Zen out with shoji screens in this couple’s Japanese-inspired 4-room HDB flat
CNA Lifestyle’s Making Room series returns to look at small homes with big transformations. This week, Zen out in a four-room HDB resale flat with a creative take on a traditional Japanese design element.
Even though Kwang Wei Long and Yong Si Yun consider Japan to be their favourite holiday spot, the recently-married pair have never actually holidayed there together before.
“I have always liked Japanese culture and I also studied the language when I was in school,” said Si Yun, who works in marketing.
“We were planning to go on our honeymoon, but didn’t manage to because of the pandemic,” explained Wei Long, who works as an IT sales executive.
So when the couple purchased a 1,249 sq ft four-room resale HDB flat in Bishan, they decided to bring Japan into their home instead.
“The idea was that our home should be a quiet space for us to unwind after a long day,” Si Yun said. Her brief to interior design firm Chalk Architects was to keep in mind “the Zen-ness of the spaces you find (in Japan), for example, the little quiet courtyard or garden in a temple area, and how the Japanese juxtapose the modern and the historic together”.
While they loved the dusty-pink tones of the original broken marble floor the apartment came with and decided to preserve it, they felt the flat’s layout left much to be desired.
“It was very odd, with a balcony in front, as well as an L-shaped living room setup,” Wei Long recalled. “The previous owner had boxed up part of the living room to create an additional bedroom for their family, and it made the whole environment very dim.”
To bring a sense of light and airiness into the space, the former study room was sacrificed to create a larger living room. A raised blond wood platform was built near the entrance of the flat, with a matching built-in study desk facing the window.
Aside from providing a space to work from home, the area, which also features a wall-to-ceiling mirrored wall, doubles up as a home yoga studio.
The walls that separated the dining room from the kitchen on one side, and the third bedroom on the other side, were removed. So was the wall that separated the master bedroom from the adjoining bedroom.
These alterations allowed the couple to incorporate a key design element, shoji screens, throughout their home – not just because they liked the look of the traditional Japanese latticed wooden screen doors, but also because they offer lots of ease and flexibility in the way indoor spaces are opened up, or segregated.
As traditional shoji screens feature panels covered in white paper, Wei Long and Si Yun were understandably concerned that the material would not be able to withstand Singapore’s humid climate.
To get around that issue, their interior designer used glass-panelled lattice sliding doors between the dining, kitchen and third bedroom to segregate the three spaces while allowing light in. When these doors are slid open, the three areas become a generously-proportioned living/dining area.
The wooden sliding doors separating the master bedroom and the adjoining bedroom, as well as the master bedroom’s wardrobe doors, are likewise designed to resemble shoji screens, except that white wood is used in place of white paper.
“Once you close it up from the wardrobe perspective, it’s a very quiet and meditative space, which can also double up as an additional area for working, noted Wei Long. “And it gives a very nice backdrop when you appear on Zoom,” he quipped.
“The tracks for the shoji screen doors are on top as we didn’t want to risk damaging the floor in the process of building the sliding tracks,” added Si Yun.
Even the accent wall of the living room is done up to resemble a series of shoji screen panels. During the day, natural sunlight filters through the sheer gauze curtains. After dark, a mix of cove lighting and recessed spotlights and pendant lamps make the place glow invitingly.
The subdued colour palette used throughout the apartment – the blond wood-and-white tones of the furniture and built-in cabinetry, the pale grey of soft furnishings such as the bedlinens and upholstery of the L-shaped sofa – create a soothing, calm environment, while the dusty-pink hues of the floor add a touch of modernity and softness.
Each item Wei Long and Si Yun selected for their home exudes the minimalist sensibilities of the Japandi (Japanese-meets-Scandinavian) aesthetic, from a spare Japanese-inspired artwork of the sun over a mountain range placed in a corner of their home, to the rustic stone-hued Japanese-style earthenware plates and cups they eat from, to the rounded curves and muted tones of the L-shaped sofa, coffee table and rug in the living room.
“We bought the items from many different places, when we saw something that we liked and needed and was affordable,” explained Wei Long.
“The artwork was bought from an artist on Etsy, who sent us the digital copy that we then got printed. We like that it gives that corner a sense of Zen and tranquillity, and the reminder that every day is a new day, and that brings a renewed sense of hope. For the larger pieces of furniture, we would send pictures of the items along with the dimensions to our ID and seek their input on whether it would fit the overall aesthetic, and whether the size suited the space.”
To keep the space looking clean and uncluttered, the pair opted for furniture pieces such as a queen-sized platform bed in their master bedroom, a flip-top desk in the study, and an L-shaped sofa in the living room, that offer hidden storage.
The couple also loves entertaining at home, and wanted to be able to accommodate big or small gatherings.
When they have more guests come over, their large white rectangular kitchen island, which is fitted with castors, and which usually sits right smack in the middle of their kitchen, can be wheeled out and placed right beside their dining table.
This creates an extra-long dining table and effectively doubles the seating capacity from five to 10.
“It’s the whole concept of having everybody in one place,” said Wei Long.
While the couple are still eager for travel channels to open up so they can finally visit Japan together, “it’s been pretty nice having our own space to work and live in."
Wei Long added: “Our friends and family say they like the space, and the design. Visitors we’ve managed to have over enjoy the clean, warm and bright aesthetics of our home. Another comment we frequently receive is on the amount of storage space that we have catered for, and they will take some of these in consideration when planning spaces for their homes in future.”