Dubbed the 'House of Spice', RT+Q co-founder Rene Tan’s semi-detached home was a testbed for the architect to try out new ideas

Unbounded by the typical client’s more conservative requirements, an architect’s home offers a chance for radical experimentation. This was the case for Rene Tan, who helms RT+Q Architects with his partner TK Quek.

Tan’s wife Chuah Woei Woei, a director in a bank, and the couple’s teenage daughter, Lara, have playfully christened their new abode the “House of Spice” after the edible garden terracing and the property’s various hidden doors and alcoves. But Tan candidly thinks the name “House of Rejects” may be more accurate as it brings to life many discarded ideas from past projects that the architect has realised in his family home.

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Above The front patio is Chuah’s favourite spot for exercise

The 4,811sqft semi-detached house is the family’s third residence in 20 years. The first was a conservation shophouse and the second, a terrace house with an unforgiving, all-white facade. As a lesson learnt from the previous abode, the facade of the family’s new property is easy to maintain but engaging, with vibrant boxes composed in corten steel, glass and reconstituted timber protruding from a fair-faced concrete shell.

Modernist architect Le Corbusier’s avant-garde public housing projects influenced this compositional play of concrete and colour. The concrete shell shields an inner wall-and-glass layer, protecting the interiors from the heat and rain.

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Above Architect Rene Tan, pictured with his bank director wife Chuah Woei Woei and their daughter Lara Tan
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Above The walk-in wardrobe in the master bedroom boasts a soaring ceiling, with windows that peek into other spaces within and around the semi-detached house

“The high ceilings and little openings not only allow the eye to wander, but help air to flow as well,” Tan highlights. A pond wrapping the perimeter cools the interior. It terminates at the front patio, which is his wife’s favourite spot to exercise in the morning amid verdant greenery.

The aforementioned spice garden slots into a gap that Tan created to introduce more natural light. The garden’s collection of pandan, chilli, lime, ladies’ fingers, lemongrass, Thai basil, Malabar spinach, aloe vera and curry leaves offers green accents across the three storeys. In the garden, coconut trees further the edible garden concept, and the main gate is planted with jasmine flowers and a murraya hedge to create “moveable landscaping” that shifts with the opening and closing of the motorised gates.

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Above The master bedroom features a Fendi Casa armchair, a custom-made sofa and the Magis Puppy by Eero Aarnio. It is styled with the Zimmer + Rohde Spice fabric on the bed, while cushions by the window feature fabrics from the Zimmer + Rohde Masterpieces Vol. II collection from Cetec

The house is also a “homage to storage and cabinetry”, says Natalie Mok, a colleague of Tan who worked on the project for two years. “I used cabinetry as a means to organise possessions, and to divide, define and organise space,” adds Tan. The architect, who is also an accomplished pianist, approached the house’s carpentry the way a piano maker would craft a musical instrument.

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Above The master bathroom features an unusual pentagonal form
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Above Designed by Chuah, the mirrors offer a glimpse into her beauty cabinet

A full-height bookshelf rises alongside the staircase, its porosity letting light though. In the living room, the lift is encased in an oval box. Shoe rooms hide within these elements, accessed via discreetly designed panels.

In what he calls a counter-intuitive approach, Tan highlights mundane spaces. In the wet kitchen, a tangerine cone—a laundry chute—protrudes from the vaulted ceiling. The architect’s creative take on the utilitarian feature delivers clothes from the master bedroom’s dressing area directly to the wet kitchen.

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Above Lara’s bedroom features a swivel door that leads to her music room; the sofa is styled with the Tikal cushion from Pierre Frey
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Above The orange laundry chute allows clothes to be dropped directly from the master bedroom into the wet kitchen

“I always tell my staff that great spaces are not just reserved for pantheons and gods; they can also be places like the wet kitchen. It’s the most used room in the house, but often the most neglected,” says Tan. The powder room in the wet kitchen is similarly glorified with gold-painted walls, a Carrara marble washbasin and custom-designed timber door lock. 

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Above The family kitten Debussy enjoys exploring nooks and crannies of the home, such as this blue service window that connects the dry kitchen to the wet kitchen

A window in cobalt blue visually connects the wet and dry kitchens, while two doors between both areas enable uninterrupted flow of movement, just like in Le Corbusier’s fluid house layouts. On the dry kitchen’s Golden Spider marble countertop, Mok designed subtle depressions for peanuts at tipple time and a dovetail joint inspired by intricate timberwork.

In the same vein, Tan lends poetry to water management. Sculptural waterspouts on the facade and a red rainwater downpipe at the car porch tunnels through the concrete block look like a modern art piece. Such surprising touches are delightful to unearth, like flipping the pages of a children’s pop-up storybook.

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Above The spice terraces that run along the length of the stairway feature thriving rows of herbs and vegetables
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Above Sculptural waterspouts add a poetic touch to the exterior

“Architecture is all about discovery,” says Tan of these little surprises. In his daughter’s room, a wall turns to reveal the aspiring musician’s hideaway for singing, and playing the keyboard and violin in. Peephole-sized apertures filter light and views from the street. The architect also eschews blinds for a movable wall in the master bedroom that provides additional space for artworks.

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Above Swivel doors expand the sense of space in the guest room
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Above A pink interior window in the guest room adds a playful pop of colour to its earthy scheme

Next to the bed, a door leads into Chuah’s walk-in wardrobe for Lara to easily access, as mother and daughter can now share clothes. The dramatic wardrobe has storage stretching up two storeys, with the higher compartments accessible via the attic from the other side. This “clothing chapel” is Tan’s way of spoiling his wife; here, Chuah can easily view and access her accessories as in a boutique.

This temple to domestic living brings joy to the humdrum routine of family life. “The house was designed as a series of surprises and stories. We have enjoyed discovering and rediscovering the house, especially during the pandemic as we are all working from home,” says the architect.

This story was first published in the October-November issue of Tatler Homes Singapore; read it online with our compliments on Magzter

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