[UPDATE] Semi-detached house at Upper Bukit Timah showcases ‘new urban kampong’ concept

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - A recently rebuilt semi-detached house in the Upper Bukit Timah-Beauty World neighbourhood of District 21 has all the trappings of a bungalow — from the terraced garden on every level of the three-storey house to a private lift, four en suite bedrooms with nature-inspired bathrooms, a car porch for three cars and a quarter-sized basketball court, a rooftop jacuzzi, gym and workspace-library-studio.
The house owners are a couple who purchased the property — a 50-year-old, double-storey semi-detached house sitting on a freehold site area of close to 3,900 sq ft — in August 2017 for $4.2 million, based on caveats lodged. The trapezoid shape of the land drew little interest when it was first put up for sale five years ago. But the couple found the site intriguing and decided to buy it.
They subsequently engaged Arthur Aw, executive director of privately held boutique development and investment firm Kimen Group, to undertake the design and redevelopment of the property. While others steered away from the trapezoid site with the downward-sloping terrain, Aw saw it as an opportunity to transform an unconventional piece of land into a highly functional and practical house. “The site has the widest frontage in the neighbourhood and is situated on the highest point too,” says Aw, who is clearly of the glass-half-full persuasion.
The exterior of the new semi-detached house designed with a bungalow feel in the Beauty World-Upper Bukit Timah area (Photo: Fabian Ong)

Surrounded by greenery

“This house is based on a ‘new urban kampong’ concept, where the interiors are well-ventilated and bright, and you see a garden or pocket of greenery wherever you look,” says Aw.
The built-up area of the new house was optimised to 9,000 sq ft and spans 31⁄2 floors, including the half-basement at street level. The main gate of the house opens to the car porch that can park three cars, the basketball court and a maintenance work staging space.
The main feature of the basement level is a high-ceiling, workspace-studio-library on the left and a staircase with a linear fern garden on the right. The fern garden spans the entire depth of the house, ending with a vertical green wall at the rear, with sunlight streaming in from the skylight.
The workspace-library-studio on the basement level of the house (Photo: Fabian Ong)
The workspace-studio-library has four work cubicles — one for each family member — and serves as an “office space”. Next to it is a lounge with a large-format smart television in front of a three-seater sofa. It is ideal for work presentations or a movie screening at the end of the workday. There is also a library on the mezzanine level with bookshelves and a massage lounger with a view of the garden. A full-sized table-tennis table serves as a small-group discussion table or meeting area, while a feature wall doubles as a hidden storage space. The area was also designed as a start-up space accommodating up to six people.
“The spaces serve multiple purposes and were particularly handy during the pandemic when people were working from home,” says Aw.
Videographer: Leow Aik Kian
The first floor is where the living room, dining, kitchen and guest room are located. The living area overlooks a front garden, with a back garden-turned-urban farm patch where blue peas, an assortment of vegetables, papaya trees and banana trees are grown. A piano and violin corner on the first level flows seamlessly to the living and dining areas and serves as a performance stage “for an evening of music and entertainment”, says Aw.
The living, dining area and the music corner on the first level (Photo: Fabian Ong)

Nature-inspired bathrooms

The second level has been designated the family’s private quarters — with a family room and four en suite bedrooms, including the master suite. Like the first level, the second level is flanked by a front and back garden.
All four en suite bedrooms on the second level have a “mini Zen garden” in the bathroom. The concept was inspired by Aw’s “kampong boy” reminiscence. “I grew up in Tampines when it was still mainly pig farms, and I loved showering outdoors,” says Aw.
The homeowner’s family has since embraced the idea of nature-inspired bathrooms. Six months after moving in, they observed that “the plants in the en suite bathrooms are growing very well”.
One of the en suite bathrooms with zen garden (Photo: Fabian Ong)
On the third floor are the family entertainment and recreational areas, with a private gym, barbecue pit and jacuzzi pool. There is also a garden where the owners have planted rosemary, lady’s fingers (okra), pandan, lemongrass and eggplant. “The herb and vegetable garden gets abundant sunlight and can supply the family with homegrown food,” says Aw.
For ease of maintenance, all the gardens and planter boxes in the house are fitted with a semi-automated irrigation system where the amount of water can be adjusted using a smartphone app.
In order to ensure that the plants at all levels of the house receive adequate sunlight, an open stairwell linking the ground floor to the rooftop allows daylight to filter in. “It gives an unobstructed view of the indoor and outdoor gardens from anywhere within the house,” says Aw.
open stairwell - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The open stairwell (Photo: Fabian Ong)

Sustainable living

The open stairwell also serves as an air funnel, directing hot air to the air-extractor fan on the third floor to reduce the need for air conditioning. Energy-saving fans are installed in every room. The owners say that they have hardly used the air-conditioning since they moved in.
The ceiling height for every level is between 3.2m and 3.5m, and all the glass doors and windows have floor-to-ceiling height and are fitted with mosquito netting to maximise daylight and natural ventilation. To further reduce the need for artificial light during the day, glass panels between the wall and ceiling let natural light into the inner spaces of each floor. The entire roof is fitted with 26 solar panels, substantially reducing the electrical load drawn from the grid.
To address the privacy issue, the façade of the house is wrapped by a perforated screen. It works on the principle of relative brightness, letting in ample daylight and air while providing maximum privacy at night. “During the day, the exterior, which is relatively brighter, can be viewed from the house's interior, but not the other way round,” says Aw. “At night, blinds provide the necessary privacy. The effect is like a lantern at night.”
The house is designed with a garden on every level (Photo: Fabian Ong)
While Kimen was the development and project manager for the project, Aw collaborated with Jerry Lee and Anson Ho of LST Architects, interior designer Calvin Chua of Space Anatomy, contractor Harry Tan of Shanghai Chong Kee and landscape designer Li Jun Lek of Greendot Creations. “We work very closely with architects and interior designers, and as directors of the firm, we are hands-on in our projects,” he says.
For Aw, it’s more than just a property development project. He also looked into the long-term maintenance of the property from the owners’ perspective. When maintaining a house, besides the irrigation system for the plants, mechanical and electrical systems, the owners may need to repaint or do repair work around the house. Hence, the house comes with staging rods for gondolas to allow ease of maintenance work and repainting.
According to Aw, Kimen considers the following when looking at the various real estate projects: site potential, user lifestyle, green sustainability, fine detailing, community spirit, reinvigorating the arts and reimagining heritage.
“It’s about creating exceptional value for the land on a psf basis,” says Aw. “We didn’t just multiply the number of storeys, but created functional, rectilinear spaces with a bungalow feel on every floor of the house.”
The rooftop jacuzzi and barbeque area (Photo: Fabian Ong)

Higher land and construction costs today

If a new house owner were to redevelop and build a similar property today, it would amount to about $550–$650 psf in terms of overall construction cost, including fixtures and fittings. This works out to between $4.95 million and $5.85 million. If an owner wants marble and granite flooring and full-marble bathrooms, the cost will amount to $700–$750 psf or $6.3 million–$6.75 million, Aw estimates.
This excludes land cost, he points out. Land prices have soared too. In November, a 49,633 sq ft, 99-year leasehold site at Bukit Timah Link, located close to Beauty World MRT Station, was sold for $200 million ($1,343 psf per plot ratio) to Bukit Sembawang Estates. The selling price of the new development is estimated at $2,360 psf, according to EdgeProp’s Landlens analytics tool. The latest transaction of a new semi-detached house in the Beauty World--Upper Bukit Timah Road neighbourhood is for a property sitting on a freehold site of 2,698 sq ft at Tham Soong Avenue. It was sold in July 2022 for $7.2 million or $2,669 psf based on land area.
Besides being a developer with its award-winning flagship condominium development, the 130- unit Jervois Mansion, Kimen is also a property investor. Hilltop Capital — whose shareholders are Aw and Sons Capital and Aw Kim Cheng Realty, entities linked to Kimen Group — had purchased the former Chinatown Hotel on Teck Lim Road, off Keong Saik Road, for $31 million in 2017.
After refurbishing and converting the hotel into the 45-room Hotel Soloha, the property was sold for $53.38 million in May 2022, which re- reflects a 72% capital appreciation (Photo: Hotel Soloha website)
After refurbishing and converting the hotel into the 45-room Hotel Soloha, the property was sold for $53.38 million in May 2022, which reflects a 72% capital appreciation. However, Hilltop Capital will continue operating the hotel for the next three years.
With Jervois Mansion, Hotel Soloha and the redeveloped semi-detached house in Upper Bukit Timah under its belt, Aw wants to position Kimen as a development manager across most asset classes — from residential and commercial to industrial. (Find Singapore commercial properties with our commercial directory)
Aw had spent 14 years in Ascendas-Singbridge, where he was last an adviser and, prior to that, the executive vice president (EVP) of special projects. He was also the EVP-founder of Bridge+ workspace solutions under CapitaLand. Previously, he spent a decade at JTC Corp, where he was last director of land planning and was also a deputy director of one-north development group. Aw has a PhD from the prestigious Architectural Association London and a wide network of contacts among architects and interior designers.
“We hope to work with other land or asset owners and offer our unique expertise in identifying the best potential for their site — whether through redevelopment or refurbishment of an existing property — to create something of exceptional value,” he says.

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