House Tour: A Vintage-Filled HDB Flat That Embraces The Past


There is an acute sense of nostalgia one experiences upon stepping into this three-room flat in Sin Ming Avenue. It is not overwhelming, however, and this subtlety at evoking memory is exactly what makes the experience so poignant. Home to a bachelor in his 30s, this apartment was specifically designed to be reminiscent of his childhood home in Tiong Bahru.

Raymond Seow, design director of Free Space Intent, who helmed the design and renovation of this flat, recalls the initial meeting with the homeowner, “He really liked living in Tiong Bahru, but he bought this resale flat as he is now eligible for it. So he wanted his new home to have the same feel.”

In order to get it right, Raymond knew that he had to experience the childhood home himself. His client’s father still lives in the Tiong Bahru home and Raymond had the opportunity to not only visit the neighbourhood but also to step into the home where his client grew up in. This physical experience of the place gave Raymond a better understanding of the environment that his client wanted to recreate, and he set out to design a space to include iconic elements of Tiong Bahru’s architectural and interior features.

Along the public corridor, one would notice that the customised window grilles resemble the shape of old metal grilles with rounded corners. Inside the house, the new doors and window frames sport clean, simple lines that mimic the horizontal bands seen in Streamline Moderne architecture.

As his father is an active collector of antiques and vintage furniture, the homeowner intended to select some pieces from the huge collection and bring them over to his new place. Raymond had to make sure that the interior design will accommodate these pieces, not only in terms of looks but also space.

Since the homeowner did not need two bedrooms, Raymond removed the walls that separated the second bedroom and replaced them with transparent sliding doors. This room functions as an extension of the living area, and can be closed up whenever necessary, especially when the homeowner’s father comes over for an overnight stay.

Another change in the layout is the reduced size of the cooking area, creating a larger space for the dining area. Since the homeowner does not do much heavy cooking, the walls were hacked away to transform the space into an open-concept living, dining and kitchen.

Green square tiles cover half the height of the walls in the dining area, kitchen and one of the bathrooms. Raymond reveals that these square tiles were part of the original batches of tiles manufactured in the 80s. He says, “The store brought them out to me and I was very surprised that these tiles still existed! The packaging was falling apart and some of the tiles were scratched or chipped. I salvaged whatever I could.”

Another retro feature in this abode is the panel of louvred windows in the dining area that provides a peek into the bedroom. This was not part of the initial design but when the homeowner told Raymond that his father had found some louvred window panes from Tiong Bahru, the creative interior designer decided to find a way to use them.

Since they were made of solid wood and durable for indoor use, Raymond had these window panes restored and painted. He then removed part of the wall that separates the master bedroom from the dining space and had the louvred window panes installed. Besides being a place to display these precious window panes, this internal window opening is also reminiscent of a shophouse bedroom facing an air well.

Knowing that the homeowner has a love for Wong Kar Wai films, Raymond encouraged him to frame up some of the film posters in his collection and display them around the newly-renovated flat. Previously, these posters had all been kept in storage and hardly see the light of day. Raymond explains, “I wanted to bring not only Tiong Bahru, but also his personality into this home. This is his place, not his parents’ place.”

Based on this approach of combining the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru and the homeowner’s personality, Raymond has managed to create a space that is not simply nostalgic of the homeowner’s childhood, but also reflective of the homeowner’s current lifestyle and personality.

This was adapted from an article originally written by Jasmine Goh published in the January 2018 issue of SquareRooms. Photo credits: Free Space Intent.