The curved courtyard of this semi-detached house by Ming Architects strikes a chord
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a “chord” is a curved line that forms part of a circle. It was therefore an appropriate word to use to name this semi-detached house by Ming Architects – after all, its most distinct feature is an outward-facing courtyard incised into its left corner along the party wall, arcing elegantly around a lone Caesalpinia tree.
This solution, according to Tan Cher Ming, Principal of Ming Architects, was a response to the site conditions: a densely packed residential neighbourhood along a public bus route, resulting in heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
“We were quite conscious of all these factors from the very start, so we tried to bring privacy to all the bedrooms and living areas. That is why we came up with the idea of an open, external courtyard carved into the house,” explains Tan.
Despite its off-centre location, it is very much a focal point of the house. The living and dining rooms look into it, as does the master bedroom. Immediately behind it too is the staircase that links all two-and-a-half floors. Because of the floor-to-ceiling glass, there is a connection maintained with the courtyard while going up and down.
“We thought it would be nice to introduce something unique. We didn’t want the staircase to feel like just a transition method to get between floors. When you’re moving on the stairs, you have proximity to natural lighting and landscaping,” says Tan.
That sense of light is further enhanced through a skylight on the roof of the attic that bears the same shape of the staircase footprint. Additionally, continuity is had through the use of the same ash-grey granite along the party wall from outside to in. This was chosen as the veins are quietly light and the texture is only slightly rough, the result of having been flamed and brushed.
Staying in the courtyard, pebbles cover the ground, on which rests a customised, round terrazzo bench. The effect is Zen-like and hours can be whiled away sitting there for a chat under the shade of the six-metre-tall Caesalpinia tree that rises in the middle.
Tan shares that selecting this flora was no mean feat. In addition to ensuring it did not have invasive roots that would upend the surrounding concrete, it also had to be unattractive to termites. At the same time, it had to have the right height and breadth of branches so that the leaves – which themselves could not be too dense – would be visible from both the first and second floors.
“We were looking for a tree with a good balance, so that we could still see through the leaves to the stone behind, but not be too porous. We finally found it in Malaysia and arranged for it to be trucked in,” he reveals.
Inside the house, a contemporary style is adopted, inspired by Tan’s time spent studying in Melbourne, Australia. It also dovetails with the client’s wish to have a hotel-like aesthetic, with no compromises whatsoever on the finishes.
The result is shadowed tones of grey, such as Hermes Grey marble on the floors and quartzite cladding the island in the dry kitchen. In the living room, a feature wall uses the same quartzite, but this time with slabs overlain on each other at random intervals, and backlit to offset the darker hues in the surroundings.
Brushed American white oak is used liberally on the doors and cabinets, including the recessed banister on the staircase. In the master suite, a set of black-stained oak sliding doors divides the bedroom from the study and walk-in wardrobe. Tan acknowledges that the materials used for Chord House were chosen for their texture, “I think there is really something special about what we used here.”
The bed in the master suite is oriented to face the courtyard, instead of the front of the house, as most tend to be. At its foot is a sofa, recliner and television. Whether it is lazing in bed, reading a book on the couch or watching the latest Netflix series, the Caesalpinia tree stands endearingly in the background.
The rest of the house is made up of rooms, including a study at the back of the first floor and two on the second floor for each of the clients’ children. Up in the attic, there is a family area, guest room, the helper’s private quarters and a small rooftop terrace.
It seems a lot to pack into the 364sqm site but Tan has managed to do it without sacrificing that sense of spaciousness. There is even a baby grand piano by the base of the staircase.
He shares, “I always get this from my clients. They say I take up too much space for things like courtyards and the staircase. But after I explain to them that these elements really improve the architectural space of the house – from the living quality, to the view, light and ventilation – they understand and later, appreciate it.”