A ceiling kept in its original state drives the design direction of this River Valley penthouse
Property agents often describe a house as having “good bones” when its current condition is not ideal but it possesses potential due to its inherent core qualities, structure and location. It was certainly the case with this River Valley penthouse designed by Inte Architects, which did not appear attractive initially because of its low ceiling and dark, claustrophobic feel.
But the current owner went ahead and purchased it anyway, perhaps sensing that the right design (and designer) could transform the 297sqm apartment into her dream home. In Chan Loo Siang, Principal of Inte Architects, she found her collaborator. Together, they embarked on a renovation in 2017 that took four months in total because almost everything had to be ripped out.
The discovery of the original roof structure after the false ceiling was removed proved to be the turning point in its overhaul. Not only did it give the apartment a greater sense of openness, but its rawness – exposed roof concrete, red brick and timber supports – lent the place an appealing authenticity. The decision was made to retain it, and it became the central defining feature of the house.
Chan acknowledges that the feature bears the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, or finding beauty in imperfection, impermanence or incompleteness. But the main reason why the ceiling was kept in its original state was simply because his client liked it.
“On many occasions, she was advised by others to hide the broken bricks, stained concrete beams and manufacturer markings on the ceiling panels, but she was adamant about conserving them,” he shares. “She has no interest in hanging paintings or tapestries. Instead, she prefers art to be built into the foundation by highlighting raw materials and textured tiles.”
Some of these preferences can be seen in the little details of the house – like the three long intersecting brass strips embedded in the concrete floor to encourage perspective, which also serve to control changes in the concrete due to ambient temperature.
Also, the choice of satin-grey micro-cement for the floors because “she wanted them to be an extension of the walls, to give the communal areas a sense of endlessness and to invite free expression”. Lastly, the use of glass bricks to create light, which had been one of the central demands in her brief.
“The client wished to maximise natural ventilation and lighting for the home so the desire for fresh air, raw lighting and sustainable materials fuelled most decisions made for this project,” says Chan.
“We opened as many spaces as time, budget and load bearing pillars allowed. [We installed] a sliding glass in the new kitchen-to-lounge window for ventilation and insulation efficiency. And we broke through the master closet and bathroom to create an unobstructed path from the sunlit terrace, finished with glass bricks and mirrors.”
The same glass bricks were used to solve a problem with regard to a particular room in the house, which has no windows or natural light. “This room now holds one of the two walls that we replaced with glass bricks in order to create a false window,” shares Chan. “It is called The Pink Room and has been fashioned into a Library of Books and Oddities.”
Other things Chan kept in mind when designing the space were the demands of the family. “The client loves to cook and bake and stressed the necessity for an open kitchen with an extended view to keep an eye on her children while doing so,” he says. “So a large opening was created linking the kitchen to the lounge that also serves as a bar counter and an extra food preparation surface.”
In the end, design is there to fill a need and to Chan, good interior design is able to morph as the people who inhabit the space change and grow. “I try to create backdrops that are timeless within the context of the family,” he says, when asked about how he endeavours to turn dwellings into homes.
“As time goes by, the requirements may change, but hopefully the backdrop will continue to serve its purpose well, acting like a canvas for paints, or a box that holds objects.”