AS an interior designer, Cherin Tan, creative director at LAANK, is tasked with turning her clients’ carefully drawn plans into reality.

But when it comes to her own home – a 2,000 sq ft walk-up penthouse in Jalan Besar – she throws the design book out the window. Instead, hers is a “no design approach”, where “the look is the result of just piecing together different personalities within a physical space”, says Ms Tan.

She enjoys cooking, gardening and doing pottery, while her husband, Jason Tong, managing director at LAANK, likes music and reading. “But we both love having friends and family around, and having our own personal space”, says Ms Tan.

Even though the penthouse was built in the 1960s and in fairly good condition, Ms Tan chose to gut it and rebuild.

Creating shared and personal spaces

“Since I design for a living, I immediately saw the potential of the space. We made an offer within 10 minutes of seeing it – that was how convinced I was”, she says. “We were particularly attracted to how the split levels would allow me to design something out of the box and have different pockets of space for multiple uses”.

As LAANK’S branding and marketing person, Mr Tong left the design to his wife, which worked perfectly because “Jason trusts me and I know clearly what he wants”, says Ms Tan.

Even so, the couple – who have been married for four years – still had some differences when it came to the practicality and functionality of certain things. “But we resolved the issues quickly, because we each made the final decision for areas that ‘belonged’ to us”, says Ms Tan.

For her, it was the kitchen, dining room, balcony and rooftop garden, while he had the final say on the music lounges. They shared ideas on the bedroom and living room. “Ultimately, the space was designed to fit both our personalities and lifestyle so this design intent kept the process harmonious”, she says.

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Typically in a two-storey space, the living and dining areas and the kitchen would be on the lower floor, and the bedrooms on the higher level. But Ms Tan shook things up a bit.

Downstairs is the living room, two bedrooms, a space for Mr Tong and his music and a corner for the couple’s cats. “This floor is intended to be the quiet space where we can chill out alone”, says Ms Tan.

The two bedrooms are themselves talking points. There is only one main access to the rooms, which can be separated into two with a collapsible door, if they have guests staying over. “We usually leave the door open, so that we can enjoy the big bedroom to ourselves”, says Ms Tan.

Connecting the two rooms is a walk-in wardrobe that has been slightly elevated to allow Ms Tan to fit some storage space below the floor. There are two entrances, and separate his and hers sections.

The staircase that leads to the upper floor is a conversation piece itself. Made out of multi-coloured stone tiles, it’s a manifestation of the couple’s love for colours. “We love colours but didn’t want it everywhere so we went all out on the stairs”, says Ms Tan. “We love quirkiness so anything random and unexpected usually gets us excited”.

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Wow views on the upper floor

Most visitors are awed by the sight that awaits them on the upper floor. The kitchen and dining area cover almost the entire space, at the end of which is a music lounge, balcony and a spiral staircase leading to the rooftop garden, where Ms Tan grows some edible plants.

“This configuration allows for an indoor/outdoor space and for the dining and music areas to be together”, she says.

The open-plan kitchen features state-of-the art kitchen appliances neatly hidden away. There is a standalone cooker, and a 3m long dining table next to it, long enough to fit more than 10 people – or five to comply with safe distancing. And, for someone who loves to cook, the ultimate treat is a walk-in pantry.

“Hosting and cooking for loved ones make up a huge part of our lives. We had a similar setup in our previous home, and want to continue having that nice vibe of gathering people around”, says Ms Tan, who has been cooking up a storm since Circuit Breaker days.

As both designer and homeowner, Ms Tan says this is the opportunity for her to experiment with ideas that may not fly with clients, such as curved wall corners, taller than usual doors, and a sink converted from a planter.

“I constantly keep in mind that I am designing for us, not to keep up with trends or impress my peers. Also I had to be very honest with myself about how functional and practical a particular design can be”, she says.

This article was originally published in The Business Times

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