A FEW years after Sarah Tham started her interior design firm Cube Associate Design, one of her projects was an apartment at Leonie Hill.
"I really liked that apartment's layout, with its split level and curved spaces," she says. "It was my dream to live in such an apartment one day."
Fast forward a decade later, Ms Tham's dream has come true. Together with her daughter, Tze Kaye, six, she has lived in her 2,400 square feet home over the past year and a half.
Since she was designing her own home, Ms Tham knew the look that she wanted. But at the same time, she also had lots of ideas that she wanted to put in. "I got greedy and wanted to include everything. In the end, I had to pull myself away, and force myself to pick one main element that I wanted for the apartment," she says. She follows this same principle when designing for her clients too.
"Once you've picked one element, everything else will fall into place," she says.
For Ms Tham, the must-have for her is the marble flooring in her living room. But this is not your ordinary marble, but one that comes in brown, grey and blue stripes.
"I've always liked the colours, and I wanted this for my own apartment," she says.
Ideally, she would have liked to have this same marble flooring throughout the home, but with a tight renovation deadline, she could change only the flooring in the living room, and at the private lift landing. The rest of the space, such as the family and dining areas, have a different lighter coloured marble that came with the apartment. "Yes, the flooring in my home is not the same, but it's all right," she says.
Even the colour themes in the various spaces are different. The living room has a pale pink sofa -yet another of her favourite colours. "Plus it complements the greys and blues from the marble," she says.
The family area near the entrance has a monochromatic look, with its grey walls, white sofa and black carpet. This same colour theme is extended to the dining area.
"While each space looks different, there still needs to be some harmony," says Ms Tham. She creates this harmony by using timber panelling to connect the different areas of the apartment. Some of the timber panelling on the walls are for aesthetic reasons, while others hide storage spaces, and a powder room. "Overall, the apartment still retains its modern, contemporary look," she says.
In creating her ideal home, Ms Tham also knocked down some walls, and rearranged the layout of some other spaces.
What was once another bedroom has been converted into an open study. "Knocking down the walls also allowed more natural light, and better ventilation into the living area," she says. On cooler days, the windows are left open. "We like the breeze that comes through."
Ms Tham rearranged the layout for her bedroom and bathroom. "The bedroom previously provided little privacy," she says. She did away with the old wardrobe space in her bedroom. "For me, the bedroom is solely meant for sleeping, hence no TV, and no wardrobe," she says.
With literally just a bed in the bedroom, the space can look cold and bare, but Ms Tham manages to turn it into a cosy space. "The apartment's curved wall appears to envelop the bed," she says. "I picked my favourite colour - teal - for the bedroom, for its calming effect."
The bathroom which was once smaller in size, is now able to accommodate a walk-in wardrobe too. "It makes more sense to have the two spaces together," says Ms Tham. "Everything, from showering to the weekly soak in the tub to getting dressed, is done in the same space."
Even a recess area is not wasted, as Ms Tham has placed a cabinet in the space. "I used this as my make-up corner," she says.
The use of mirrors on the wardrobes makes the space look bigger and brighter. Some cupboards are for clothes, while others are for Ms Tham's many designer bags, while another drawer is where all her accessories are kept.
For her daughter's bathroom, Ms Tham lowered the height of the basin and shower. "It makes it easier for Tze Kaye to reach, and this way, she can be more independent rather than rely on an adult for help," says Ms Tham. Now, when she designs for clients with young ones, Ms Tham also takes the height of the amenities into consideration. "It was only after I became a mother that I realised how important it was to design a space that is suited to kids," she says.
Ms Tham says that she had been shopping for her home, even before she bought the apartment. "Sometimes when I see things I like, I'd buy them first, and save them for later," she says. She still has items in storage.
"Usually, I do have an idea of where I want to have them in the house," she says.
She cites the example of the four black and white prints in the family area. Each photo has a special meaning for her, she says. She likens the photo of two rocks, one big and the other small, but joined together with a rope, as one of love. "It is like the love between mother and child," she says. Another photo of a lion represents courage for Ms Tham. "It reminds me to not be afraid of challenges," she says. Placing these photos near the entrance of the home serve as a daily reminder of life's lessons for her.
Some quirky pieces that she has bought over the years include several old taps, which now serve as drawer handles, and a wall clock with an owl that glows in the dark.
Besides designing homes, Ms Tham also enjoys painting. She painted an abstract piece which can be seen in her living room. But rather than hang it on a wall, she mounted it on a cabinet. "It serves as a painting, but also as a sliding door to hide the TV," she says. She has done this same trick for her clients. "But no, I haven't painted anything for them," she quips.
Ms Tham says that not many people may realise it, but the design of a home can change a person's lifestyle. Some of her clients have since turned into homebodies.
She says it is the same for her. Now that she has a cosy dining area with an adjoining dry kitchen, Ms Tham has started to entertain more at home. "Having a few close friends over for dinner and drinks has become a routine for me," she says.