House Tour: Intermediate terrace that was designed by RT+Q Architects to look like a semi-detached house
For decades, the owners of an intermediate terrace house off Orange Grove Road lived with the structural limitations of such a space. Sandwiched between neighbours with light only from the back and front, it was shadowy even during the day, plus there was the vague claustrophobia of being hemmed in on both sides.
Life would have continued in this fashion if age hadn't caught up with the house they'd been living in since 1984. The wear and tear could not be ignored, not when new plumbing and re-wiring were sorely needed. The inevitable questions asked by many landed homeowners stared them in the face – renovate or rebuild? Or sell and move out?
The owner – who prefers to be known as Mrs Kor – and her husband (they run a retail franchise business) leaned towards renovation, "but our architect friend convinced us that we would maximise the value of the land if we built a new home on it," she says.
The friend is TK Quek, co-founder of RT+Q Architects, whom they have known for a long time, even going on holiday together. In fact, it was on one cruise that Mr Quek offered to design a new home for them. "I was hesitant," says Mrs Kor about getting a friend to do the job. "What if we fell out?"
In the end, Mr Quek proved to them that walls are no barrier to light, creating a three-storey home that draws in so much illumination, there's hardly any need to turn on a lamp in the daytime anymore.
While an easier solution would have been to incorporate an air well into the house design, the design team had other ideas. "We re-thought the terrace house typology through the use of slots, which allow natural light, air and ventilation to come in," says Rene Tan, the firm's other founder.
In other words, they gave it a 'semi-detached' effect by creating a two-metre gap between the partition wall and the main wall of the actual house. The owners lose a little bit of built-up space, but they gain in terms of beautiful natural light and air flowing in through the wall of windows the team designed. Plus it's an eye-catching design feature that is the first thing to draw attention when looking at the house from the outside.
Because of this, the interiors feel bright and spacious, and the two metres of lost space is hardly noticed. "Not many clients will do this, because most want to maximise the use of the land," muses Mr Quek.
On the other side of the house, they created a double volume space in the dining area – another no-no for most homeowners who would rather have an extra bedroom. But the owners love the vast, high space and extra windows for light, which allow them to literally bring the garden indoors with a row of trees and shrubs planted in front of the partition wall.
Nosy neighbours who don't get to go in are also fascinated with the façade, which features a 'box' of windows outside the second floor bedroom, and the roof which opens up like a gift box. "We created this so there is a relationship between the voids and the solids, and also the sloping roof provides the attic with some cover from the sun and the rain," says Mr Tan.
The master bedroom is on the third floor at Mrs Kor's request. "There is a cool breeze that comes during the later months of the year, and only by having my bedroom on the higher floor do I get to enjoy it," she says. She also loves the new skylight above her bathroom vanity, joking that "the natural light is great for applying makeup. Previously, I wouldn't have known how I truly looked."
If she has any regrets, it would be that "sometimes we wish we had rebuilt the home maybe 10 years ago, so the kids would have been able to enjoy it as well". Still, the mother of grownup children who have left the nest ensured there were enough bedrooms in the house for them to use whenever they visit.
Meanwhile, she and her husband have the house to themselves, and they are clearly enjoying it.
"He has his own private exercise area, and we enjoy singing karaoke in the attic."
As for their relationship with Mr Quek? "We are still very good friends," she laughs.