ARCHITECT Maria Warner Wong has designed countless homes throughout her career, but it was only recently that she finally turned her attention to her own. Being her own client brought its own challenges to the design director and co-founder of Warner Wong Design and WOW Architects. "I try not to be subjective and build according to what the clients want. But for myself, I had no one to listen to, and I had never thought about what I wanted."
That uncertainty dogged her a little, but by the time she was done with her home - a 5,000 sq ft, two-storey house with a basement and an attic at Braddell Heights - it was a meticulously thought out space with equal nods to visual impact and liveability.
Even though her husband Wong Chiu Man is an architect, she single-handedly designed the home, interiors and landscaping, calling the process an "unconscious unpacking of dreams, as it took a long time for our family's wants to come together".
Top on her list was a communal work space for her family. For that purpose, she carved out an open space on the second floor, where an eight-seater table is the focus of the home, rather than the more conventional kitchen or living room.
Rather than position the swimming pool at the back or side of the home which is the norm, the pool is set right next to the driveway. "A pool is a visual treat because it tends to be more looked at than used, so by putting it at the front, it becomes a welcoming feature," she explains.
The living room is where friends and family gather, naturally, so Ms Warner Wong designed a high volume space - also to maximise ventilation and natural light.
The home's front and back boast bespoke 3.6m-high steel doors, while a long bay window with a low glass panel runs along the entire room. Whether they're in the living or dining room, the family always has a view of the lush garden, planted with trees that Ms Warner Wong specially picked for their sculptural form. A patio at the back is where the family have breakfast on weekends.
The double volume space continues into the kitchen, where a solid stainless steel island takes centre stage. Ms Warner Wong is an avid cook, and counts paella as one of her signature dishes. Her younger son also uses the kitchen frequently. "He's only 15, but is definitely on his way to becoming a chef," she says.
The high ceiling not only makes the kitchen feel more spacious, but it also means that kitchen cabinets hang from the top, rather than take up precious floor space. "Every millimetre of space in the kitchen is for storage."
She planned for each floor to have different materials and colour palettes. The first floor is grey from the concrete walls. On the second floor, teak is most widely used.
Apart from the workspace, this level also houses her two sons' bedrooms on one side, and another guest room on the other. The room doubles as Ms Warner Wong's study, which she affectionately calls her "nest".
The couple have their own area in the attic. But to give it an airy and lighter feel, oak flooring is used.
Part of the attic space is the couple's bedroom, which looks out onto a lily pond. "I've always dreamt of waking up to a lily pond, so I had this made," says Ms Warner Wong. The spot, which overlooks the neighbour, is also great to catch the sunset.
Mr Wong's study is in this room too, but he looks out onto a lone tree. "He wanted a tree, and this is his solitary space," says his wife.
On the other end of the attic, is the bathroom and walk-in wardrobe, with a secret passageway that connects to the bedroom.
Ms Warner Wong describes her home as "a house of rediscovered memories", as many of the items have been in her family for a long time. "Lots of stuff were kept, and now I get to unpack them," she says.
Among the items include her collection of pre-Columbian artworks, some of which are about 1,800 years old in a cabinet in her study. It sounds like an odd place, but she explains that it's to protect them from the sunlight, which causes paintings to deteriorate.
Near the pool is a screen made of brass and glass beads. When the evening sun falls on the screen, the area is lit up by the glass beads. "This screen that was made in 1963 came from the Trousdale Estate in Beverly Hills. I found it in an antique store and shipped back several pieces, which I later put together," she says.
She is especially fond of "anything that comes from a tree", as seen from several leaf sculptures on a side table, jars filled with rubber seeds and dried lotus pods in the bathroom.
She also loves bronze, as seen in the bronze panelling for her bespoke doors, on the legs of the bespoke dining table, and even a bronze sink. She is designing a hanging light for the staircase, naturally in bronze. "It is a rich colour, it changes over time and it is not so shiny. Actually, I should have been born in the Bronze Age," jokes Ms Warner Wong, who is originally from Mexico.
After living in Singapore for 22 years, six months of planning and 22 months of construction, Ms Warner Wong has a home of her own here. "You can tell how happy I am, right," she says, flashing a wide smile.