Chinese-inspired bungalow on Toh Drive going for $9.3 mil

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February 2, 2019 8:37 PM SGT
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In the eastern suburbs of Changi, a house designed to reflect a tropical resort lifestyle is on the market. Take a tour of the home.

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The main dining room, which is painted in auspicious red and gold, features ornate sliding doors and panels with Chinese motifs (All Pictures: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
On Toh Drive, a quiet landed housing estate located off Upper Changi Road North, a bungalow has been put on the market for sale. While it looks like a contemporary resort villa from the outside, its interior can be described as “modern chinoiserie”, or in the words of its owner, a house with “Oriental touches”.
The property was built by its owner, retired engineer Gilbert Ong. He purchased the freehold site for $2.1 million in 2006 and tore down the old bungalow to build his new home. Back then, bungalows in the neighbourhood sitting on land sizes of at least 6,000 sq ft were transacted at prices ranging from $224 to $430 psf, according to caveats lodged with URA Realis. The asking price now is $9.3 million ($1,339 psf).
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Ong wanted a house that reflected “a contemporary resort lifestyle”, with indoor and outdoor spaces as well as rooms that have formal and informal settings. He also wanted to maximise the use of the 6,943 sq ft plot, which is elevated and therefore has a vantage point.
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A spacious lounge area with floor-to-ceiling windows is frequently used to entertain guests
“When I was a businessman, I used to travel frequently,” recounts Ong. “I used to admire the beautiful designs of the five-star hotels and resorts, and I wanted to bring that experience to my house.”
The house spans three levels and has a built-up area of 9,000 sq ft. The main gate of the house leads directly to the car park, which can fit six cars comfortably. Even though it is at street level, the car park is considered the basement level of the house. As the site is elevated, the basement level was extended to include a home cinema and an en suite guest bedroom. There is a home lift from the basement to the upper levels of the house.
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The bungalow, pictured at dawn, is elevated from the street level
The second entrance into the house is from a side gate, with a staircase leading directly to the first level of the house. Lush greenery provides privacy and a measure of serenity for the residents.
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Contemporary, with Oriental touches
On the first level of the house is a pavilion overlooking a reflective pool and garden. The house has large windows and full-height glass doors that open out to the garden, allowing natural light and a cool breeze into the house for much of the day.
The first level of the house contains the public areas — living room, formal dining room, kitchen and yard. The second level contains four en suite bedrooms, including the master bedroom suite.
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One of the four ensuite bedrooms on the second floor
Ong engaged RG Architects to design the house. While the architecture of the house is contemporary, the interior design is chinoiserie- inspired, especially in the formal dining room. A pair of intricately carved Chinese wooden doors graces the entrance to the dining room. Within is a dark rosewood dining table set that can seat 12, and a wood-panelled wall.
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Ong and his wife were actively involved in the interior design. “It is important that we have a house that we both enjoy,” he says. “She has a good eye when it comes to proportions, colours and design ideas. I like these Oriental touches, as they reflect our Chinese culture and personal tastes. It keeps the house interesting for visitors, and the best thing about such classical Chinese designs is that they never go out of style.” Some of the furniture pieces and fixtures were sourced in China, while others were purchased in Singapore and Australia.
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A pair of intricately carved Chinese wooden doors graces the entrance to the dining room
All in, Ong reckons he spent close to $3.6 million renovating and furnishing the house, which took two years to complete. This was on top of the $2.1 million he paid for the land.
Prolific investor-developer
Ong has been investing in property for many years. Besides houses, his portfolio includes private apartments. In recent years, however, he has been gradually divesting his assets.
The house on Toh Drive is one of the last remaining properties he is holding on to. “It has been our family home for the past decade,” says Ong.
What prompted him to move to the Toh estate was a very good friend, who lives in the estate too. Ong likes the neighbourhood, as it is a landed housing estate with predominantly two-storey bungalows and semi-detached houses, although some new, three-storey, mixed-landed housing developments have sprung up in recent years.
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The airwell opens out into a well-ventilated space in the basement
“It’s very quiet and peaceful here,” he says. “There are also many nice eateries and amenities in the area.” The estate is a less than 10-minute drive from dining destinations such as Changi Village Hawker Centre and Cranwell Road.
The house is not Ong’s first home in the neighbourhood; he had purchased a property there in the early 1980s. The bungalow was located on Toh Crescent, just down the road from his current house.
He also developed that home. The family lived there for only a few years before relocating to Australia. Ong sold that property in 1989. After spending 15 years in Australia, the family moved back to Singapore in 2004.
Second time around
“When I decided to come back, I started looking for land to build a house again,” says Ong. “After looking around for two years, I decided to come back to [the Toh estate] because it has better value and offers the resort lifestyle environment that we wanted.”
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The outdoor dining area viewed from the bungalow's second floor
These days, he and his wife shuttle between Singapore and Perth, where their two daughters have married and settled down. Ong was also involved in the design of his two houses in Perth.
The house in the Toh estate is expected to appeal to upgraders from smaller landed houses in the east. Yap Boon Seng, OrangeTee & Tie residential associate executive director, has been appointed exclusive marketing agent for the property. Yap says it would make more sense for these buyers to purchase a ready built, well-designed bungalow such as Ong’s home instead of buying a piece of land and building a new home from scratch.
The most recent bungalow transaction in the area was at 15 Toh Drive, which changed hands for $6.97 million ($824 psf) last December. Two vacated houses in the area were recently sold to boutique property developer Tan Jin Chwee & Co, which intends to redevelop the sites into a new landed project. According to Yap, “one in four buyers” in the Toh estate are developers.
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The basement was extended when the house was rebuilt, to fit a home cinema and ana extra bedroom
Developers that have been active in the Toh estate over the years include Wah Khiaw Group and Fragrance Group, whose founder, tycoon Koh Wee Meng, has a house there.
With most of his family now in Australia, Ong feels it is time to sell the house on Toh Drive. “It’s better to let go of the house and let a new family enjoy it,” he says. “I would still love to build another house in the same area if my children decide to come back to Singapore.”