Like any father, Terence Neo dotes on his two daughters. Aged three and five, the girls get all their favourite toys and go out often for treats.
And while some dads would go as far as building dollhouses for their girls, the founder of boutique interior design firm EightyTwo went a step further – by designing their entire family home in the East Coast around them. “I designed it to be curious, innocent yet imaginative,” says Mr Neo, whose wife works in corporate communications.
While their previous home was designed for a three-generation household, this time, with a smaller family unit, the new home could be more fun. “I pushed my own boundaries to create a home that is fairytale-like, yet staying timeless,” says Mr Neo.
While some may deem a 50 year-old apartment dated, the couple loved it for its old-fashioned features such as the arched doorways and the terrazzo flooring which evoked a sense of nostalgia and charm. “Besides, units in this Meyer Road condominium rarely go on sale, and it is almost impossible to find a 2,800sq ft sized apartment today,” says Mr Neo.
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The previous owner had not done any renovation for the past five decades and it showed. When he first saw the unit, Mr Neo remembers it being dark and dull, with a kitchen that was falling apart and floor tiles that were cracked and worn. “Everything was so dilapidated, but I still saw the potential of the space, and it turned out to be a diamond in the rough,” he says.
He gutted the apartment, but kept the vintage elements such as the arched doorways and the terrazzo flooring. Mr Neo says, “I felt it was crucial to retain the charm of this antiquated unit by retaining the vintage elements. The challenge was to fit them into the new design.”
He describes the completed look as “whimsical yet nostalgic – a modern eclectic take on Wes Anderson’s design and colour palette. Why? To design a home for a client is to put yourself in their shoes and to think like them,” he says.
Since his daughters like to play and run about, it was important to have sufficient open space in the living and dining areas, with spacious corridors leading to the bedrooms.
At the same time, Mr Neo also felt it would be good for the girls to have a private space for themselves, so he placed their bedrooms next to each other, in a designated section of the home. “This is where they can mess up and clean up after themselves,” he says.
There are fun touches in the bedrooms, from the colourful wall murals to the playfully-designed kids’ furniture.
While the apartment was designed around the girls, Mr Neo also had to make sure that he and his wife’s wishes were also met.
“My wife loves baking so she wanted ample countertop space in the dry kitchen and the island, he says. “She also loves reading and has a lot of books, so bookshelves and niches were worked into the design as well as cosy, quiet corners for her to do her reading.”
And as for himself, a well-planned kitchen was important to him, since he enjoys cooking at home a lot. “The kitchen makeover encompassed plenty of countertop spaces as well as storage for my kitchen appliances and equipment,” he explains. He also treated himself to a man-cave, where he can work from home, do his workouts and unwind to music.
Like the American filmmaker, Mr Neo kept the colour palette limited, choosing shades that Anderson would approve of, largely in different tones of peach, pink and grey, with splashes of mustard.
“The colour palette, mainly the pinks, was inspired by my kids. It represents their curiosity, imagination and child-like innocence,” he explains. In contrast, the man-cave is in a dark tone as Mr Neo wanted it to be a bit more representative of him – masculine and private.
While the pinks add vibrancy to the home, Mr Neo jokes that not everyone would be able to accept it. “The colours we used are, though pleasing, are rather bold and could take some getting used to especially for those used to the monotonous palettes that were trending for quite a while,” he says. “But colours are making a comeback.”
Most visitors, he adds, are surprised by the apartment’s unconventional layout.
“They are taken aback when they see a big bold pink kitchen and an island as soon as they enter the house! Most homeowners are used to seeing the living room first,” says Mr Neo. “For me, the island counter near the entrance works as a convenient drop-off spot for keys and bags of groceries and shopping.”
Because of the well-thought out spaces, each family member has their own favourite spot. Mr Neo spends a lot of time in the wet kitchen, while his wife is largely in the dry kitchen. Their girls love to be in their bedrooms.
“We all come together for meals at the dining area and weekly movie nights in the cosy man-cave which turns into a mini theatre,” says Mr Neo.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.