For this couple who hosts private dining sessions at home, working with Inizio Atelier proved to be the secret sauce for achieving the perfect blend of style, privacy and comfort for their abode.
Kudos to the savvy couple who saw potential in this roomy 1,420sq ft space. Now home to private dining chef Jeff Zhen and his wife, Bettina, this modern yet industrial-leaning space used to look very different before the design team at Inizio Atelier stepped in. Soot from years of burning joss sticks had stained the ceilings, and many of the walls were uneven or had warped tiles, which downplayed the home’s appearance, shares Inizio Atelier’s director Alex Xie and Senior Design Consultant Guerrand Lai who helmed the renovation.
However, after searching the resale market for a marital home, both Jeff and Bettina were won over by this unit. “It was the only home that my wife and I had nothing that we disliked,” Jeff tells us. “I think the main draw was that this home was huge, by current BTO standards. It had a great layout that didn’t have dead or wasted spaces, and it had great potential to be remodelled to our liking.”
As Jeff runs An Ox Box, which offers tasting sessions for customers to taste the difference between fresh beef and different cuts of dry-aged beef, the couple had plans for their home to be able to host up to four dinners a week, consisting of groups of five to eight diners. This would’ve been par for the course in pre-pandemic times. However, during this uncertain period that disrupted their plans, Jeff got the opportunity to work closely with the design team to refine ideas for the flat.
“The design stage was one of the most memorable moments,” recalls Alex and Guerrand. “It gave us a chance to really transform an old home into what we see today. Jeff played a big role in researching ideas for his dream home, and there was much back and forth with the planning. We spent a lot of time talking about the designs while keeping the budget in mind and managing expectations. Jeff knowing what he wanted made the process smooth and easy. The entire process, from the first visit to working through the design and finally stepping into Jeff’s place in its current state, really gives us a great sense of achievement.”
Ahead, we hear from Alex Xie, Director, and Guerrand Lai, Senior Design Consultant.
Please tell us about your firm and aesthetic.
The design team: Inizio Atelier is built on a team of creative and experienced individuals from all walks of life. Our team of professionals have backgrounds in everything from architecture to product design. Each team member gets training on technical aspects of the job, and, at Inizio Atelier, good customer service is an area we concentrate on beyond the needs of any project.
We were initially known for industrial-style designs. However, as our business grew, our team expanded and we worked with more homeowners, more ideas poured in. We’ve thus come a long way, expanding our designs to craft homes that suit every homeowner who engages us.
What was the house like when you first viewed it? What ideas did you have to improve it?
Even though the place was in really bad condition, the house had great potential. It was big and there were many areas we could build on to suit many different purposes. Jeff had specific ideas for his home. Being a private dining chef, he often opens his doors to diners. So we wanted a space that was homely yet functional, simple yet elegant. We wanted the diners to be comfortable without feeling like they were intruding into someone’s home.
Without a doubt, we needed a spacious kitchen; one befitting Jeff’s amazing culinary skills. And, of course, there had to be a sizeable dining area that would be comfortable enough for his many guests. We also needed a waiting area; somewhere that could double as a living space for Jeff and Bettina to kick back and relax whenever they weren’t busying themselves in the kitchen. Lastly, Jeff also wanted a working space, a private room where he could process his many behind-the-scenes thoughts.
Once the design was set, we figured out the ergonomics of the home and narrowed down the colour scheme, opting for something more monochromatic and clean.
What were some major reno works for this space?
Keeping in line with HDB’s regulations, we went through a long and tough process to get approval for major walls to be hacked down.
The wall between the kitchen and dining area was taken down to create an even bigger space for the dream kitchen Jeff had in mind. The wall between the dining and living area was also hacked away to create a see-through kitchen that lets the diners see the couple in action. A wall in the original second bedroom was also taken down to convert the area into a bigger dining space that could comfortably fit up to 12 pax. Finally, the storeroom was converted into a comfortably-sized common WC.
We levelled the balcony to create an additional room that was not part of the original floorplan, and so an additional workspace was born. Bifold doors were then put in so that whenever additional space is needed, the work and living spaces can be merged.
How did you help the homeowners maintain a sense of privacy since people would be coming into their home?
While we wanted the kitchen to showcase the couple in their natural habitat; we decided to re-route the entrance to the dry kitchen for less infringement of privacy, both for the homeowners and their guests. The couple can then easily access their private spaces while being able to move about the kitchen as needed.
Were you able to try some new ideas for this project you haven’t done before?
Yes, most definitely. Instead of keeping to the original floorplan, we were able to really maximise our creativity to transform this home. The black ceiling added a touch of class, and we felt very heartened that Jeff trusted us with this as black ceilings in homes are usually not welcomed. The slide-and-swing glass doors were also unique. Our initial plan was to do pivoting glass doors. However, after a series of discussions, we decided that they’d limit the entrance space, so we went for custom- made doors that would both slide and swing to maximise the door openings.
What did your clients think about the outcome?
We would safely like to say that Jeff and Bettina are very pleased with the outcome of the home. We developed a great working relationship, and the homeowners played a big part in contributing to the ideas of the home. While problems are inevitable with any project, Jeff and Bettina were easy to work with and it made the entire problem-solving process seamless and pleasant.
How long did the entire project take?
Home renovations usually take about two to three months for such an extensive project. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there was a lack of contractors as many are from Malaysia and there were travel constraints in place. With proper planning and tight scheduling, where the contractors had to always be on the dot with deliverables, we were able to complete this project in four months.
Ahead, we hear from Jeff Zhen, the homeowner.
How did you discover Inizio Atelier?
We submitted a quote on Qanvast, and Inizio Atelier was one of five ID firms that responded. During the initial search for an ID, there was quite a lot of back and forth, but Guerrand from Inizio Atelier assured us that their team shared our vision and were committed to helping us realise the needs and aesthetics of our home.
What was your vision for your home?
This would be our first home as a couple, so we started with some lofty ideas which were refined into something more manageable with the help of the team at Inizio Atelier. We wanted to have a large kitchen as we both love cooking, and we wanted anyone who steps in to feel a vast sense of space. Lastly, we wanted the option to create separate, contained spaces without compromising the sense of spaciousness. These requirements were what guided the final outcome and layout.
What was the look you were going for?
We spent countless hours scouring the internet for interior references to create our own set of mood boards. What my wife and I gravitated to was a sleek, modern look, a monochromatic theme with wooden accents and raw cement finishes. This also resulted in a really clean, industrial-esque look.
Since both of you are avid cooks and you run a private dining business at home, what were the requirements for your kitchen?
It was a challenge to visualise something that would be both beautiful and functionally optimised for cooking. Plenty of storage was crucial. We decided to convert our storeroom into an extended common bathroom so we didn’t have additional storage space for items like kitchen appliances, and we have much more of these than an average household.
The kitchen island was another requirement as we desired a generous preparation space while allowing great flow in the kitchen. Next, we needed to integrate a purpose-built duct for the kitchen exhaust that would efficiently extract smoke out of the kitchen since we do heavy cooking very often. This leads to our final requirement which was to have a kitchen that is easy and quick to maintain.
How was your experience working with Inizio Atelier?
It was a pleasure working with Inizio Atelier. As there was quite a bit of remodelling to be done, we went through many changes during the planning stage but the team was very thoughtful and considerate about the budget and achieving the intended design. We were also pleasantly surprised that Guerrand’s design preferences matched ours and we found ourselves happily on the same page for many of the aesthetic considerations.
One aspect I truly appreciated was the team’s solid relationship with their subcontractors. At each stage of the renovation we were able to see the quality of workmanship, how they worked, and also the ease of communication which they had between each other which resulted in a smooth transition through the different stages of work without any hiccups along the way. In retrospect, the entire renovation process couldn’t have gone better, and my wife and I consider it a blessing to have worked with them!
What do you like best about your home?
We moved in mid-December 2020, and it is such a joy to be able to fully appreciate our home. I think it goes without saying that we love our kitchen the most as it is where we spend most of our time and everyone who has come over is impressed by it— many have drawn inspiration from its design for their own upcoming home. It feels wonderful to have many others enjoy and appreciate the kitchen as much as we do. To be honest it has gone beyond our expectations. We find ourselves enjoying the ambience it provides even when we are on our own.
The other spaces are also wonderful as we have ample room for our different activities. Hanging out with friends is bliss. The spaces create such a conducive environment for social gatherings and it brings out a wonderful vibe from all who are present! We love our home very much.
This post was adapted from an article originally published in the August 2021 issue of SquareRooms.