Cover A decorative screen, gold lamp and antique cabinet bring an Asian touch to the modern setting in the living area

The collective memories of a family are embodied in this home, which has been thoughtfully updated as a meaningful setting for gathering and remembering

Amid the melange of modern houses in central Singapore stands a home that is elegantly simple. The original property was built 80 years ago and has since been lovingly restored with art deco proportions and features by Archetype Studio.

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The clients had lived here with their parents but the house lay empty for a decade after the parents’ passing. Though not forgotten, this home—tended to by caretakers—showed signs of age. Many ideas were thrown up at the family table—to sell or segment the land? In the end, sentiment trumped commerciality.

“We thought it would be nice to have a place where we could all gather for Chinese New Year or our parents’ death anniversaries. If we sold it, how can we replicate the memories?” says one of the siblings, a well-travelled businessman with a keen appreciation for good architecture and craftsmanship.

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As the siblings’ recollections were so closely tied to the house, it made good sense to retain as much of the original building as possible, while improving it to accommodate large groups. “The distinctive reinforced-concrete ledges and second-storey balcony motifs were deliberately preserved, with new mild steel windows invigorated with steelwork elements of the past,” says Darren Yio, the founder of Archetype Studio, who had worked on the client’s private home as a former employee at SCDA Architects.

These elements on the two-storey building are apparent when approaching the 33,000 sqft compound. The driveway is as it was decades ago, with separate entry and exit gates—heightening the sense of arrival as it brings to mind past eras of decorum. A long, handsome Pietra Cardoso marble wall with sinuous lines like calligraphic brushstrokes presents an elegant pause before one enters the home. The main door features the original window grilles, now re-purposed as decorative screens to be admired behind its glass panels.  

Such patterning complements the house’s authentic character. The architect’s sensitive and subtle material and colour palette also bring a new level of sophistication. One example is harmonising the slate and pewter tones in the new aluminium-pitched roof that replaces worn clay tiles and roof caps that conceal rainwater streaks. 

Inside, private and public domains are clearly demarcated at the top and bottom levels respectively. The home’s three bedrooms feature stone-topped luggage racks and light-coloured Italian oak flooring juxtaposed with the family’s old furniture, such as a Chinese-style stool doubling as a bedside table. Down a split-level from the foyer into the family hall, a curved base step marks the beginning of a smooth spatial trajectory conceived by the architect to facilitate seamless flows of people during parties.

The guestroom, family hall, dining and living room—an extension built in 1974 by the client’s deceased brother who was a prominent local architect—front an outdoor deck that Yio has expanded. “The new patio is now double in depth and length, introducing pockets of space for various conversations to take place at gatherings,” he shares. This intersects at the dining room with a perpendicular axis that connects the outdoor and indoor dining rooms with the dry and wet kitchens.

There are other transformations that, while subtle, make the house well-suited for its new function. Screens replacing the dining-kitchen wall enhance interaction between dinner guests and visiting chefs at work behind the counter, and the improvement in the wet kitchen considers incidental roving guests. This space links to the ancillary building that houses the garage, storage and quarters for the domestic help.  

The clients particularly enjoy the way the garden has been redesigned and integrates better with the house. One experiences a flow not just from room to room but also from shelter to nature and vice versa. Fluidity is also found in materials such as sandy Azul Bateig limestone unifying the common areas and fossil limestone for bathrooms that are not just calming to the eye but also cool underfoot. 

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Throughout, the architect employs a framing motif to anchor vistas, amplify light and extend spatial flow between indoors and out. For instance, a new window in the family hall offers a view of the bonsai sculpture by British artist Mehrdad Tafreshi in the courtyard. Another tree-like sculpture by Tafreshi that’s installed in the garden can be seen from the second-storey bedroom balcony; the guestroom also offers a full frontal view of this artwork. 

The house has a strong historical presence, but it is no museum. Family heirlooms returned to their original positions post-renovation and the parents’ smiling portraits add to the home’s congenial mood. Contributions from the siblings—the brother’s Poliform Soori coffee table by Soo K. Chan sits atop the sister’s colourful carpet in the family hall, for instance—add to the personal narrative while giving the house a homely feel.

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“Translating the siblings’ recollections into built form whilst giving the house a revitalised charm was challenging,” muses Yio. But his efforts were not in vain as the home overflows with character. It is now ready for many celebrations to take place. But even before that, there is already much to celebrate—the house’s rare heritage, enhanced architecture and understated sense of luxury have been woven into an elegant tapestry.

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