Screen presence

Screen presence

As someone who once lived in a shoebox-sized apartment in Hong Kong - par for the course for a single working stiff in a city known for its small-scale, squeezed-in homes - and whose public persona is beamed daily to thousands of living rooms and offices via a box of a different kind, Martin Soong covets the value of a really good space.

When it was time to find a home of his own, Soong, a long-time Singapore resident, looked long and hard for a place that would somehow transport him from a typical urban existence, accommodate a love for the outdoors and also be the perfect receptacle for a prized collection of antique wooden screens. He didn't find exactly what he wanted so he built himself a house (almost) from scratch instead - on a reasonable budget to boot.

Soong, 52, is a familiar face on television where he anchors a morning business news programme on CNBC. He's used to dealing with big names, even bigger numbers and coming up with instant solutions to work-related issues. Away from the studio however, it's a different matter altogether - but not entirely. It seems meticulous research and a keen eye for detail come in pretty handy on the home front as well.

He spent a decade looking for a property among the housing estates that were built during the 1960s and 70s by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) - the predecessor of the HDB that was tasked with improving living conditions and overcrowding in Singapore homes. In particular, he became interested in estates featuring pocket-sized double-storey terrace houses, in central locations popular with young couples in search of landed properties at HDB prices.

Three years ago, Soong was looking at one such house in the Whampoa area when he noticed a nearby corner unit, more desirable due to its near-original condition. It so happened that the 84-year-old first owner of the house was willing to sell, and the deal was closed two weeks later. The house, one of 199 similar homes in the estate built around 1971, had a footprint of about just 470 square feet - compact by local standards but still generous if you've lived in Hong Kong before.

The ground floor comprised a living room, bathroom and kitchen while the upper floor had two small bedrooms - basically one square-shaped box stacked on top of another. Soong spent about a year in DIY mode, knocking down walls and converting the space into a modern-day home, yet retaining a sense of simplicity tied to the past.

Solid walls at the front and rear of the ground floor were removed and replaced by glass while the usable space beyond the back wall was extended to include a kitchen, library area and bathroom, all exposed to the open air but covered by a roof and maintaining privacy through judicious placement of walls. Upstairs, the two rooms were replaced by a single Japanese-influenced room with closet and attached bathroom.

The periphery of the house is planted with abundant greenery, features a rock garden and is enclosed by walls that partially block off neighbouring homes. Vintage wooden railway sleepers from the now-defunct Singapore-to-Malaysia train line are used to cap a wall fronting the home.

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