Home Tour: A Peranakan Shophouse in Singapore With a Colourful, Contemporary Interior
A beloved Singapore icon built between the 1840s and 1960s, conservation shophouses served as commercial spaces as well as private residences in the past. This dual purpose is revisited in a family home set in one such building—instead of reimagining parts of the space for commercial use, the owners wanted to maximise these areas for functional purposes.
The team at Cube Associate Design, led by design director Sarah Tham, was hired to transform a three-storey Peranakan shophouse into a contemporary abode. The 3,905sqft property, which was to house a family of three generations, also had to integrate discreet and hidden storage spaces throughout.
“The challenge was to incorporate a modern interior into a charming Peranakan shophouse,” says Tham. “The clients wanted an uncluttered, contemporary home; they also wanted better use of the courtyard on the ground level.”
Established in 1998 by design director Sarah Tham, the award-winning firm specialises in practical design solutions that focus on the inventive use of space. The interdisciplinary practice offers a full menu of architecture and interior design services to both residential and commercial clients.
The team faced plenty of challenges from the outset. The original layout of the five-bedroom shophouse was narrow and elongated with a low ceiling, resulting in limited access to natural light. The kitchen was poorly ventilated and the courtyard, traditionally located in the middle of the shophouse, disrupted the flow of the space.
“After examining the site, we decided we were able to extend the space vertically by raising the ceiling height,” explains Tham. “This created a more spacious and open layout. We also hacked down the kitchen wall and replaced it with a glass door that opened to the courtyard. An external duct was installed for better ventilation in the kitchen.”
“Before entering the house, you will be greeted by colourful Peranakan tiles at the veranda, keeping in harmony with the shophouse’s original facade,” says the designer. “As you enter, the marble floor of the ground-level living room will grab your attention—it features a dramatic series of bold strokes that guides visitors from the living room to the courtyard.”
In the courtyard, a lush vertical garden complements the textures of the granite and lava stone feature wall, which extends into the living corridor to emphasise a seamless flow of the space. Full-height bi-fold and sliding glass doors between the courtyard, kitchen and corridor reinforce the connection between the interior and exterior spaces. Natural ventilation from the courtyard also reaches the second-floor bedrooms and corridor through a shared open space.
As for the storage spaces located in the living, dining and corridor areas, Tham kept them out of sight beneath a seamless cladding made of wood veneer with polished copper strips. Space was created for the family library on the second floor by removing an existing wall. The room is accessible via a sliding door mounted with two large artworks.
Of course, the home is not without its embellishments, which come in the form of unique lighting pieces. “One of the feature lights is the adjustable Bocci 28 series copper pendant lights on the first floor. This statement piece creates drama and drums up a fun atmosphere while complementing the tone of the interiors,” says Tham.
Tham believes the art of design is about using space, light and texture to inspire positive feelings. According to her, good design is uncomplicated, functional and practical; she enjoys creating spaces that will bring joy to everyday living, while offering her clients a fresh and stimulating experience. The outcome of this eight-month project is the very embodiment of these beliefs.