By thinking out of the box and exploring unconventional design solutions, the designer managed to make this small apartment work for a family of five. LYNN TAN finds out how

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
"As the built-in appliances provided by the developer were brand new, they were dismantled and incorporated into the new kitchen to manage cost."
My Reading Room

Downsizing is always a challenge, more so if it involves moving five people from a four-room HDB flat to a two-bedroom condominium. This is exactly what pilot, Steven Eu, did, together with his wife, Gelene Lim, who is a cabin crew, their two young daughters aged seven and four, and a domestic helper.

They enlisted the help of Lawrence Puah, design director of akiHAUS Design Studio, after coming across one of his projects at The Sorrento, which was featured in Home and Decor. “The home is small like ours and we like its monochromatic colour palette and the use of space,” shares Steven of the inspiration.

The Sorrento home had one of its bedroom walls removed and replaced with a series of sliding-folding panels so that the room could be opened up to create more space or closed off when desired. Steven and Gelene had wanted a similar movable wall concept for their home, but Lawrence advised against it for a few strong reasons: “Unlike The Sorrento, which is home to a bachelorette, the design considerations for a family home are entirely different. The site conditions are also dissimilar. One less wall also means one less vertical surface for storage or other fixtures.”

Instead, Lawrence proposed that the existing kitchen be relocated to free up space in the centre of the home, both physically and visually. The new kitchen is now directly beyond the main entrance, separated by a full-height wall that not only screens off the kitchen and defines the entrance foyer, it also provides a backdrop for the kitchen on the other side. More importantly, it incorporates valuable built-in storage cabinets. Even a recess along the wall beside the main entrance has been put to good use to accommodate the refrigerator and more storage.

The open-concept kitchen is small but packed with drawers and cabinets below and above the kitchen counter. “The kitchen counter is very versatile. It not only doubles up as a dining table, my elder daughter also does her homework on it, while Steven and I sometimes use it as a work desk as well,” says Gelene.

The couple initially wanted a marble countertop but took Lawrence’s advice and settled for quartz due to its easy maintenance. The white backsplash tiles were selected for the same ease of maintenance and continue all the way across the living room wall to tie the two adjacent spaces together. “As it is an open kitchen, the choice of materials must take into consideration their ease of maintenance,” Lawrence emphasises.

As with the rest of the home, every conceivable surface of the living area has been designed to maximise the usable space. The television set and more storage have been built into the feature wall. By opting for a sofa with an integrated side table, the homeowners can dispense with a coffee table, thereby freeing up room within the living area for the girls to play.

The master bedroom has a clean and uncluttered design language that is consistent with the rest of the apartment. A queen-size storage bed makes good use of the space underneath. The attached bathroom is also the common bathroom, which can be accessed via a second door along the corridor. “We have a bathroom-sharing roster, so the five of us take turns, but since Steven and I are travelling for work half the time, it really isn’t that much of an issue,” Gelene points out.

The girls share a room with the helper and it has been designed to be practical, yet fun. The existing built-in wardrobe was removed and replaced with one that wraps around the sleeping area like a portal frame. “This not only maximises the built-in storage, but also creates a cosy sleeping nook,” Lawrence explains.

Bunk beds with a pull-out bed at the bottom would have been the obvious choice, but Lawrence’s rationale is that the bed occupies space even when not in use. This was why he convinced the clients to go with futons instead. “This frees up space within the room as the futons are rolled out only at bedtime,” he says.

The design and renovation took about four to five months and cost $70,000. Since moving in in September 2019, the family has gotten accustomed to living in a small space.

“It has taught us to be more disciplined and organised. The girls have also learnt to return their toys to their original storage cabinet when they are done playing,” Gelene comments. “It’s like being inside an aircraft. Everything has to be stowed away before landing,” Steven adds with a chuckle.

My Reading Room


A couple, their two daughters and a helper HOME A two-bedroom condominium in Bartley SIZE 550 sq ft
My Reading Room

The recliner sofa from King Living is perfect for watching movies in the living room.


Built-in storage ensure that any clutter is kept out of sight.

As Steven and Gelene travel frequently, the whiteboard along the entrance foyer is especially useful for messages and reminders for the girls and their helper.
My Reading Room
My Reading Room


Lawrence put much thought into the design of the bedside table to address both aesthetics and function. The bedside table slides forward to reveal electrical sockets and wires neatly hidden away.

The headboard in the master bedroom adopts a similar design language as the rest of the apartment.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

The full-height wall separating the entrance foyer from the kitchen is more than just a spatial divider


Sensible design, space planning and the decision to do away with a double-decker bed frees up the usable area within the children’s bedroom.

The girls’ study desks fold away when not in use. Electrical sockets are concealed below the desks.
My Reading Room
photography VERONICA TAY art direction NONIE CHEN