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House Tour: Four-room HDB BTO flat in Yishun furnished with mostly Taobao-bought furniture

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(ST Photo: Kua Chee Siong)

Married couple Joy Fang, 32, and Daryll Nanayakara, 28, had the satisfaction of building their love nest themselves - and saving a lot of money along the way - by cleverly sourcing most of their furnishings from e-commerce site Taobao.

They spent $55,000 renovating and furnishing their four-room Build-To-Order flat in Yishun, including removing four of its walls to create an open-plan kitchen, dining room and living room space so that their dog, a four-year-old "Singapore Special", could have a wider activity area.

When it came to the look of the 93 sq m flat, the duo simply went with their gut, adding design elements such as a turquoise wall in the living room and aquamarine subway tiles in the kitchen as they went along.

(ST Photo: Kua Chee Siong)

"We just wanted it to be comfortable and practical. We're quite chill people," says Mr Nanayakara, a civil servant.

"Well, I wanted a laid-back, New York-loft kind of feel," says Ms Fang, who amassed decorating inspiration from browsing Pinterest.

"I don't know what that means," Mr Nanayakara quips.

The couple, who welcomed a baby girl earlier this month, believe that it is not necessary to spend a lot to be big on style. Some of the furniture, such as their dining table, sofa and bed, are from online furniture store Castlery; others, such as an armchair and kitchen trolleys, are from Ikea.

But most of the furnishings, including lamps, mirrors, bathroom fixtures, side tables, poufs, chairs, rugs, shelves, a dressing table and a ceiling fan, were purchased on Taobao. After browsing local furniture stores, they realised that similar versions of items they liked could be found for much lower prices online.

(ST Photo: Kua Chee Siong)

"The bookshelves behind the dining table are the Taobao find I'm most pleased with," says Ms Fang, a freelance writer. "To buy something similar in Singapore would have cost three times the price."

The three shelves cost about $900, including shipping.

"The only drawback to shopping for household furnishings on Taobao is that you have to assemble everything on your own... and they don't come with manuals," says Mr Nanayakara.

Luckily, he is a savvy handyman who excelled in design and technology classes in school. "And all of my best friends are also quite handy, so if I was missing a tool or a particular drill bit, I could just call them up," he says.

Shopping online judiciously requires "a lot of patience and time", says Ms Fang. "I had to do a lot of research and just wing it. Sometimes, you make a few mistakes. You need to know your measurements very well - once you go wrong, it's difficult to send things back."

Sharing her Taobao tips, she says: "Use specific search terms like 'Nordic style', which yields some of the best results - it gives you all these Pinterest-looking things. Look at the reviews, compare prices and buy from established shops.

"Use a third-party site such as SGshop to reduce shipping costs. And it helps to have at least a rudimentary grasp of Mandarin because sometimes you have to communicate with the shop owners." But being a Taobao whiz is about far more than just saving money.

"All I know is that doing it ourselves, and being able to look at these things and know that we did all of it together, give me a sense of satisfaction," Mr Nanayakara says. "It was fun building this apartment. We enjoy coming home to it."

Written by May Seah for The Straits Times