Cover A portrait of the owner Caroline Lim, painted by Spanish artist Lita Cabellut, takes pride of place in the entertainment room in the attic. Photography: Wong Wei Liang

Homeowner Caroline Lim’s vivacious personality and impeccable art collection take centre stage in her Singapore abode, following a dramatic makeover by Edmund Ng Architects

In 2018, Caroline Lim published a picture book titled Wonderland - Through Caroline’s Looking Glass. Illustrated by Lim herself, the tome is a management guidebook inspired by British author Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; it’s written as an allegory to share her experiences in human resource garnered over 30 years from working in multiple international and local companies. A talented illustrator, Lim’s pencil and watercolour drawings brought a personal touch to the pages.

Her own home in central Singapore could be seen as her vision of wonderland; Lim stays in a 6,135 sq ft detached house with her husband and son. Art meets domesticity in the spatial trajectory from the front door into all the nooks, passageways, rooms, and gardens.

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In 2017, Lim engaged architect Edmund Ng, who runs his eponymous firm, to expand the home’s footprint and renovate its interiors. Lim became acquainted with the architect through his wife Jazz Chong, who is a family friend and owns local gallery Ode to Art.

“Caroline has a deep appreciation for fine arts, and her husband, of vintage cars. They wanted to house their collections in a sleek and sophisticated home, and to be daring in the use of Caroline’s favourite colour, black,” says Ng. Her preferred colour palette would alter the building’s architecture completely. Its former iteration was a white structure featuring faux-classical elements on the facade, coupled with French windows and a terracotta-tiled pitched roof. Its facade, now the shade of charcoal, is stoic and mysterious. A dark box with apertures of tinted glass articulated within extruded concrete frames, the house’s new look is in keeping with its owner’s love of striking artworks with bold narratives. 

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“The brief was for a reconstruction to build the house to its maximum-allowable height of three-and-a-half storeys,” shares the architect. “With the surrounding greenery emerging at the attic level, we thought of inverting the typical layout of the home and brought up the living room to the attic to harness the natural view among the low-rise homes in the neighbourhood.”

Internal works included adding a lift, neatening the utility and storage layouts, and expanding the dining area so it now has a fuller view of the swimming pool. The larger space is perfect for entertaining. Various textures were employed to create a multilayered space, and the streamlined layout is visually calming.

“We understood that it was important for the clients to showcase their beautiful collection. Hence, each and every wall was designed as a backdrop for art. Lighting came naturally as a pivotal element in setting the mood. This emphasis on lighting was extended to the car porch, where Caroline’s husband spends a good portion of his time with his cars,” says Ng.

The car porch was modelled like the lobby of a boutique hotel to highlight the impressive vehicles. The townhouse-like proportions of the new facade pay homage to the English heritage of Lim’s husband. “The house’s regular and structured design, and clean tonality, are constant in most of our projects. However, the most unorthodox part of the brief was being given the liberty to freely use black anywhere and everywhere we wanted, which eventually became our impetus for lighting creativity,” explains Ng. Lighting is paramount to the way the spaces and artworks are perceived.

“The entire house is dark to create a cosy and sophisticated ambience, like you would expect in luxury boutique hotels. Most of the walls are black, including in the powder rooms,” says Ng. Warm lights facilitate the viewing of art and create an intimate ambience in sections. Lim now has plenty of space for displaying her artworks. In fact, the former living room on the first storey is now a foyer for the appreciation of a grand artwork by Chinese artist Zheng Hongxiang in all its glory. Its dominant red and grey tonality, and striking image of a rhino stand out against the pale walls and command the room. 

In the dining room, Smoke chairs from Moooi, whose individualistic forms are created by burning their timber frames, set a gothic mood in keeping with the black theme. On the six-metre-long black dining table are plates by artist Lin Hairong, which come bearing a tale. “I went to chef Justin Quek’s restaurant Chinoiserie at Marina Bay Sands for dinner one day, where they were using these plates. I loved them so much that I asked him to sell me some,” shares Lim.

Like a gallery owner, Lim’s arrangement of her art is well thought through. For example, she constructed a black frame that climbs up the stairwell to display miniature sculptures by Belgian ceramicist Daisy Boman; she has christened it her “Boman Wall”. “I’ve been collecting her artworks, so we became friends. These are individual pieces from my office and home collected over 20 years,” she says. 

Aside from art, nature is also well framed in the house. In both the master bedroom and attic, a blooming bougainvillea tree is the focal point at the end of the elongated space, viewed through the picture window. “People would stand beneath to take photographs of the flowers,” says Lim of the scenic ambience.The ideation for this picture window stemmed from her days working at Apple in San Francisco. “I would walk by the bay, and all the houses there had picture windows displaying beautiful objects. I told myself that if I build a house, I would want a picture window too,” says Lim. 

A graceful sculpture of a figure on a horse by Chinese artist Yu Fan is poised against this panorama, presenting an elegant picture against the backdrop of green outside the window. Behind the bed, a large painting by Filipino artist Mark Justiniani colours the wall. “I like his artworks, but they usually feature a lot of blood and knives. I told him I wanted money and fun things instead,” Lim explains of the commissioned piece.

At the attic level, the new, lofty living room also takes advantage of the verdant vista with floor-to-ceiling windows. An eight-metre-long bookcase displays only objects in white, red and black to adhere to the house’s theme, curated meticulously by Lim. A sculpture by Li Chen stands by the window, and another sculpture of a crumpled piece of Wrigley’s chewing gum by Jiao Xin Tao lies on the floor, juxtaposing decorum with playfulness.

While the house has an overall dark theme, it is not dreary. Rather, the contrast of tones and generous natural illumination make the home an endearing abode to encounter, privy to the shifting rhythms of nature. Most delightfully, Lim’s collection of artworks brings personality and narrative to silent walls. 

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