Cover The zebra stripes on the armchair, accent cushion and rug add a playful touch to the living room

With interiors thoughtfully crafted by Design Intervention, this shophouse in Singapore features a playful spin on its art deco influences by taking a cue from the eclectic work of Italian artist Piero Fornasetti

For many designers, the opportunity to work on a historical building with many stories to tell brings great joy. In this case, a conservation shophouse became a delightful canvas for award-winning practice Design Intervention. Helmed by principal Nikki Hunt and co-CEO Andrea Savage, the firm was tasked to transform a former office into a cosy residence for a family of three and their dog.

“Conservation shophouses are architectural gems and true icons of the history and culture of Singapore, so it’s a real privilege to work on one,” says Hunt. Savage agrees: “Every now and again we work on a project that is particularly special; when I first saw this house I was really thrilled at tackling the challenge of converting a tired and neglected building into a dream home.”

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The lady of the house adores the art deco style and has a preference for a monochromatic colour scheme. The sociable couple enjoy entertaining, so the bar area had to be a key feature of their abode. The family also needed a lift installed in the home as well as a wheelchair-friendly suite for the wife’s grandmother, and wanted soundproof windows that adhered to the existing conservation guidelines.

“Our client is a stylish professional, and the design reflects her personality,” says Savage. “We wanted to create a home for her family that would be every bit as glamorous as she is and where she could truly feel at home.”

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To maintain the historical look of the facade, the firm designed double-layer windows: a set of new external windows with timber frames that open outwards, accompanied by tightly sealed uPVC glass windows that keep out the noise. The firm decided on the black-and-white colour scheme in keeping with the wife’s preferences; this was also applied to the facade.

“We stuck to a crisp black-and-white palette, peppering it with shots of colour to prevent the home from feeling stark or cold,” says Savage. The art deco details within the abode were also considered. “We highlighted and restored the period details,” says Hunt. “There is definitely an art deco feel to the interiors which is true to the period, (with) a contemporary edge so that the design feels modern and relevant.”

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From the entrance, the graphic forms of the black timber doors to create a striking impression. The tri-diamond design on the floor draws the eye inwards to the interior, where many surprises await. The diamond motifs are echoed on a pair of rectangular interior windows that frames the living area.

Here, the zebra-like patterns on the armchair and rug add textural interest. A bespoke TV console is among the highlights; it features a keyhole motif inspired by Italian artist Piero Fornasetti, whose work the owner adores.

Fornasetti’s playful spirit continues throughout the home, with some of his iconic prints featured on wallcoverings and accent cushions. These include the Teatro wallpaper from Cole & Son’s Fornasetti Senza Tempo collection which graces the dining area; perfectly apt as a conversation starter in this communal zone. Adjacent to this space is the bar area, where the Panda marble backsplash forms a dramatic focal point at the counter. The bar counter also features a zebra-hide stencilled detail on the drawers, which are lined in black leather trimmings to channel the look of steamer trunks used in the 19th century. 

Visitors will be just as delighted with the powder room beside the dining area. Though compact, this space is as chic as the rest of the home; tiger motifs on the wallcovering imbue a lively touch, next to the glossy black cabinetry and gold trimmings, which are also featured in the stunning master bathroom.

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The 2,250sqft shophouse was dark and dull, and lacked an internal staircase; the steps were located on the building exterior to allow each floor to be rented out to various firms. The existing windows were also not in accordance with the prevailing guidelines set by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, so they had to be redone to fit the regulations.

“We also had to be mindful of the party walls to ensure minimum disruption to the neighbours,” shares Savage, on the practical challenges of the project. “Relocating the staircase within the interior was the key architectural consideration, as was the placement of lift. These shophouses are narrow units, and the placement and designs of the stairs and lift had to be carefully planned to ensure we optimised space and light.”

Functional elements like the lift are made beautiful. The glass elevator features a black rectangular frame, in the same style as the staircase next to it.

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Upstairs, the bedrooms provide a tranquil respite for the inhabitants. Earthy tones on the feature wall and rug contribute to the restful aura of the master bedroom, while a pair of full-length mirrors expands its sense of space. Off-white panelled walls and cabinetry add to its light and airy feel.

Good lighting is key to creating a cosy ambience, while emphasising the house’s historical elements. “We paid particular attention to the lighting of the spaces to highlight the architectural details and bring a warmth to balance the monochromatic colour scheme and create a welcoming, intimate ambience,” adds Hunt.

The renovation took 18 months to complete, and the result is well worth the wait. “As with each and every project we work on, the starting point and source of inspiration are the clients themselves,” says Hunt. “This homeowner is a stylish lady but as a professional, she is bold, confident and no-nonsense. I think the design really reflects who she is!” Savage adds: “It was an absolute joy to be able to restore this unit to its former glory, but with a modern twist.”