Home Tour: A house in Tanjong Katong with a toy collector's dream room
The owner’s childhood home becomes the site for a new house that accommodates the needs of his multi-generational family.
For homeowner Tan Ying Chien, this detached house in Tanjong Katong holds a special place in his heart. “My parents bought this property when I was 15, so this was where I grew up, got married and had my three kids,” he reminisced. When his father passed away and he took over the managing of the household, he felt that it was timely to either renovate or to rebuild the house to meet the needs of his family.
Tan, who is the chief plastic surgeon at SW1 Clinic, was initially more inclined towards an Addition and Alteration (A&A) project due to sentimental reasons. However, among the various schemes that architecture firm RT+Q presented to him, it was the new-build proposal that left the deepest impression, so he decided to demolish the old house and build a new one in its place.
The house comprises three rectangular massing blocks arranged in a C-shape around a courtyard to create inward-looking views and enhance privacy. “For us, it was an opportunity to explore a hybrid between a Chinese courtyard house and a Roman villa,” explained Rene Tan, director of RT+Q.
“The old house was a box that was dark and humid, especially in the middle, so the courtyard manages to address the issues of light and ventilation,” said the homeowner.
There is a very clear hierarchy between the three blocks. The one upfront runs parallel to the street, giving the home a prominent frontage. The new roof over the car porch takes its cue from the old house, which was a mirror image of its neighbour, but with a twist.
“It was a case of putting the wrong thing in the right place,” said RT+Q’s Tan. “The porch needed a roof and we thought it was a good idea to turn that roof into a swimming pool.”
Due to the sloping topography, the car porch and entrance lobby on the street level come across as more like a basement, while the main spaces are elevated on the first storey. In addition to the car porch and entrance lobby, the primary block in front also houses the living area, entertainment room and the master suite for Tan and his wife. “In terms of form, we expressed this block in an inverted U-shape to give it a floating effect,” said Huang Wei, the architectural designer from RT+Q who was also involved in this project.
The middle block lies perpendicular to the first. The dining area and the dry and wet kitchens are located on the first floor, while the bedrooms for Tan’s three children are lined up in a row on the second storey. The rear block completes the “C” configuration. Here, perched above the guest room and his mother’s bedroom is his hobby room, where his die-cast cars and action-hero collectibles are displayed in wall-to-wall casing.
A series of skylights has been incorporated into the roofs; one of which can be found at the base of the swimming pool, offering a glimpse at the pool from the car porch below. These oculi take on different shapes – circle, square, rectangle and trapezium – and their inner surfaces are painted in either orange, yellow, red or blue.
Taking precedence from Le Corbusier’s Notre-Dame du Haut chapel in Ronchamp, France, and the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, the different profiles regulate and articulate the light that enters the interior spaces and offers an element of surprise when you cast your gaze skywards.
“Colour is a useful but often overlooked tool,” said the architect. The colours for the skylights came intuitively to him, but Tan had his own interesting take. “I associate them with luxury brands: Tiffany blue, Hermes orange, Ferragamo red and Fendi yellow,” he said.
These light apertures are composed against the building backdrop to create architectural portraits that belong in the realm of art. “Everyone is so caught up with materials and finishes that we tend to neglect the importance of composition and of regarding architecture as a fine art,” the architect emphasised.
In every one of the homes that RT+Q designs, the studio sets out to present a creation that surprises, and this project is no exception.
Apart from the light apertures, elements that are out of the ordinary can be found in almost every corner of the home. The powder room on the first storey is hidden behind a concealed door.
The only tell-tale sign is a porthole-like opening positioned high up on the door panel. This is a precursor to the powder room’s elliptical layout, complete with curved doors and a ceiling light in an oval ring that echoes the same profile.
Another surprise awaits in the master bathroom. Above the water closet is a circular window with a timber disc that swivels open and close. It also serves a more practical purpose of introducing light and natural ventilation into the deep recesses of the bathroom. Even the ubiquitous shelf takes on a different variation in the hands of RT+Q.
Along the corridor that runs the length of the second block, connecting the children’s bedrooms, are open shelves that appear to float on the walls as they do not touch the ceiling or the floor.
The shelf divisions are non-uniform to create an interesting composition. The end adjacent to the staircase has been chamfered in response to the circulation flow, while the section facing the linkway to the third block is concave, as if engaging in a dialogue with one another.
“Linkages often pass us by unnoticed,” said Huang, which is why the bridge connecting the second and third blocks has been expressed as a portal to give it the attention it deserves. While she drew inspiration from the door in Le Corbusier’s Zurich Pavilion, the portal resembles a submarine door. It is perhaps a reflection of Tan’s constant refrain: “Don’t think like an architect. Instead, think like a toymaker or a submarine builder.”
Apart from the creativity of the RT+Q team, the success of the project can also be attributed to the client; Tan’s interest in the arts made him more receptive to the ideas presented by the architect. “And in areas where he was not so familiar, he trusted us,” said RT+Q director TK Quek.