The government housing flat in Sin Ming is already close to 50 years old, and the units certainly reflect their age. But instead of renovating his 2-bedder into a modern home, the homeowner, a 40-year-old bachelor, wanted to make it look exactly like the old family home he grew up in.
"His parents' place is in Tiong Bahru, and he loved the heritage there," says Raymond Seow, principal designer of interior design studio Free Space Intent. "If you've been Tiong Bahru, it is very well preserved in a certain way, with all the pre-war HDB flats. And if you look at the facade of Tiong Bahru, it is very art deco."
However, Raymond was hesitant to jump straight into the project as he had little knowledge of the finer details of old Tiong Bahru. To begin, he went down to visit the family home in question to get a better idea of what his client wanted.
"The opportunity to study this old Tiong Bahru apartment was what I loved most about working on this project," recalls Raymond. "It helped me to understand and relearn the lifestyle and the heritage of the materials and furniture used in that area during the 1980s and 1990s."
One big challenge remained – replicating the elements and essentials of the Tiong Bahru home in the client's flat.
With many of such vintage designs not in mass production anymore, the two of them went around scouring, sometimes through trash, for the right pieces. As such, planning the design did not involve a detailed 3D render as most design firms would do, but rather, the renovation was a sporadic and spontaneous process that happened over the course of three months.
Scroll through the gallery to see more of this retro-inspired apartment:
The green mosaic tiles that extend from the kitchen to the bathroom looks just like the homeowner’s Tiong Bahru flat. Getting these tiles is an interesting story of its own, as you can’t find these in Singapore anymore, according to Raymond. (You might be able to find them in Malacca or Penang.)
“I did some on-the-ground research and found out them in an old hardware shop that had these tiles leftover in their backyard,” recounts Raymond. “Even the boxes were broken, and there was mould all over them, but I bought all of it and laid it here. You can’t really google, 'Where can I find leftover mosaic tiles?', so it was quite an interesting experience.”
This iconic basin was created using a vintage Singer sewing machine, courtesy of the homeowner’s parents. “One of the lucky things is that his parents kept a lot of antiques,” adds Raymond. “So I just used a lot of the stuff that they already have to recreate the look.”
While the two pendant lights above the kitchen islands look identical, they are not from the same brand. They’re part of the parents’ collection.
Something that grabs your attention immediately is the myriad of Wong Kar-wai plastered around the house, which came from special edition vinyl records featuring the soundtracks of Wong's movies. Raymond encouraged the homeowner to frame them up. “I told him, it’s such a pity if you keep it in your cupboard and nobody sees them. You’ve got to frame them,” says Raymond. “Art on the wall is so important because it reflects one’s personality and character. All this stuff brings the whole place together.”
They say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While strolling through Tiong Bahru, the homeowner chanced upon six discarded louvred windows from a neighbouring flat owner who was replacing them. Four of them are nicely installed in the master bedroom, and the remaining two are in the second bedroom as decorative pieces.
Raymond’s favourite part of the house is in this picture – looking through the windows into the master bedroom. “During the night, the mood is excellent. I love the angle, sitting at the bench, looking towards the master bedroom,” he explains. “And this particular view almost never happened. We never planned for this see-through portion until we found the windows.”
The master bed frame from Born in Colour comes with built-in shelves - a style that was popular in the 1960s.
This old school table in the second bedroom comes from the homeowner’s existing collection. “He wanted me to customise a new study table for him, I said no,” says Raymond. “No matter how rustic I make it, it can’t compare to the real deal.”
However, some furniture here is brand new, like the Karimoku60 1-seater and sofa in the living room. “Initially we wanted to use old furniture too, but after consideration, we agree that it might not feel too comfortable sitting on an old sofa,” adds Raymond.
“I don’t take all the credit,” says Raymond. “I always ask my client, what kind of style do you like? What kind of style calls out to you? The end result is a two-way traffic.”
Reflecting on this memorable project, he continues: “I’m very glad to be part of this generation that sees a big transition of style, design, fashion and technology. From cassette players to CDs, to high definition televisions… As a designer, you have to find something personal that you like, but you also have to pick up new trends and diversify.”