Four years ago, I made the biggest investment of my life: I bought my first property.
It took only about four or five viewings before I found my dream home: a centrally-located flat, on a high floor, with an unblocked view and a North-South orientation.
It was a three-room HDB flat in Everton Park, which I purchased for $440,000. Originally built in 1965 to house workers of the Singapore Harbour Board (the precursor to today’s PSA), the estate’s seven 12-storey blocks were converted to public housing in 1980.
The estate had a distinct retro charm, which I loved. Among other things, the parapets had ventilation blocks with geometric designs, while some staircases had arched openings. These were architectural features that do not exist in newer HDBs.
The previous occupants did very little remodelling to the 72 sqm (775 sq. ft.) unit, so it was more or less in original condition. Perfect – I wanted to gut the interior anyway.
A friend who worked at interior design magazine Lookbox Living recommended the firm Artistroom. The design studio is made up of the husband-and-wife team Mark Chen and Katy Chong, who understood exactly what I wanted during our initial meeting.
“You want a home that’s set up like an art gallery,” Chong remarked, taking the words right out of my mouth. I promptly decided to work with them.
Like most three-room flats of the era, mine was constructed with a narrow frontage and deep interior. The layout, too, was very typical: a living-dining area, two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, WC and utility room.
I wanted an open layout so that I could entertain; a master room with a walk-in wardrobe; and direct access to the bathroom from my master room (the existing layout had no access). I hardly cook, so a galley kitchen was sufficient.
Direct access to the bathroom from the master bedroom was created
I also asked Artistroom for a dedicated workspace as I mainly work from home, as well as plenty of shelving space and storage for my books, artefacts and travel memorabilia. As a freelance editor, these objects inspire my work, so I like having them around me.
Renovation took three months and cost $64,000. All non-load-bearing walls were demolished to create the open plan I desired. One bedroom was converted into my study room/library, with part of its floor space becoming my walk-in wardrobe, itself accessible only from my master room.
From my study, the space flows seamlessly into the living room and into the dining/kitchen. To disguise a structural column, Artistroom designed open shelves and storage cabinets around it. The three areas are enclosed by a sliding door that separates the dining/kitchen from my vanity/bathroom, yard and utility room.
Aesthetically, my tastes lean towards contemporary Italian design. I like clean lines and strong angles. I find that this style makes a good backdrop for my eclectic collection of artworks and artefacts.
Artistroom selected a sophisticated palette of materials and tones to achieve the look I wanted: custom black concrete screed for the floors; grey oak laminates for the cabinetry; grey marble for the kitchen backsplash; and white paint for most of the walls, to provide a contrast to the darker tones.
Black track lights throughout emphasise the linearity of the space, while also adding to the art gallery-like ambience. The furnishings were all new. I selected them myself, consulting with Artistroom to ensure that their proportions fit the spaces.
As for the artwork, some were pieces I already owned; others, I purchased specifically for my flat. These were sourced from online galleries as well as bricks-and-mortar galleries in Bali and Singapore. I spent about $60,000 on furnishing, appliances and artwork.
All in all, Artistroom went above and beyond my expectations. Their practicality, lack of ego and attention to detail were what impressed me the most. Rather than trying to force a design template or signature aesthetic down my throat, they devised custom solutions to my specifications.
And they took pains to ensure that the details were thought through: how to conceal the wiring/cabling, for example, or how to configure my kitchen layout so that it is intuitive to use.
Even though I spent a small fortune – to me, anyway – on my flat, having my own home is the best investment I ever made, one that keeps on giving.
All images courtesy of Artistroom