A chance encounter during one of the homeowner’s regular jaunts to check out conservation shophouses in various parts of Singapore led to the acquisition of this corner unit. LYNN TAN finds out how he transformed a dilapidated shophouse into a family home.
Peter Ow’s love for conservation shophouses began with a café that he owned some years back. It was operating within a conservation shophouse along Armenian Street and the renovation process provided him with invaluable experience in conserving and transforming such properties, as well as develop a deeper appreciation for them. When he chanced upon the opportunity to own this conservation shophouse located within the Joo Chiat Conservation Area, he seized it.
Belonging to the Second Transitional Shophouse style, it was built in the late 1920s and the condition had deteriorated over the years. A provision shop occupied the first storey, while the second storey housed a multi-generation family. The original timber doors and windows had been changed to aluminium, the rear airwell roofed over and the provision shop had roller shutters and retractable metal gates. These were the result of previous renovations that had been carried out insensitively or out of necessity due to its commercial usage. The spiral staircase at the back was also in a state of disrepair. Fortunately, the unit was still structurally sound, so the original structure could be retained.
The banker went about a very extensive Additions and Alterations (A&A) to restore the unit and convert it into a two-storey home for him and his family. “I set out to restore the shophouse to its former glory, keeping to the original intent as much as possible,” says Peter. To achieve this, he painstakingly studied, researched and documented the relevant information to ensure proper restoration and accurate replication, including details such as the pilasters, plasterwork, fanlights, vent blocks, fascia windows, mouldings and motifs. As it is a conservation property, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has a set of conservation guidelines that have to be adhered to. The change of use from commercial to residential also involved approvals from the authorities.
Externally, the façade was scrupulously restored with the help of skilled craftsmen from China. Peter copied drawings of the original mouldings and had them fabricated in China. The original roof was repaired and reconditioned, and the roof tiles replaced. According to Peter, the fascia boards along the roof eaves are unique to this cluster. “If you focus on the voids in between you will notice that they are actually motifs of bats and crosses,” he points out. As it is a corner unit, it has a chamfered corner with a rare balcony on the second storey that projects beyond the five foot-way below, overlooking the Koon Seng Road and Everitt Road junctions.
The interior layout is very close to the original, barring a few partition walls that have been taken down to open up the spaces. On the first storey, antique furniture gives the living room an oriental look. Amidst the vintage Chinese chairs and opium bed is a zebra-print ottoman, which Peter incorporated to inject a touch of modernity.
A full-height open shelf showcasing his pottery collection separates the living room from the kitchen and dining areas. Unlike a solid wall, the open shelves maintain a porosity that visually connects the two spaces, while allowing light to penetrate. The kitchen and dining spaces have a more minimalist-contemporary style that is pared down to the essentials. Any clutter is kept well out of sight within the built-in cabinets and drawers.
Beyond the dining and kitchen is the courtyard, which had been enclosed by the previous owner. Peter opened it up so that it can serve its original purpose — to allow natural light and ventilation into the interior. An existing spiral staircase, which used to connect the airwell to the old kitchen upstairs, was structurally unsafe and demolished. Beyond these practical considerations, he also conceptualised the courtyard as an inward-looking zen garden. The solitary Bonsai tree surrounded by a pool of running water creates a visual and aural sensory experience, giving the courtyard a contemplative quality that permeates throughout the entire home. The moving body of water also contributes to evaporative cooling, especially from the scorching noon sun.
Converting the two-storey shophouse into a family home necessitated some form of vertical circulation that would connect the two floors from within. Typical of shophouses, the staircase leading to the second storey was originally accessed from the five-footway, independent of the provision shop. Peter retained the original staircase but internalised it so that access is now from the inside.
The family room located on the second storey provides a more informal and private space for the family to hang out. The choice of furniture gives it a more contemporary feel that contrasts with the living room downstairs. However, the presence of a few purposefully-placed Ming cabinets ties the overall scheme back to the oriental theme.
Three bedrooms are spread out on the second storey, each with its own unique spatial quality. The sparsely-furnished master bedroom evokes a quiet elegance. It is hard to imagine that the immaculately put together ensuite walk-in wardrobe and master bath were once a cluttered kitchen. The guest room next door is the brightest and greenest room among the three, with planter boxes and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the courtyard below. The son’s bedroom faces the opposite side of the shophouse. The limited amount of natural light has the effect of giving the room a cosy ambience.
For Peter, this is not just a home, but a dream come true. “I have always admired the beautifully restored houses in Emerald Hill and Blair Road and desired to own a conservation house,” he shares. With the successful restoration, “it has become a piece of Singapore history that future generations can appreciate and treasure.”
TAP FOR GALLERY
The ﬁve-footway offers a clue to the lovingly restored interior.
With the opening up of the old courtyard, the dining and kitchen areas are now light ﬁlled spaces.
An open shelf provides spatial separation without the solidity of a wall.
The internal courtyard garden gives the home a meditative and tranquil quality.
The furniture in the living room is a well balanced mix of oriental and modern.
Many of the pieces are from Peter’s collection.
WHO LIVES HERE
A couple in their 50s and their son HOME A conservation shophouse in Koon Seng Road SIZE 2,250 sqf (land area) 5,090 sqf (built-up area)
There is a spatial order that gives the living room a sense of formality.
The progression of spaces adds to the complexity of the scheme.
The ensuite bathroom in the son’s bedroom.
The simply furnished interior lets the space and history do the talking.
"The master bathroom elevates mundane functions into a celebrated ritual."
WITH THE SUCCESSFUL RESTORATION, “IT HAS BECOME A PIECE OF SINGAPORE HISTORY THAT OUR GENERATION AND FUTURE GENERATIONS CAN APPRECIATE AND TREASURE,” SHARES PETER.
His and hers vanity in the master bathroom.
The greenery and light, which the guest bedroom opens up to, make the space welcoming and inviting.
The second storey layout is well-planned, functional and ﬂows seamlessly.
In contrast to the living room downstairs, the family room is more casual and relaxed.
photography PHYLLICIA WANG art direction NONIE CHEN