Hidden gem on Cairnhill Road

By Bong Xin Ying
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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The freehold, conserved terraced house in prime Orchard Road is on the market for an undisclosed price. The owner, David Tan, chairman of interior design firm TID Associates, offers a peek into the home that he has designed in collaboration with RT+Q

Exterior of the conserved terrace house on Cairnhill Road
Exterior of the conserved terrace house on Cairnhill Road (Credit: David Tan)
The current home of TID Associates’ chairman, David Tan, may be a penthouse at The Interlace along Depot Road, but for more than a decade, a conserved terraced house along Cairnhill Road was the interior designer’s beloved abode.
Though the façade of the house is unassuming, the interiors have been tailored according to Tan’s design philosophy that “the living space should embody the aesthetic flair as well as the functional needs of its inhabitants”.
To achieve this, Tan collaborated with Rene Tan, co-founder of RT+Q Architects. He envisioned the heritage home as a “solid foundation” to build on but wanted “the whole place to be very bright and contemporary”, he tells EdgeProp Singapore.
CAIRNHILL - The indoor courtyard that links to the kitchen on the first floor
The indoor courtyard that links to the kitchen on the first floor (Credit: David Tan)
With approval from URA, Tan embarked on a $3 million renovation a decade ago. This includes tearing down the rear of the house, piling the foundation, installing a lift, as well as constructing a rooftop swimming pool with a depth of 1.2m.
Following the renovation, the total built-up area of the house is now somewhere between 6,500 and 6,700 sq ft, compared with slightly over 4,000 sq ft previously. Spanning two storeys with a mezzanine and attic, the house now comprises four bedrooms, of which three are en suite.

A modern update

Tan’s house is the only one along the row of conserved terraced houses on Cairnhill Road that boasts a swimming pool. “I like to swim, [so] this is for me,” he says. When he resided there, he used to get himself ready in the steam room beside the rooftop pool before swimming laps. This was usually followed by breakfast at the rooftop patio that overlooks the greenery behind the house.
The rooftop pool with a depth of 1.2m (Credit: David Tan)
In addition to the swimming pool, Tan installed a water feature in the first-floor courtyard that is enclosed with a skylight on the mezzanine. Continuing this water theme, he also created a solid granite water feature at the front yard. “Normally people don’t put ponds [in a conserved house at Cairnhill], but I wanted to have it,” he says. “When I stayed here, I had a high-pressure water jet machine and I cleaned the floor myself.”
The house is also the only one in the entire row of conserved houses with a covered carpark that can accommodate two cars. There is also room for another car to be parked in front of the house. Prior to purchasing the house in the late 1980s, he compared conservation houses along Cairnhill Road with those on Emerald Hill Road nearby. He settled on this particular unit on Cairnhill Road because it was the only one along the row that came with a car porch. “If you drive a Bentley or a Porsche 911, you would want a carpark,” he says.
The covered carpark that can accommodate two cars (Credit: David Tan)
Tan also built two kitchens in the house – one on the first floor and another on the mezzanine that is linked to a lounge. The latter features a teppanyaki grill as he enjoys cooking and entertaining guests. He shares: “I like to cook a good steak. I have a wine collection in the two wine fridges in the cabinets in the kitchen.”
The house also features an ambient lighting scheme that complements the natural light from the skylight.

Lifestyle changes

However, a few years ago, Tan and his family decided to move to The Interlace, a 1,040-unit private condo on Depot Road that was designed by celebrity architect Ole Scheeren. They arrived at the decision after their dog dashed across Cairnhill Road one day. The incident alarmed the family, especially Tan’s wife, “who loves the dog very much”. That motivated them to move to a condo, where there is security.
Since moving to The Interlace, Tan’s lifestyle has changed: He now runs 10km at the nearby Mount Faber three times a week and walks his dog around the neighbourhood. “It’s a tremendous difference,” he concedes.
The kitchen on the mezzanine (Credit: David Tan)
However, the property on Cairnhill Road is something that he treasures. It was one of three adjoining conserved terraced houses that he had purchased sometime in the late 1980s to early 1990s. At that time, the Control of Rent Act was still in place and the three properties on Cairnhill Road were under the rent control laws, which means the landlord could not evict the existing tenants. Introduced in 1947, the Control of Rent Act was abolished only in 2001.
When he purchased the three adjoining houses, two were already vacant, but one was occupied by an elderly lady who had lived there for many years and was paying a monthly rental of $25.
As Tan wanted to occupy the property himself, he offered her $250,000 to move out. “She was so happy because she had never seen so much money in her life,” he recounts.
The walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom (Credit: David Tan)
Before she vacated the property, she offered him a piece of advice which he heeded. Tan relates: “She told me, ‘Mr Tan, if you want me to move out, remember one thing: you can sell the other two houses but not this. This is a very good home.’ ” So while the other two houses have been sold, he remains owner of the current house.

Capital upside

The location of Cairnhill Road within the prime Orchard Road area is “so central”, says Tan. While he and his family lived there, they regarded Paragon Shopping Centre as their neighbourhood “provision store” that comes with the convenience of a medical centre. “You can’t get a home like that in the market anymore,” he adds.
Tan’s house is currently rented out for $15,000 monthly. The rental used to be $20,000 to $25,000 a month, he says. With a two-year tenancy contract starting from June 2018, the current tenants have been there for almost a year, and they have an option to extend the tenancy for another two years when the lease expires in June 2020.
The first level is decorated with a main water feature that links the dining area to the indoor courtyard (Credit: David Tan)
Rental rates for conserved terraced houses along Cairnhill Road with built-up areas of 3,500 to 4,000 sq ft have ranged from $12,000 to $13,000 a month in April, according to URA data. Earlier in March, a conserved terraced house on Cairnhill Road with a bigger built-up area of 4,500 sq ft was leased at $14,000 a month.
Transactions for these conserved terraced houses have also been rare. Based on caveats lodged, the last transaction in the area was seven years ago in 2012, and it was the sale of a unit located just two doors away from Tan’s property. The house, which has a freehold, land area of 2,540 sq ft, fetched $8.39 million. Prior to that, a neighbouring unit with a slightly bigger land area of 2,562 sq ft changed hands for $7.78 million in June 2011. Five years ago, that same unit had fetched $3.7 million, according to a caveat lodged in May 2006. That means prices have doubled in the span of just five years.
The bathtub in the master bedroom is suspended on a cantilevered glass box (Credit: David Tan)

Rare find

Now, Tan is putting the Cairnhill conserved house on the market, with Sharon Lee, senior director and head of auction sales at Knight Frank, as the exclusive marketing agent.
“[The tenants] don’t want me to sell this place,” quips Tan. “They had looked at 23 units before they decided on this one. That’s why they are so worried that I’m selling it.”
The lounge on the mezzanine (Credit: David Tan)
Tan is in no hurry to sell the house and has even refused an offer from former Singapore President Tony Tan. “Today, if someone wants to buy from me, my heart shakes to let go of it because you can never get it again,” he says.
He acknowledges that “in life, you have to move on”. Tan adds: “I will only sell this place if the price is right.” However, he declined to reveal either his asking price or the former President’s offer price.

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