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WHEN it comes to building a home, architects are used to the first demand of clients - fit in as many bedrooms as possible. Rare is the client who asks for less, rather than more. Such as the Chia family, whose three-storey semi-detached home in Sembawang has only two bedrooms, just enough for Chia Meng Koon and his wife Wee Jee and their son, Benjamin.
"Our brief to the architect was simple: two bedrooms, and a bookshelf for me," says Mrs Chia, a retiree.
The close-knit family preferred having more communal space over individual bedrooms. This way, they can spend as much time as possible with each other, but parents and son still have their own privacy.
Their design consultant, Kelvin Lim from architecture firm Materium, created a home with plenty of large pockets of empty spaces where the family can gather.
Just by the entrance is an outdoor sitting area, shielded under a ceiling made of concrete and glass blocks. There is a main door, but visitors and often the family prefer to enter the home via the outdoor sitting area, which leads to the living room proper.
Next to this is the dining area, and the family have their dinner together here almost every night.
The kitchen at the back is fairly simple, an island counter which doubles as a breakfast table. Seated at the island table, the family can look out at the neighbourhood.
The second floor houses the key highlight of the home. Mr Lim designed a ledge that runs through the middle of the house from the front to the back, in the process creating an atrium space in the home. "This is the heart of the house," says Mr Lim. "Expressed as a bridge that connects the two bedrooms, the ledge is a series of spaces that allow the family to do things together, or to do their own thing yet partake in the company of one another."
By this, he means that on one end of the bridge is the younger Mr Chia's bedroom. Just outside is a small study area, which his father uses. A long table parallel to the ledge is where Mrs Chia does her work. While at the other end is a lounge area, where the younger Mr Chia chills out. Up a short flight of steps is the couple's bedroom, which comes with a small open-air garden in the bathroom.
Running the length of the ledge is the bookshelf, which Mrs Chia requested. Besides books, the bespoke 12m long bookshelf also doubles as a display space for Mrs Chia's collection of personal items, such as her wealth bowl, a glass vase from Japan which was given by a friend, and a few miniature Swarovski crystal floral sculptures. "I bought the Swarovski crystals about five years ago, but had no space to display them in our old home. I am so glad that now I can show them off," says Mrs Chia.
While most homeowners save the room with the best view for themselves, here, the gym in the attic gets that honour. The entire attic is taken up by the gym where there are two exercise machines and a set of weights. "The pitched, high ceiling gives this place a lofty feel," says Mr Lim.
Mrs Chia says: "We did consider having our bedroom up here, but that would mean too many flights of stairs to climb." She already has plans for her later years. "I told Kelvin to design a bedroom for me on the ground floor, when I get too old to climb the stairs."
Both she and Mr Chia, who is assistant general manager at Jurong Shipyard, use the gym daily. They spend about 45 minutes working out before dinner, she runs on the treadmill, while he works out using the weights.
The family's keep fit regime doesn't end there. Each night after dinner, they head out to the beach at Sembawang Park, which is about 10 minutes by foot away. "We spend about an hour walking at the beach, or sometimes we would walk around the neighbourhood, checking out the other homes," says Mrs Chia.
On Saturdays, the couple head out to their country club to use the gym there.
Mr Lim designed the home to have a simple colour palette, but jazzes it up by using a variety of materials, such as timber and white floor tiles and raw concrete. "The warmth of the timber contrasts with the coolness of the tiles and concrete," he says.
The family's previous home was a three-room HDB flat, so this extra space now is fully appreciated. "We all feel more relaxed now, and less flustered," says Mrs Chia, who adds that the peacefulness of the neighbourhood is also an attraction.
The only downside is that the neighbourhood is so tucked away, getting to town requires a car. "Our petrol bill has definitely gone up," quips Mrs Chia.