House Tour: A modern and child-friendly two-storey semi-detached home near Orchard Road
If she wanted to follow the design du jour, banking professional C Huang would have built her house with the large glass windows, sleek steel structures and concrete walls that are all the rage now. She went the opposite direction instead, with a house that incorporates a wooden screen facade, natural lighting and tropical architecture for a unique look that makes it stand out in a neighbourhood filled with houses that still retain their original structures from decades ago.
The two-storey semi-detached home with basement and attic is the new home of Ms Huang, her husband and two young children. Although the original house belonged to her parents, Ms Huang never lived in it as it had always been rented out. "But we wanted to live here, to be close to my parents who live just a few doors away," she says.
Her brief to architecture firm Farm was a flexible one with just a couple of requests. "The house had to be child-friendly, and I also wanted a balcony in my bedroom."
The site was a boon and bane for the designers. Situated on a gentle hillside, it boasts a near-constant breeze, which they wanted to bring into the home. "We set the house in a north-south orientation, which encourages cross ventilation in the home," says Farm's architectural designer, Cheung Yuting.
Indeed, a cool breeze can be felt in the living or dining rooms. It also helps that the pool in front of the house contributes to the cooling effect. There's also a double volume empty space between the living and dining areas which catches the breeze. "We left this space empty so the children can play here where it's cool," says Ms Huang.
While facing the north-south allows for cross ventilation, it also means that other parts of the home are exposed to the sun in the west. With neighbours on higher ground and several high-rise apartment buildings in the area, the family also wanted their privacy.
To counter the glaring sun as well as to keep prying eyes away, the team used the age-old solution of verandahs. But these are not your usual colonial-home verandahs.
Instead, Farm created a series of connected verandahs which are linked across various floors, forming the main circulation spine on the external edges of the house, with private spaces and bedrooms looking inward into the double volume space. Mr Cheung says that when the bedrooms windows are left open, the family can do without air-conditioning too.
The circulation spine is kept naturally ventilated with the wooden facade screen that has strategically placed vertical and horizontal openings. "Movement through the house becomes a journey of various framed views of the surroundings," says Mr Cheung.
Upstairs, there is a family room, bedrooms for the children, and the couple's bedroom in the attic. And of course, Ms Huang has her balcony. "We come here to chill out without the kids," she says.
Subtle details around the home make it child-friendly without compromising on the aesthetics.
They include railings on the stairs that typically aren't necessary, rough tiles and pebble wash on the steps to give more grip, and creating a more gentle slope leading to the pool.
The slightly elevated site meant that there was enough room for the designers to create a basement, which serves mainly as a garage and also where the house's new entrance is located. And to add to the old-world touches that are discreetly worked into the design, they have done away with the flat concrete roof typical of modern architecture and put in a pitched roof.
"The house is an exercise in rethinking tropical architecture in a modern context," says Mr Cheung.