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When Dr Jeffrey Loh and his wife Joyce bought a 1960s house off Upper Thomson Road about eight years ago, they were newly-weds and had plans to tear down the original two-storey, three-bedroom house and build a dream home. Four children (boys ranging from nine months to seven years old) and a considerable supply of nappies later, those original plans have been put on permanent hold and replaced by something completely different.
Call it The Big Squeeze. The requirements of a growing family (Joyce was pregnant with her third son when they decided to rebuild) meant more rooms, but it was difficult to fit everything they wanted into a plot that was just 19 metres long and 8 metres wide. Yet there was no getting away from the fact that the ever-expanding family needed space - and lots of it. So they approached designer Kelvin Bing to come up with a solution.
The result is a narrow but airy, light-filled three-storey home (plus attic and roof terrace) with - drum roll please - six bedrooms and six bathrooms, spread throughout the residence. The floors are connected via a central cantilevered staircase as well as a small elevator, for use by Dr Loh's parents when they stay over. The senior Lohs' bedroom is on the ground floor next to the dining area, while the three older children share a room on an upper floor.
There is a cot for the baby in the second-floor master bedroom, which has a walk-in closet and study. The other bedrooms are still unoccupied, even though the family moved in over a year ago, as they decided to take their time furnishing the place.
"When our family started to grow, we found there just wasn't enough space in the old house," says Mrs Loh. "My brief to the designer was the opposite of what my husband wanted - he wanted aesthetics and I wanted functional." In a way, they both got what they wanted.
Some of the rooms are small, but both client and designer declare themselves satisfied with the result. It wasn't always a smooth journey getting there, however. "The site is a very challenging one - the rectangular lot is long and narrow," says Mr Bing, design director at Renaissance Planners and Designers. "The objective was to introduce natural light and usable space."
From the outside, the house stands out in a neighbourhood where many of the homes retain much of their original looks. Unconventional designs are an exception. The main distinguishing feature of the Loh residence is an asymmetrical concrete "cap" that juts out over the two lower floors. The designer says the façade is a tribute to the Brutalist style and would have even "louder" but was scaled back to comply with building regulations.
"The façade attracts a lot of attention - it's like a neighbourhood landmark and one of the tallest buildings around here," says Mrs Loh. "When I saw the plans with the odd-shaped third level, I thought it was original, but my husband had problems getting his head around the design because he's a linear person. It took a bit of persuading for him to agree to it, but in the end the only changes involved the staircase."
Meanwhile, water features in the living area and outdoors along the side of the house provide a therapeutic effect and the sliding glass doors on the ground floor help give the narrow living and dining space a sense of openness.
A less-than-fully furnished house provides extra space and allows the children to "run around without destroying anything", says Mrs Loh, who has her hands full keeping tabs on her highly active brood. There are various nooks and crannies around the house for them to explore and looking for the kids in a multi-storey home requires some degree of fitness. She adds: "I try to take the stairs as a form of exercise, but when I was pregnant, the lift was definitely a godsend."