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Remarkable Living

A terrace house in Singapore with upcycled Javanese windows and kampung vibes

Like kampung houses of yesteryear, this remodelled two-storey inter-terrace house is open, inviting and often filled with chatter and laughter as homeowner Sandra Heng’s family and friends gather.

A terrace house in Singapore with upcycled Javanese windows and kampung vibes

Reclaimed teak windows and doors sourced from Java, Indonesia, feature prominently in Sandra Heng’s four-bedroom house. (Photo: Threesixzero Productions)

When homeowner Sandra Heng first saw her two-storey home, it was not love at first sight. The 46-year-old inter-terrace building lacked natural light and ventilation in many parts and didn’t look inviting.

Today, sunlight permeates the home in all corners and the open living and dining space with a swing reverberates with a playful kampung vibe. On weekends, there’s lively chatter and laughter as Heng conducts free pilates workshops for friends in a specially constructed 656 sq ft studio.

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Bringing light into the house was one of architect Goy Zhenru’s first priorities when she was tasked to transform the space, which won a Gold Award in Best Residential Design (Private Houses) at the 2018/2019 IDSA International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

“The first intervention we did was to remove half of the attic and to create a more permeable flow between the front and the back. The second intervention was to actually open up a skylight so it allows for natural sunlight to come into the house,” shared Goy, who is one of Heng’s pilates students.

“This naturally created a courtyard for this long intermediate terrace, which is the heart and soul for the family right now.” Removing the attic also exposed the original wood details of the ceilings, and Heng and her parents now spend most of their time relaxing in the courtyard, while soaking in the charm of a bygone era.

Another bold modification was moving the kitchen to the front of the house. This open-concept space is Heng’s favourite spot where she does her work and reading. She also cooks and bakes while chatting with friends at the island counter.

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Goy has a deep interest in the restoration works of old Singapore buildings and likes to draw inspiration from historical architecture. She said, “I find that there is a lot of design sensibility in regional as well as vernacular architecture. Design strategies, like large roofs and well-insulated walls are all used to maintain a good microclimate in the house. I feel that we could adapt all these strategies in our future architecture.”

As a champion for Southeast Asian heritage, she also encourages her clients to incorporate items sourced from the region into their homes. “It is important that we keep on bringing back a bit of history as it brings back memories. When people have memories, they relate back to the space and time – I think it gives a sense of community,” she explained.

The furnishings also comprise mostly works from Southeast Asian artisans such as rattan chairs, timber stools, and a main door and window set reclaimed from a 1950s family house in East Java.

“Luxury in Singapore, in our modern society, has different interpretations. But to me, luxury is no longer an excess of materials, rather, it is a very well-balanced palette of space and function,” Goy commented.

Beyond the appreciation for heritage, Heng enjoys all the meaningful connections that happen in her home every day.

“I think the house is an integral part of my life and my personality. It reflects a lot about how I would choose to live how I want my friends to come and socialise, and how I would like to create meaning for everybody who is able to come to my place.”

“Luxury… has different interpretations. To me, luxury is no longer an excess of materials, rather, it is a very well-balanced palette of space and function.” – Goy Zhenru

Adapted from the series Remarkable Living (Season 3). Watch full episodes on CNA, every Sunday at 8.30pm.

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Source: CNA/ds