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The House that Dad & I Built
'Three blocks around a central pool' is an accurate, if somewhat dull, description of the Quek residence, a modern tropical home in central Singapore that is anything but unimaginative. Designed by a father-son architect tandem, the house was customised with the specific needs of a multi-generational family in mind - their own.
TK Quek and Jonathan Quek work at RT+Q, a small local firm founded by Rene Tan and TK Quek and well-known for its work in residential projects, especially detached houses. Jonathan Quek represents the second generation and is quick to point out that the RT+Q vernacular is present in every project, including this one.
The original family home - a single-storey bungalow from the 1960s - has now given way to a house comprising three separate buildings, with two staggered, parallel blocks joined by an entryway in the front and in the rear by an elevated link-way between one of the larger rectangular blocks and a smaller third block, forming an 'L' shape of sorts. A blue-mosaic-tiled swimming pool sits in the middle of it all and there's ample cross-ventilation throughout.
Tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighbourhood, the year-old home is an elegant exercise in contemporary style, functionality, attention-to-detail - and relative restraint (no pun intended). But given that most designers have a penchant for signature touches - there are also a few quirks to be found.
As is the habit of some architects to affix names to their projects, the residence has been tagged Art Collector's House, referencing the elder Mr Quek's love of art, particularly the Southeast Asian variety. A few dozen paintings and sculptures are displayed throughout, but a majority of the works is located in the wing occupied by him and his wife.
Father and son worked jointly on the basic design, with Jonathan handling the details and project management.
Visitors will first notice a spacious driveway and imposing twin wood-slatted front doors, which open to reveal an open-air porch with a view across the swimming pool to a covered deck beneath the link-way. The right side of the porch leads to TK's art-filled wing, while the block on the left is home to Jonathan, wife Natasha and their three young children. The smaller rear block serves as a guesthouse.
"The idea is to have a bit of a mystery," says TK. "You visit me you turn to the right and ring the bell, you visit my son you turn to the left." Across the way, the facing wall of the third block acts as a giant canvas, 'painted' over in green by a lush vertical garden. "My wife didn't want to be looking out to a white building," he adds. "In between, the pool unifies everything."
Block A, as TK's wing is called, is a self-contained apartment featuring a double-volume living area that opens onto the pool. The 11-metre-high wall in the room is covered with artworks. In fact there's enough art to cover two walls, so an automated pulley-and-rack system allows him to change the display whenever the mood strikes. More art, including a life-size nude sculpture or two - fills the available space both downstairs and the bedroom upstairs.
Meanwhile, over in Block B or Jonathan's three-bedroom wing, the ground-level dining area affords a sumptuous view down the entire length of the pool. Extended-family meals are often taken at a communal dining table out on pool deck - everyone's favourite spot.
From here, it's possible to spot design features such as overhanging aluminium roofs, wood-clad exterior walls and aluminium 'fins', plus hand-cut lava stone and timber finishes - all readily associated with houses belonging to the RT+Q lineage. Interesting details such as 'secret' doors that are integrated into cabinet walls, leading to other rooms such as a guest toilet or a wet kitchen, make this a fun wing to explore.
The third building, Block C, is notably more compact, characterised by that vertical garden, a metal spiral staircase that leads to a small rooftop, and a bay window that juts out from the garden wall over the pool. An artwork - a Chinese bronze sculpture of a young boy - currently occupies the window space, which is part of a small guest bedroom.
In effect, Art Collector's House comprises three separate houses that don't feel separate. "The house is very inward looking because there's nothing to look at - we're insulated from the outside," says Jonathan. Father and son have a harmonious working relationship and the result was achieved "without any disputes or tedious site meetings," says TK. "Like other architects I tend to spend more time on my client's projects - a cobbler's own shoes are always the worst." With a hint of a smile he adds, "My toughest client is my wife - when this project was completed all she said was, 'Not bad'."