Back in 2018, interior designer Cherin Tan and her husband, Jason Tong, were almost ready to put in an offer on a HDB point block flat in the Jalan Besar neighbourhood. Then a text message from a friend came to inform them of the availability of a walk-up apartment just a few streets away.
“I was very keen on walk-ups because we wanted a bigger space,” says the founder and Creative Director of interior design and architecture design company, LAANK. “So I think it took us less than 10 minutes after viewing the unit to make an offer.”
At that time, the two-and-a-half storey penthouse apartment, which measures 2,000sqft and sits on the top floor of a low-rise 1960s building, was configured as two separate rental units in a split-level setting.
“As I am an interior designer, I quickly saw its potential and what could be done with this space. Because there were no structural columns in the middle, I could also see how to rework the existing area into many different pockets of space to suit both Jason’s and my very different personalities and interests,” she adds.
Tan shares that she loves pottery, gardening, and cooking, while her husband enjoys music, reading and skating. What they both had in common however, is their love for hosting and entertaining friends. This, Tan observes, made the design process more interesting, adding that they both wanted to “acknowledge the differences while still ensuring the design and design process were harmonious”.
As Tan was busy with other projects for various clients, she did not have much time to dwell on the design of her own home. She says: “We knew when we had to start the renovation process to fulfil a moving date. So, what I did was to take two days of leave from work and just sat down to plan everything.”
This design process proved to be most efficient because both had to be very decisive about what they wanted. For instance, Tan had the final say for the kitchen, dining room, balcony and rooftop garden, while her husband took care of the music lounge. “Jason is very chill about most things and what he wanted most was for things to be easy to clean,” she says. “Practicality and functionality was not difficult for me to plan.”
While many designers tend to adhere to a specific style such as Japandi or mid-century modern, Tan shares that her modus operandi was completely antithetical to this—she calls hers a “no design” approach. “Basically, we designed our space around how we live, and how we envisioned our new chapter of life to be.” The result is a cohesively designed home that perfectly encapsulated both their personalities.
The first thing you notice when you step into the apartment is how bright and cosy the space is. It is a stark contrast to the dimly lit stairwell that you have to climb up to reach it. And while most people would locate their private spaces on the upper floor, away from the main door, Tan positioned theirs on the lower level. It was intentional, she says, especially since one has to walk five floors up to the apartment.
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Also, placing the master bedroom here made sense because of the original layout of the space. Previously separated into two smaller rooms, the wall between has been broken down and replaced with a collapsible door, which can be closed if ever they need an extra room.
Connecting the two rooms is a his-and-hers walk-in wardrobe. Because there are no utility rooms in the apartment, Tan raised the floor of their closet space, which then doubled as hidden storage spaces.
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An interesting design feature in the master bedroom are the walls separating the room from the walk-in wardrobe. Made from travertine, Tan says that she was inspired by the couple’s campfire experience during their honeymoon in South Africa. “The stone was reversed to reveal the underside as it has more texture. We put lights behind it so that when it’s backlit, the effect looks like the glow of fire ambers at night,” she adds.
But the pièce de résistance is arguably the staircase leading up to the upper floors, which Tan says was the last to be designed. Made out of multi-coloured stone tiles meticulously cut and arranged in a diagonal pattern, it is a nod to two of her favourite interior designers, Jaime Hayon and Kelly Wearstler, who are known for their use of colour and whimsical design elements. “We wanted the house to have even more quirkiness and personality so we decided to have this random burst of colour here. It makes everything more interesting,” she says.
Up the stairs, the second floor is where the magic happens. Despite the narrow layout of the apartment, one cannot help but be in awe of how spacious the area feels. This is where the open-plan kitchen and dining area is located, taking up almost the entire length.
Past the three metre-long dining table, which also doubles as the couple’s work space in the daytime, is Jason’s music lounge, complete with wall shelves filled with records, interspersed with decorative pieces, including one called Love Bomb by local artist and their friend, Alvin Tan of PHUNK. Beyond the lounge is a generous balcony space overlooking the Jalan Besar Stadium, which has a spiral staircase that leads up to the rooftop garden. “Jason and I both love hosting our friends and families so I designed this space to be where we all can hang out while I cook,” she explains.
Lining the expansive walls is an eclectic display featuring photographs of their favourite memories together and artworks from local artists, many of whom are the couple’s friends. One of Tan’s favourite pieces on the wall is a skateboard in the shape of a Kikkoman bottle. “Jason bought this for me as a gift, and it is a perfect representation of us—the skateboard is very Jason, and Kikkoman is very me,” she explains.
When asked which is her favourite space in the house, Tan does not hesitate to point out her walk-in storage for her collection of tableware. “I have a thing for crockery,” she says with a laugh. “Whenever we travel, I always visit flea markets and pottery studios where I pick up interesting plates or dining ware. I did not have space to display them previously, so when designing the house, I made sure to have walk-in wardrobes for my clothes as well as my babies— my plates and crockery.”
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Indeed, despite dedicating just two intensive days to conceptualise the design of the home, the final result is a cohesive narrative and a stylish showcase of meticulous planning. “It is still evolving and I don’t know how long we will stay in this house,” she says. “But for as long as we are here, it is important that the space perfectly reflects both our personalities. And that’s the most important thing when it comes to designing your home.”