Natural light floods this terrace house by Studio iF that hides behind an unobtrusive facade
If there is one lesson this residence teaches, it is to never judge an abode by its appearance. Part of four terrace houses in the east of Singapore that were once identical, it was recently renovated by Studio iF, which also gave the façade a makeover. The result is shorter windows and two rows of gunmetal-grey aluminium panels, transforming it into the least obtrusive among its siblings.
But walk through the front door and be prepared for a jaw-dropping surprise. The exterior might give the impression that it would be dark and cramped, but the complete opposite is true. In fact, it compelled Gwen Tan, Founder of Studio iF, to name the three-storey project Light House.
Natural daylight pours in wild abandonment through two skylights – the thriving indoor house plants are proof of this – as well as via the full-height sliding doors that lead out the lush back garden. This is made even more noticeable, since the colour palette just inside the main entrance, occupied by the sunken wet and dry kitchens, is dark and the ceiling is low.
But like a moth to a flame, one’s feet will instinctively wander towards the light that floods the living and dining areas beyond, accessible up a short flight of stairs. It paints the black-and-white tones of the spaces, including the flooring, made from terrazzo with an epoxy base and speckled with a black aggregate, and further accentuates them.
Once there, the first skylight, set at an angle in the roof and part of the original house, makes its presence felt through shadows of its frame cast onto the wall of the triple-volume void and floor. “We felt it was a very important quality that we wanted to keep,” says Tan.
Demarcating the living from the dining area is a structure that serves multiple purposes: a display shelf, storage space, aperture and frame of the view to the back garden. Painted black, it contrasts against the surroundings and serves as an anchor.
But there is more. In order to make the communal areas larger, Tan had the ground floor extended and this structure today stands where the original back wall of the house was.
Rather than just add another box to make up the new dining room, she inserted a skylight that runs its length, inspired by the original one above the living room. The textured plaster walls on the side were also given a design treatment, where they undulate like waves, a response to the need to embed track lights in the ceiling. Overhead, a Cloud pendant light from Apparatus hangs down, made up of artisanally crafted, frosted glass spheres suspended from brass chains.
“This was about us creating a room to celebrate the gardens at the back, so that we bring the whole living concept right next to it,” explains Tan. “It’s actually the favourite part of the house for the homeowners. They sit there the whole day and watch as the light quality changes in the space, allowing them to experience the garden in a very different way.”
Illumination aside, there are equally riveting stories around how she was deeply respectful to the original design of the house that has a land area of 263sqm, even as she introduced the quirkiness that she is known for.
For instance, she kept the split-level of the ground floor to leverage the effect of a gradual reveal. The wet kitchen was shifted to face the front entrance instead of the rear, as is often the case.
The red brick used on the original façade was retained and echoed in different places, such as through the terracotta-coloured marble used for the counter in the dry kitchen. Its hue can also be found in the grouting of the mosaic tiles in the powder room.
As requested by the owners, Tan kept the existing 1970s-style curved, geometric interiors, as seen in the dry kitchen counter and the structure that now holds a lounge on the second floor, wrapped in a Habsburg Oak laminate. They also feature in the custom-designed bathroom fittings and fixtures, such as the mirrors and toilet roll holders.
Connecting the three floors is a staircase that becomes open-tread from level two onwards. The first flight is closed, since it sits above enclosed storage space. Most distinctive is the use of mild-steel pipe railings that also extend to flank the lounge.
“We really love the old pipe railings and kept every single bit of it. It also celebrates the curves that we see throughout the rest of the house.”
The rest of the house is made up of bedrooms with the master in the back overlooking the garden, and two more on the third floor positioned side by side, together with a roof terrace. The layout was extensively reconfigured to accommodate the owners and their growing family.
But Tan made a concerted effort to retain the split levels, “They are an interesting play and allow an intimate dialogue across different pockets of spaces within the atrium, enhancing the appreciation of the home.”
Even as the owners have expressed their delight at what Tan has done for their nest, it is the affirmation from their next-door neighbour that draws a big smile, “He was the original architect, Dr Goh Chong Chia. After the house was done, we invited him to see it and were very, very happy that we got his seal of approval.”