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The open deck which looks out into the garden.

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Top down view of the courtyard.

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A quiet corner in the home.

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Looking into the basement and the living room from the courtyard.

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Windows of different sizes in the bedroom.

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A skylight lets light into the sitting area.

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A lack of windows on the outside belies its bright interiors.

Suburban Sanctuary

This garden oasis offers plenty of privacy and space for its owners.
Aug 14, 2020 5:50 AM

AS retirees, Alex Yeow and his wife Jacqueline Loke have the luxury of time. So when they were looking to build their new home, they were in no rush to find the right site and an architect to build it.

"We wanted a corner plot of land under 5,000 sq ft, to build a detached house on an elevation," says Mr Yeow. It took them a year and a half before they found a suitable plot in Serangoon Gardens.

Then came the task of finding an architect, and for that, they turned to Yip Yuen Hong, principal at ip:li Architects. Even then, the couple took their time to suss out the award-winning architect.

"Regardless of who we work with, we didn't want to restrict the creativity of the architect. But we also wanted to be sure that both parties could get along," says Mr Yeow. This led to many coffee sessions for the couple to understand Mr Yip's design philosophy and for him to understand their lifestyle.

The couple wanted a home that had plenty of privacy without being too enclosed, and since it was just the two of them, they needed only one bedroom. With their 4,200 sq ft plot of land, they could easily build a fairly large home, but instead they wanted the opposite.

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"Even after three months, we weren't sure if Yuen Hong would accept the project, since we did not want a big house," says Mr Yeow.

On the contrary. Mr Yip was right on the same page.

"What struck me was how Alex and Jacqueline wanted a small house with a small footprint, which is wonderful because I feel it is better to free the grounds up for gardens," says Mr Yip. "It was also a refreshing change that they are also artistically inclined. To me, it was a unique opportunity to explore different ideas of how one can live nowadays, and how materials can be utilised."

Since the site is located on a busy road, Mr Yip designed the 3,390 sq ft home to be a monastic refuge for the couple. Instead of having the house face the main road, Mr Yip shifted the frontage to the adjacent, quieter lane. And, for privacy, the basement was positioned on street level, with the living and dining areas one floor up and the bedroom on the top floor.

The basement is empty for now, and a terraced courtyard helps to bring natural light into the otherwise dark space.

A green oasis with around 40 trees

The garden is filled with around 40 trees including ficus and Eugenias, which not only provide a green oasis but also help shield the home from the neighbours and keep dust out.

The street-facing sides of the house have minimal openings to keep the noise out. For this reason, Mr Yip put the more 'functional' areas on this side, such as the washing area on the first floor and the walk-in wardrobe on the second floor. Even so, windows are almost non-existent when you look at the house from the outside.

But once you're inside this cave-like dwelling, you'll notice it isn't dark, thanks to a light shaft in the middle of the house. There's no need to turn on the lights during the day as light reaches down to the first floor on a sunny day. There are also strategically placed windows - both small and large - which can only be seen on the inside, acting almost like picture frames for the view outside.

The interior is so seamless that it takes a while to notice that there are no internal walls. Instead, solid timber folding doors demarcate the living and dining areas while glass folding doors separate the outdoor and indoor dining areas.

Upstairs, the bedroom fills up the entire floor. There's the sleeping area, a library and a study where the couple enjoy their hobbies. Ms Loke does Chinese calligraphy and Chinese ink painting, while Mr Yeow prefers watercolours. Like downstairs, folding doors keep the three areas separated when needed.

The former businessman and his ex-school teacher wife prefer a simple life but "that doesn't mean we have to live poorly". They enjoy being able to pursue their hobbies, admiring their lush garden and having tea on the patio.

"We definitely don't want to be a slave to the home," says Mr Yeow. "Some homes need renovation after some years, we knew for sure that we won't go down that route."

That's why the building materials were chosen for their easy maintenance and longevity. The flooring on the first floor, both for the indoor and outdoor spaces, is constructed from cobblestone, giving the areas a seamless connection. Unvarnished teak parquet is used for the bedroom.

"Both the cobblestone and parquet will develop a patina over time," says Mr Yeow. The cobblestone will smoothen with use, while the teak captures life with any markings or spillage.

The use of concrete cast onto a gunny sack-lined formwork softens the otherwise hard concrete ceiling, giving it a textured feel.

While the couple won't be renovating their home, they plan to move out after ten years and will soon start house hunting again. Mr Yeow says a single storey home will suffice for their senior years.

And they know who they will be turning to. "We told Yuen Hong to get ready", says Mr Yeow with a smile.