Cairnhill conservation terrace: Old world charm, enduring treasure

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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January 14, 2022 8:00 AM SGT
Family lounge area on the first level with a bridge leading to a formal dining room (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - David Tan, chairman of TID Associates, one of Singapore’s oldest interior design firms, had always wanted to experience “walking on water”. To create that effect at his home at 114 Cairnhill Road, Rene Tan, co-founder of RT+Q Architects, designed a walkway with a landscape of overflowing water on either side.
Beyond the entrance is a formal living room where the feature wall is an elaborate antique door from India that had previously graced Tan’s home in London. The house at Cairnhill Road is fully fitted with an integrated lighting and Bose sound system. “I spent a lot of money on that,” he says. “The light can be programmed to set the right mood and temperature, whether you’re relaxing, meditating or entertaining at home.”
Tan’s obsession with having good lighting and sound systems dates back to the early years in his career when TID (Total Integrated Design) was famous as “the disco designers”. It was also when he understood how lighting “seduced people to stay”. Founded in 1979, TID designed many of the clubs and discotheques in Singapore in the 1980s, from the members-only club The Library to discotheques such as Studio M at Plaza Hotel and Xanadu at Shangri-La Hotel. TID’s fame spread beyond Singapore, and he designed clubs in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai and Seoul. “We were the disco kings,” he relates.
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David Tan - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
When it comes to his real estate investment, David Tan prefers something with soul, heritage and culture. “That is what gives it the intrinsic value; and it can’t be replicated,” he says (Photo: TID Associates Pte Ltd)
In the 1990s, TID collaborated with the former Public Works Department (now CPG Corp) for the design of the Parliament House that was completed in July 1999 at a cost of $115.2 million. The new Supreme Court building, which opened in 2005, was designed by British architectural firm Foster and Partners. However, CPG was the local architect, and worked closely with TID for the interiors. Tan wants to be remembered as “the interior designer who designed the Parliament House and the Supreme Court”.
Over the past 42 years, Tan has built an extensive portfolio, from private homes and yachts of high-net-worth individuals, to premium hotels, One-degree 15 marina club, and boutiques of luxury brands such as Bulgari, Fendi, Hermes and Tiffany & Co. While these luxury brands have in-house or appointed concept planning designers, they collaborate with local design firms in implementation works as well. “We are privileged to have worked with these brands in the past and currently,” says Tan. TID handles some of the works of these luxury brands not just in Singapore but in some of the key markets in Southeast Asia too, he adds.

Soul, heritage, culture

When it comes to his hobby or real estate investment, Tan prefers something that has “soul, heritage and culture”. He explains: “That is what gives it the intrinsic value; and it can’t be replicated.” Tan’s car collection includes a Porsche 964, which he purchased in 1989 and sent to Germany for a complete restoration two years ago. “I still drive it today,” he says. Another is a British handmade sports car, Morgan, which he purchased in 1983. It was recently sent to the UK for a complete restoration too, and has been left there, awaiting his return to the wheel.
He is equally discerning in his real estate investments. Recognising the value of heritage properties, he had picked up not just one, but three intermediate terraced houses, at 114, 116 and 118 Cairnhill Road, in the 1980s. He chose the location due to its proximity to amenities such as shopping malls on Orchard Road and the short drive to the CBD. “When I first bought it, it was the centre of a lot of parties,” he says.
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114 Cairnhill Road - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Exterior of 114 Cairnhill Road that is now on the market by expressions of interest with JTResi as the exclusive marketing agent (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
There are just 40 of these properties along Cairnhill Road, and they were said to be built in the early 1900s. It was only in 1989 that these terraced houses along Cairnhill Road and those at Emerald Hill Road were gazetted for conservation by the URA, along with the shophouses in the historic areas of Chinatown, Little India and those along the Singapore River.
The three terraced houses at Cairnhill Road were still occupied by tenants under the Rent Control Act when Tan purchased them. To entice them to relocate, he paid them $250,000. The elderly lady who had resided at 114 Cairnhill Road not only thanked Tan for his generosity, but also offered him a piece of advice: “If you choose to sell the properties later on, sell the other two units, but don’t sell this one because it’s very good”, Tan recalls.
He asked the elderly lady what she meant, and she informed him that it was once the home of the late banker and philanthropist Tan Chin Tuan in his youth. The former OCBC chairman later purchased Tan Chin Tuan Mansion at 42 Cairnhill Road in 1939, where he lived for nearly 60 years until his death in 2005 at the age of 98. The house was built in the 1920s by its previous owner, business magnate and philanthropist Tan Kah Kee.
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TID’s Tan heeded the elderly lady’s advice: over the years, he sold the other two terraced houses, but he kept 114 Cairnhill Road as his primary residence.
CAIRNHILL CENTER COURTYARD - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Open air courtyard on the first level adjacent to the main kitchen (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

A new extension, covered parking

A decade ago, he applied for, and obtained permission from URA to undertake a major renovation that included a new rear extension of some 2,000 to 2,500 sq ft. While most of its neighbours have a built-up area of about 4,000 sq ft, Tan’s extended property has a total floor area of 6,500 to 6,700 sq ft. The extensive renovation, undertaken by TID in collaboration with RT+Q, was completed in 2010.
The house has two internal courtyards. One of the courtyards is enclosed by a skylight above and sits between the living room and the formal dining room, with a bridge linking the two. “When viewed from the living room, it looks like the dining room is floating on the pond,” says Tan. The other open-air courtyard is landscaped, and is situated next to the main kitchen.
The staircase has been designed as “a floating staircase”, and a new internal glass lift serving every floor was built.
As Tan loves to entertain, the house comes with two dining areas and two kitchens that are fully fitted with top-end Miele appliances. The main wet kitchen is on the first level, with a second gourmet dry kitchen on the mezzanine level. Both kitchens come with ample storage, with the gourmet kitchen fitted with two wine compartments. The kitchen on the mezzanine level is connected to an informal dining room on one side, and a lounge area on the other. The lounge opens out to an entertainment terrace. The space is ideal for intimate gatherings, as guests can park their cars at the rear, and enter via a staircase straight to the entertainment terrace on the mezzanine level.
114 CAIRNHILL DRY KITCHEN ADJACENT FORMAL DINING RM - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Gourmet kitchen on the mezzanine level (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The second level is the private area where Tan has a spacious master suite with a bay window that looks out to greenery, his-and-hers walk-in wardrobe and a master bathroom with a floating bathtub. The study has a Terence Conran desk which he purchased from the Conran Shop in London. Within the study is a concealed staircase and entrance to a “secret room” on the attic level. It used to be his son’s bedroom. There is an en suite guest bedroom on the second level too.
The attic level has another en suite bedroom, and is also where the facilities are — a 15m lap pool, steam room and shower, and a barbeque cookout area with a private open terrace with a view of the greenery. There is also a walk-in storage area at the attic, which is ideal for storing ski equipment and luggage. Altogether, the house has five en suite bedrooms.
While the house at 114 Cairnhill Road was being renovated, Tan moved to his weekend home at Sentosa Cove. However, once the renovations were completed, the family moved back to Cairnhill. After living there for four years, his wife decided that she wanted something smaller. Tan had purchased a penthouse at The Interlace, a 1,040-unit condominium famous for its hexagonal shape around eight courtyard gardens designed by German architect Ole Scheeren.

Lifestyle changes

Tan decided to renovate the penthouse at The Interlace for their use. “There are only two penthouses at The Interlace that come with a central spiral staircase leading to the roof terrace,” he says. “I created two dining areas — an air-conditioned, indoor dining area and an outdoor dining area. Why live in the tropics if you don’t enjoy indoor-outdoor dining?”
THE INTERLACE WATERFALL TERRACE - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Tan's current home is a penthouse at The Interlace (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
His penthouse at The Interlace has windows that look out to greenery. In most prime districts, the view is of the surrounding buildings, he adds. “At The Interlace, I open my window and I see the sunrise, the sunset, greenery and even the sea.”
As Tan and his wife are ensconced at their penthouse at The Interlace, the terraced house at Cairnhill Road has been leased out. His tenants are international: The first tenant was an American CEO of a multinational firm, the second tenant was a Dutch banker, and the latest tenant is a British head of a global professional consulting firm and his family.
According to Tan, the previous rent was $14,000 a month, but the rental market has improved over the past year. The latest tenant is paying a monthly rental rate of $18,750. “If I waited longer, I could have gotten $22,000. But I managed to get a new tenant in less than a week, so I am not complaining,” he says.
What he enjoyed most about living at the house in Cairnhill was the space to entertain, and its convenience to shopping amenities along Orchard Road and F&B outlets. “You walk down and you’re at Paragon, and you can send your helper down to buy milk if you need,” he says. “I used to go to Newton Food Centre on my e-scooter to buy char kway teow. It’s just nearby.”
PARAGON - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The conservation terraced at Cairnhill Road is close to Paragon retail mall on Orchard Road (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Sigapore)
Tan had initially wanted to keep the Cairnhill property for his adult children, but they have properties of their own. “They don’t need the property at Cairnhill,” he says. He has therefore decided to put the property up for sale. He has appointed Jerry Tan, founder of JTResi, a boutique firm that focuses on high-end residential property, as his exclusive marketing agent. “Jerry is a dear old friend, and we used to buy, retrofit and sell properties,” he says.
Tan had chosen quality materials when he renovated the property at Cairnhill in 2010. He used marble flooring for the first level, and the upper floors are of white oak. The bathrooms have full travertine tiles and are fitted with high-end, Toto water closets. Instead of single-phase, which is typical of most residences, Tan has a three-phase power supply to the house. “All you need to bring here is your art collection, your furniture and your lifestyle,” he says.

New rich, old rich

Over the past two decades, JTResi made a name for itself in the luxury residential segment, in marketing and selling projects such as MCL Land’s Waterfall Gardens, SC Global Developments’ The Marq on Paterson Hill and GuocoLand’s Goodwood Residence.
JTResi’s Tan believes that the next buyer of the house at Cairnhill Road could probably be someone “young, perhaps of new money and may well be a permanent resident (PR)”. It could also be someone from the younger generation of the old rich families. As these conservation terraced houses are considered landed residential property and are restricted to Singapore citizens, PRs who purchase such properties need to obtain approval from the Singapore Land Authority’s Land Dealings Approval Unit. “For a PR, instead of paying $25 million for a penthouse, you can now get something rare,” he says.
KLIMT CAIRNHILL - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The simplex penthouse of 4,898 sq ft, one of two penthouses at Klimt Cairnhill was recently sold for $26 million; and at $5,390 psf has set a new record psf for the Cairnhill area (Credit: Low Keng Huat)
Nearby, the simplex penthouse of 4,898 sq ft at luxury condo Klimt Cairnhill was sold for $26 million ($5,309 psf) in November. It set a new high in terms of psf price for luxury condos in the Cairnhill area. There are only two penthouses at Klimt Cairnhill. The other is a 5,920 sq ft duplex. (Discover insightful data of any Singapore condominium with our condo directory)
However, a conservation terraced house has a different appeal. At 114 Cairnhill Road, the entertainment areas have been compartmentalised, and there are recreational facilities on the rooftop including a private lap pool, as well as a home lift and covered car porch at the back. “It’s unique — with its heritage façade and modern facilities within, it’s also self-contained,” observes JTResi’s Tan. “And it’s fabulous as a townhouse or a home office.”
The conservation terraced house next door at 116 Cairnhill Road had changed hands last September for $10 million. However, the house has a built-up area of 4,000 sq ft. On the same row, another conservation terraced house at 98 Cairnhill Road fetched $10.5 million last November.
Another nearby conservation area just off Orchard Road is at Emerald Hill Road, where a unit at 18 Emerald Hill Road was sold for $5.358 million in November last year. The shophouse sits on a freehold land site of 1,043 sq ft. Another shophouse at 124 Emerald Hill Road was sold for $5.8 million in August. The property sits on a freehold site of 1,330 sq ft.
JERRY TAN - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
JTResi’s Tan: The conservation terraced house at Cairnhill is something unique, with its heritage façade and modern facilities within, it’s also self-contained. And it’s fabulous as a townhouse or a home office (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
“The Emerald Hill conservation area is a close comparison to Cairnhill Road, but the former has a more Peranakan feel,” says JTResi’s Tan. What’s more, those that are close to the commercial units near Peranakan Place tend to have high pedestrian traffic as it’s just off Orchard Road. There are also a number of bars there. The even-numbered units do not have private parking, and are also closer to the Central Expressway. (Find Singapore commercial properties with our commercial directory)
Before it became a residential area, Cairnhill was a nutmeg orchard owned by Charles Carnie. He was also the first to build his home there. When the nutmeg orchard failed, Carnie’s house was acquired in 1884 and redeveloped into a bungalow for the manager of Chartered Bank. The terraced houses along Cairnhill Road were built later, in the early 1900s. Over time, the Cairnhill area developed into a luxury residential enclave in prime District 9.
The conservation terraced house will be sold by expressions of interest by JTResi. The latest property cooling measures of Dec 16 should not put a dent on demand, JTResi’s Tan reckons. “There are certain asset classes that are truly exclusive, and, due to their limited number, have scarcity value: Good Class Bungalows is one, and conservation terraced houses is another,” he says.
Such properties come with bragging rights too. “These conservation properties can’t be replicated, unlike condominiums or conventional landed property,” adds JTResi’s Tan. “Conservation properties that are freehold, in a prime residential location like Cairnhill, are in a different league. They are seldom on the market. And once sold, they rarely become available again.”
EMERALD HILL CAIRNHILL AREA - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The conservation terraced houses at Emerald Hill Road (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Owner Tan agrees. “I would only sell it if the price is right,” he says. “Once you lose it, it’s no more.”

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