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On Home Ground
FOR ARCHITECT TEO YEE CHIN, the best part about designing his own home isn't just the freedom to do things his way, but also to try out new ideas clients wouldn't necessarily dare to go ahead with.
"The house (literally) became an experimental ground," says Mr Teo, founder of Red Bean Architects.
He shares his 3 ½-storey home in Siglap with his parents, architect wife Yeo Yih Hsiu, and their three daughters, aged six to 12. Ms Yeo is a director at SCSY Studios, which does hospitality projects overseas.
There used to be a semi-detached house on the 5,000 sq ft piece of land. "It is a big piece of land, large enough to build a bungalow on it," says Mr Teo. The old house was torn down, and rebuilt a few years ago. It now has a garden that runs around three sides of the house.
Despite the need to have a house big enough for seven family members, Mr Teo kept the number of bedrooms to a minimum. There is one for him and Ms Yeo, another for the girls, and two more for his parents.
The idea of the children sharing a bedroom is something Mr Teo doesn't think many of his clients would agree to. "Most people would want a bedroom for every single family member," he says.
Ms Yeo, who grew up sharing a bedroom with her two sisters, says there was never any intention for the girls to have their own rooms.
In addition, the four bedrooms, which are all on the third floor, are designed to be just large enough for their purpose.
The large spaces in the house are instead saved for the common areas, such as the living and dining areas on the ground floor. "We feel this is how a house should be lived in, with big common areas and smaller bedrooms," says Mr Teo.
From a cosy entrance, visitors enter the double volume living and dining areas. "From the outside, it looks like a small house, and people are usually surprised to see how bright and airy the inside really is," says Mr Teo.
Of course, Mr Teo could have chosen to make the ceiling lower, but "I really wanted to focus on the space, rather than to pack too many rooms in."
He could have also added rooms on the second floor, but chose not to. On this floor, there is an intimate family area, and a long corridor which doubles as a study.
"What I've created is a two-storey home, in a three-storey shell," he says.
With a big living and dining area, the family inevitably find themselves throwing more parties at home. The extended family lives nearby, and the girls' cousins often pop by after school. Once, they had about 100 people in the house for a birthday party. The two-storey living room wall has since become a backdrop for many parties. For example, a treasure map was recreated on the wall for a recent treasure hunt-themed party.
Another idea that Mr Teo tested out was to locate the living spaces and bedrooms on the left of the house, and the wet and service areas, such as the kitchen, the bathrooms and the lift core, are on the right. It helps for easier maintenance, Mr Teo explains. A long staircase that runs from the first floor to the rooftop garden separates the two sections.
The house also let him try out windowless bathrooms. What the bathrooms have are brick walls, with strategically placed holes for ventilation. Rain does come in, but the couple aren't bothered by it, since the bathroom is generally a wet area.
The bricks also form the facade of the house. But Mr Teo wasn't content with having homogenous bricks for his home. Instead, the bricks come in a variety of colours, such as yellow, orange and red, and they have been placed to form an image of a sunset sky. Mr Teo created the design on paper and handed that to his bricklayer.
"He did complain about the hassle, but in the end, he still did an amazing job," says Mr Teo.
Since the house is a test bed of ideas, Mr Teo has invited clients to see it. He has further developed some of these ideas for his clients.
Even though this house is simple in design, Mr Teo says he may go even more back to basics if he has the chance to design another house of his own. "Maybe a simple single storey house, with a garden all round," he says.