearer the front of the house is for the owner’s parents, who have been living with them for many years.

To future-proof the home, the doors to the senior couple’s bedroom and bathroom are designed slightly wider than usual. The entrances can accommodate a wheelchair with ease if needed. “We like how Sarah has made these enhancements subtle such as making the larger doors part of the design,” says the owner.

The second bedroom that is at the end of the corridor belongs to the couple. Here the space has been divided into two large sections, the front of which is now a cosy study and sitting area, while the sleeping area and bathrooms are at the back.

Meanwhile, the couple’s two children have their bedrooms on the upper floors. The children had a hand in the design. For example, the son’s room is done in a tatami-style, as the boy prefers a Zen-like ambience.

The owners also liked how Ms Tham had designed lots of storage, which she cleverly hid behind feature walls. Each family member has their own personal space but yet there is still enough room for all three generations to come together.

This being the third time Ms Tham is designing for the family, she says: “There was a bit of pressure on myself, as I didn’t want to create the same look as before.”

She need not worry, having garnered the family’s vote of confidence. “If we move again, we will definitely ask Sarah to design our next home,” says the owner.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

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