Cover A view of the house’s imposing facade, which features solid granite walls on the first floor, and off-form concrete walls in a timber board pattern on the second storey and attic

Designed by Ming Architects, this stylish family home in Singapore is anchored by its light-filled basement, with a statement staircase taking centre stage

Many people think of basements as dark and dingy places. But that need not be the case—they can be light and airy, and offer much needed extra space, too. The owners of Carve House, a stylish Bukit Timah home to a family of four, wanted a basement floor to maximise their gross floor area. They also desired a lap pool, along with a staircase that was to become the focal point of their 7,000sqft abode.

These requests provided Cher Ming Tan, principal architect of Ming Architects, with the ideal opportunity to conceptualise a modern building with visual impact. “We decided to combine these elements as architectural features which would form the main design concept of the house, driven by the basement being its main feature,” says Tan, whose firm collaborated with local builder Space Scope to realise the project.

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The architect designed the basement as a double-volume space to give it a sense of airiness, with light flowing in from the first storey through full-length glass panels. Open sunken gardens were strategically located in the abode to bring natural illumination deeper into the space.

As a final touch, a glass pool viewing panel was installed into the side of the building to allow filtered and refracted daylight to stream into the basement, which results in an eye-catching interplay of light and shadow throughout the day.

“The moving pool water creates visual interest when viewed from different parts of the house, and casts dynamic shadow patterns on the basement walls and floor at different times of the day,” says Tan.

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According to the architect, the main challenge in building this subterranean feature was developing novel solutions to illuminate the basement. The team also had to work around a very tight site during the construction stage. “In addition, there was an extremely deep sewer line running through the rear of the site which had to be retained, so the house had to be built around it, with the second storey cantilevered out at the back,” notes Tan.

As local building and safety regulations have changed, it may no longer be possible to achieve a similar basement design in the near future, Tan adds, making this project truly singular. Indeed, the name of the abode itself pays homage to its genesis. “Carve House refers to the process of the creation of space from the constraints of a tight site, almost like rock that is chiselled or hewn away to reveal a sculpture,” he says.

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Given its unique spatial quality, the basement has since become the main living area for the family, especially since there is a TV located here. With a spacious storage zone featuring Eurocave wine chillers, the formal living area in the basement is also an ideal place in which to entertain guests. A home gym, pantry, study and guest room are also tucked into the basement space.

Up on the ground floor are the dining table and dry kitchen, while the private bedrooms are located on the upper two stories, separate from the entertainment area below. Elegant lighting fixtures from Sol Luminaire are installed throughout the home, which is clad in natural teak wood flooring, grey marble and walnut stained wall panelling for a clean, contemporary style that is consistent with the architectural aesthetics of the building. The furnishings were selected by the owners themselves; they purchased a mix of furnishings from Nicoletti, King, Herman Miller and BoConcept. 

Tying the home together—both literally and figuratively—is a ribbon staircase and the centrepiece of the abode. The two-storey staircase, built with generous curving lines to evoke a sculptural effect, connects the basement with the first and second stories, while a secondary staircase allows separate access to the master suite in the attic. 

Not only is the staircase viewable from the living spaces on the lower floors, it is also visible from the exterior, providing the home with a tasteful architectural feature that sets it apart from the other buildings in the estate.

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On the main facade’s exterior, the walls on the first storey are clad in dark granite, while for the second and attic floors, form liners imported from Germany cast a timber-board pattern onto the off-form concrete walls. Black steel elements provide a unifying theme across the facade. Tan observes: “These materials provide a contrast to the light-filled interiors of the house, expressing a sense of strength and permanence to the structure.”

To Tan, the greatest reward is seeing his concepts of introducing light to the deepest corners of the home come vividly to life. “What I personally love about this project is the strong architectural quality of the spaces, created with the dramatic ceiling height and the play of light and shadows inside the house, visible on the stairs, walls and floors.”

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