Singaporean’s have always had a continued fascination with Executive Maisonettes. Perhaps it’s because of the extra space, or maybe even the high ceilings. One thing’s for sure though, that unique layout certainly plays a part in giving you a more interesting blank canvas for those who are creatively inclined.
But what’s most interesting about this week’s feature is really the challenges that this couple faced during their renovation process.
Navigating the renovation minefield for most is already daunting enough. But for Joan (*not her real name for privacy reasons) and her partner, they had just moved to Singapore 4 months prior and were even more unfamiliar with renovation procedures here. (Follow their journey here at houzitgoing).
Add that with trying to get things done at the peak of the pandemic – and you may have a recipe for a long drawn reno process.
And well, if you think that’s tough enough, that’s not it.
As they both led eco-friendly lifestyles (her partner is also a climate change specialist), they were well aware of the negative impact of renovations that has slipped under the radar for most people.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are common in most building materials. And constant exposure to these chemicals is detrimental – not only to your health but also to the environment.
And now with a 4-year old son and a British Shorthair in tow, keeping their home as low on VOC as possible just made it even more urgently so.
With their home wedged between two large parks and the beach, it’s the perfect natural environment for their eco-friendly lifestyle. In fact, they don’t own a car by choice, but fortunately, all the amenities in their community are accessible through a walk in the park.
So with their commitment to an eco-friendly approach, there’s a lot to learn from the way Joan and her partner renovated their home. Let’s take a closer look.
We asked Joan about their initial budget for the reno.
“We budgeted 100k for the reno, excluding appliances and fitting, and strictly kept within budget,” she answered. Since they were determined to stay within their initial budget, they had to compromise on some areas of the home.
While the couple did not follow a specific design trend, they made sure to integrate environmentally friendly options wherever they could. For instance, they had their light switch setup differently.
“In our previous home in Songdo, South Korea, the main switch at the entrance can turn off all the lights in one go,” said Joan. Having the ability to turn off all lights with a single button when going out can help significantly lower electricity usage when done consistently.
The couple’s design choices for their renovation were heavily inspired by their previous experiences. “Having lived in 3 different cities before purchasing our home, we naturally drew inspiration from our previous homes,” she shared. Joan recalled that they especially enjoyed using a pole system for cabinets in their home in the US, so they used the same setup in their Maisonette.
Pinterest and YouTube are their best sources of inspiration when looking out for new designs. Both Joanand her partner love to mix and match different styles. “We are definitely not minimalistic nor farmhouse. We veer towards the look of Australian, vintage-looking homes.”
The couple has a good reason why they have more inclination to vintage looks. “A home is a place we want to slow down, so we intentionally made our home look less modern. We also avoided being too tech-savvy,” Joan shared.
When they purchased their house, it was still in its original 30-year old state, so they both decided to gut it. With the walls hacked away, the place is an open canvas ready to accommodate the layout they want.
Here’s how the renovation turned out.
As you enter the house and before you reach the living room, it’s hard not to notice the cute storage area underneath the stairs. Their child’s toys, books, and other clutter are neatly tucked here – for quick access and cleanup.
The living room is bright and airy, with light coming from the large windows and the sunroom area that follows. Looking outside the window, lush palm trees and other foliage provide a beautiful view and great privacy.
As such, the couple decided to leave the windows with no curtains. The green decor outside the window spills easily inside because of the multitude of indoor plants in the living room.
Immediately following the living room, on the same floor, is the sunroom. “We sealed the double ceiling outdoor balcony with large windows and turned it into a sunroom,” Joan said. “In terms of maintenance, the sunroom is easier to clean. And if we wish to enjoy the outdoor feel, all the windows can be opened.”
The black and white checkered floor in the sunroom adds a certain degree of sophistication and elegance to the room.
Their kitchen offers a stark contrast to the bright atmosphere in the other rooms. Here, wood is the dominant design which adds considerable cosiness and warmth.
Even if the area could accommodate an island counter, the couple chose not to do so. Joan said that they wanted to keep the kitchen semi-open.
“We had a large island and kitchen when we were in the USA, and we were not very good at keeping clutter away from it,” she said.
On the same note, their choice of closed cabinetry helps them keep the kitchen clutter-free. Plus, it offers good protection against dust and dirt. The textured glass with organic effect adds a certain charm, aside from making it easier to see what’s inside the cabinet.
Seemingly an extension of their minimalist design in the living room, the dining area, designed with a clean decor, has a bright atmosphere during the day – thanks to the large, frosted windows letting in the sunshine. And in the evenings, a single elegant drop light washes the entire room in warm light.
The beauty of using this simplistic design is that the dining experience becomes more about the family eating together and the food they’re sharing.
The flight of stairs leading to the upper floors is neatly designed, with dark wooden rails that add further elegance. A variety of books line up the opposite wall, indicating that it’s all about reading and relaxation on this floor.
There are three bedrooms upstairs and two baths – one for guests and one in the master’s bedroom.
The master’s bedroom has the same light wooden floor material as the rest of the house and the same splash of white walls for consistency. The couple sleeps on a frameless bed, which means they’re sleeping closer to the ground. As revealed by studies, sleeping on a bed with no bed frame or box spring has many health benefits, including better blood circulation and improved posture.
Like the bedroom, the bathroom is simple in nature but the presence of a bathroom reveals the relaxing aesthetic of the space.
On the other hand, the guest room has a regular bed with a frame. The height-adjustable work desk in the room is a practical touch, in contrast to the relaxing nature of the room. Both the master’s and guest rooms have a compact and stylish ceiling fan that helps with ventilation and adds an accent to the rooms’ decor.
Their son’s playroom, with two-tone wall paint and filled with toys and books, is undoubtedly the liveliest room in their house. Before, this room used to be the darkest space in the whole place. So to address the issue, they installed ample lighting inside and also created a fixed interior window.
The results speak for themselves, with the playroom now a bright and vibrant environment for their son.
The couple wanted to make this home a lot better than their previous ones – which means they needed to ensure that housework would be seamless and easy. One example is relocating their laundry niche in the guest bathroom upstairs.
“Our washer and dryer are upstairs near the bedrooms, which is more convenient,” Joan said. “We used to argue about who will bring the laundry up and down in our previous abode. So we made sure to fix the issue of contempt when we were renovating this home,” she recalled.
So, did the couple execute their vision successfully? According to Joan, the answer is both yes and no.
Some areas are exactly as they envisioned them, and some just didn’t make the cut. And the main reason behind this setback was their budget. The compromise was a necessary outcome, though, as it allowed them to stick strictly to their budget.
All in all, it’s still a non-issue to them. “We achieved what we envisioned for most areas of our home, but some areas are still a work in progress,” she said.
Thankfully for Joan, she knew a local ID that she could trust – Atwell from POMEX.
Atwell made sure that the couple wouldn’t face any unnecessary delays in their reno project despite occurring during the peak of the pandemic.
For instance, the couple and their ID agreed to source fittings and labour locally. “We did not want to face unnecessary delays like fittings being stuck at customs,” Joan said. “Atwell also ensured us that they had all the sub cons and manpower ready. And that there were no delays.”
As such, their renovation took only two and a half months to complete.
Aside from prioritising locally-sourced materials and labour, their biggest concern was that it had to go through an eco-friendly approach. “We knew we wanted a healthy and safe home for our young son to grow up in, so we went all out to make sure we reduced VOC and chemicals in our home.”
The couple used Natura by Benjamin Moore for the paint – a zero VOC paint. They also reduced the use of laminate and avoided fittings that require glue. “Our kitchen features wood cabinets, and we used micro cement for our bathrooms,” Joan added. “Our clothing cabinets use the pole system and birch plywood, avoiding the need for glue altogether.”
Even their flooring, which they purchased while in the US and shipped to Singapore, is eco-friendly all throughout. These engineered oak wood floors from Kahrs (made in Switzerland) have a non-toxic water-based finish and are free from formaldehyde. The wood itself is sustainably harvested. “We were unfamiliar with the flooring industry in Singapore and could not find a floor that met our green criteria,” explained Joan.
They also ensured that the installation of the flooring was child-friendly. “The floor in our home is floating, that means there is no use for glue or nails, and it’s held together by tension,” she elaborated.
As they could not find anyone with suitable experience with this type of installation, so they laid down the floors themselves.
For fabrics, the couple chose natural materials such as linen and cotton. Wool for carpets and polyester for curtains are never part of their options.
When it comes to their furniture sourcing process, they relied on Carousell and Facebook Marketplace. These online platforms were the couple’s go-to for hunting used furniture. “We find purchasing used especially delightful in Singapore as new furniture usually comes with a long wait time,” Joan said. “Also, since we are pursuing sustainability, we believe that buying used is better for the environment.”
The couple joined an expat Facebook group back then to give away their US appliances which was a goldmine as there were many expats also selling their furniture in the group. “Most of our furniture was also thrifted and came from our US home.”
If Joan had to choose specific spaces that she loved the most in their home after reno, that would be the sunroom and the large window. Their sunroom overlooks a little courtyard where Joan can supervise their son while playing. Also, her partner loves tending to the plants in the sunroom, and Joan revealed that she loves having a space where she can lounge and do nothing.
Joan and her partner encountered some unique challenges during the reno, having just moved to Singapore four months ago. She recalled how unfamiliar they were with the procedures back then. But the plethora of information online helped them a lot.
Whether you just relocated to the country or it’s your first time renovating, Joan recommends joining the SG reno telegram group. “I was able to find a good electrician based on the group’s recommendations,” she recalled.
Making their home friendly not only to their child but also to them as adults proved to be a challenge at first. However, with a few compromising design decisions, they were able to pull this off.
For instance, they had to give up the storage for their child’s toys and books under the stairs. It turned out to be a great boon as it helped keep their son’s clutter away. Installing invisible grills on all exterior facing windows helped keep the windows aesthetically pleasing while making them childproof.
Last but not least, while everyone likes the idea of staying in a maisonette because of the size and unique layout, it’s not all fun and dandy when it comes to maintaining it – unless you have a helper at home.
As such, when it comes to renovating this type of flat, the layout becomes more significant as day-to-day housework can become too taxing. Going up and down the stairs several times just to perform a simple task, like laundry, can become more of an inconvenience.
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Joan admitted that the reno process was a humbling and trying experience for them. “Nonetheless, I think our greatest takeaway is that not everything needs to, or will, be perfect.” True enough, she revealed that they weren’t able to plan their lighting and electrical points as well as they would have liked.
Despite these flaws and imperfections, the reno still turned out great. And the entire experience is not something anyone can just belittle. To this effect, Joan shares some very wise words for new homeowners, “Enjoy the renovation process. It is the start of a new chapter of life. Even if not everything translates into reality, you will still have a long time to work on the home.”
This article was first published in StackedHomes.