A Creative 5-Room HDB Flat That Thought Outside The Box Quite Literally


These days, it is not uncommon to see HDB apartments exude luxurious and creative interiors. Contemporary homeowners are not only increasingly well-travelled, they are also more design-savvy. However, once in a while, we come across HDB dwellings that are truly unusual, and this five-room flat is one of those rarities. Located at Bukit Purmei within a housing estate built in the ‘80s, this home belongs to a young couple and their five-year-old son.

As family friends of Dennis Cheok, the founder and Creative Director of UPSTAIRS_, the couple decided to continue the harmonious partnership with the local interior design firm for their third home’s renovation – having worked with the designer on their previous two home overhauls. Well-prepared to take on a project on a larger and more radical scale, they then went to pitch their desired concept to Dennis with a single image in their minds. The image was that of a red shipping container seemingly placed in the middle of a home.

“We quickly looked into that particular project and realised that the image was a clever illusion. The ‘container’ was built from corrugated metal cladding for the walls of a bathroom and made to look like a separate structure from the room through the use of mirrors. Our immediate response was: how about building a real box out of timber, right in the centre of the home?” Dennis explains.

A dramatic departure from those cookie-cutter apartment designs, the renovation was massive from the get-go. While the original configuration of the home was sizeable, it was confined into nooks and rooms. For example, the living and dining rooms were separated into two and was connected by a linear corridor. However, it was something the homeowners didn’t want.

Instead, they requested for all the non-structural walls in the apartment to be removed and for the layout to be reconfigured around the “crate” that would be inserted right in the centre of the apartment. This came with its own set of challenges, for the need to maintain the crate’s integrity as a separate detached structure from the walls and ceiling was technically challenging, requiring complex manoeuvres of electrical and ACMV services around the beams, floors, and columns.

Given the amount of intense work put into installing the crate, it was only natural that the homeowners and designers alike wanted it to be the main focal point within the home. As such, the rest of the apartment was kept a pristine shade of white and adorned with monochromatic furnishings and fittings. Termed “the white spaces”, this configuration was applied to every single room within the apartment, and the result was a playful and engaging interaction between the crate and each pocket of white space.

Although there were already plenty of one-of-a-kind design elements in the home, it was down to the personalised touches that truly made the abode unique to the family of three. The rare “popiah board” in the kitchen is one notable example of that. As a nod to the homeowner’s long-standing family tradition of throwing popiah parties, the team designed a raised counter as part of the dining table and inserted the authentic wooden board within its Carrara marble worktop.

Not only that, a chance encounter led the UPSTAIRS_ design team to be in possession of a pair of old film room doors from the original Capitol Theatre, bearing the words “Films. No smoking and naked flames” which was handpainted on its peeling metal patina. “Given that both the homeowners work in the broadcast industry, it seemed like a meaningful backstory for the crate, and we integrated these doors as operable panels along its walls,” Dennis elaborates.

Summing up his thoughts on the entire project, Dennis has this to say, “This apartment is probably our craziest project to date – and mind you, we’ve done lots of crazy in our time – and perhaps, one of our most ambitious. What started out as a gesture to help out a friend, turned into a prolonged labour of love, with its fair share of trials and tribulations. We certainly never thought far enough about the sheer scale of what we were doing during the midst!” But given how well the final product turned out – which culminated in a Silver Award at the recent Singapore Interior Design Awards, it’s with much certainty that we say the extensive time and effort that was put into it was well worth it.

This was adapted from an article originally published in the August 2018 issue of SquareRooms. Photo credits: UPSTAIRS_

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