Architecture and interior design firm UPSTAIRS_ often raises the bar by establishing itself as a cross-disciplinarian design studio that doesn’t play by the book and instead prefers to re-write the rules that many designers are bound to. Its creative director, Dennis Cheok, is proof that they practice what they preach by adhering to this very dictum when it came to the overhaul of his newly acquired nest, a 40-year-old resale HDB flat in Spottiswoode Park.
As their previous home – a four-room residence at the Pinnacle @ Duxton – is on the petite side, the owners were naturally looking forward to the new flat’s voluminous space and the possibilities that it brings. However, while the house boasts a generous footprint, it also sports an awkward layout that wasted a great deal of precious square footage particularly along the bedroom corridor. Furthermore, the rooms felt confined because of the tiny windows and solid wall partitions. Dennis thus decided to tear it all down so that they can literally start afresh on a clean slate.
“This apartment was conceived to be largely wall-less,” explains the design expert. In place of closed-in rooms, the open-plan layout is defined by grid-like blocks of functional zones that all look into a central common area. This thus prompted Dennis to dub this part of his home the Commons. “We gave it this moniker because it is a free open space meant to be shared as common property.” Unlike typical open concept interiors though, the family is able to enjoy the flexibility to create any configuration of space they require as well as manage levels of privacy via layers of curtains and frosted wire-glass doors that can be shifted along sliding tracks. Overhead, concrete beams secure these moveable partitions in place.
Apart from wire-glass and untreated concrete, Dennis also made use of finishes such as walnut-tone panels and pebble wash. This material palette, he explains, is largely inspired by the history of the apartment block. “Our previous residence was designed like a gallery; an all-white backdrop for our collection of many things. Having lived in such a space for a good eight years, it felt right to grow up to a more sophisticated palette of colours and textures,” he adds. Surrounded by materials that each has a tale to tell, the interior feels rich with character and meaning.
Speaking of a nod to nostalgia, Dennis shares that he particularly loves the patchwork of old bricks and salvaged metal unit numbers upon the apartment entrance. “They inject a certain personality and soul into the project,” he beams. The former is crafted from discarded debris handpicked and accumulated from the flat’s renovation process, while the latter used to serve as a gate in its original home. Both upcycled works of art now take pride of place upon the entry of an abode that houses a new generation of owners.
The flat opens to a cosy alcove that is swathed in textured pebble wash and raw concrete finishes, offering hints of the space’s look and feel. Three steps in and one is led right into the heart of the home where a 4.5m-long dining counter, or the Supercounter as christened by the creative director, demands attention. Understanding that no regular sized lighting is able to stand up to its stature, Dennis thus complemented the unit with a dramatic lightbox that stretches all along its span. It is designed with a charcoal-filled gabion base that filters light out, covering the surroundings in gently dappled brilliance. But it doesn’t stop here – the lightbox also offers an additional row of storage space for the grateful owners to stash their stuff.
Deeper within the premise lies the most personal parts of the home. Here is specifically where the couple can work the series of nifty wire-glass walls to create pockets of space and to control privacy. To cite an example: the couple’s master suite lies adjacent to both the reading area and their little princess’ domain. By shifting and sliding the walls along the grid-like beams, they are able to section off her room when she naps and then combine the suite and reading nook as one. This allows the two of them to lounge in comfort without disturbing their precious one’s slumber. In another example, the guest area and Junior’s room can be merged together especially when a close relative or the child’s friend stays over. Going completely free of walls is a daring way of living and one that most would shy away from – but this small family of three (who prefers to live with the doors open most of the time) proves that it is plausible all thanks to the leader of the house’s unorthodox methods and ingenious ideas.
This was adapted from an article originally written by Fidz Azmin. Photo credits: UPSTAIRS_