The Armadillo House

PHOTO: The Armadillo House

OFTEN the best rooms in a home are on the upper floors, and the basement is usually the least desirable area. But not in this house. In fact, the owners of this corner-terrace home along Farrer Road live in the basement, and they are surprisingly pleased with the space. Oddly enough, their helper's room is on the top most floor.

The Armadillo House
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: BT)

Unlike the typical basement which conjurs up images of a dark, dingy and windowless space, this family's basement is bright and airy.

"Sometimes, it gets too bright for us," says anaesthetist Lo Wai Kit, who lives with her doctor husband, CT Ling, and their two children.

The basement is where the couple's bedroom and the main living area is. Their architect, Alan Tay of Formwerkz, designed the home this way for a reason.

The house is located next to a main road and a flyover, and the traffic din can be overwhelming. To make things worse, one side of the house faces west, which gets the hot afternoon sun.

Mr Tay proposed for the living room and bedroom to be in the basement, which "are the quietest and coolest parts of the house".

Some owners would be uncomfortable with the idea of living in the basement, but not this couple. "We trust Alan on this," says Dr Ling, a general practitioner.

To block out noise and direct sunlight, Mr Tay designed three walls which wrap the western facade of the home. These terracotta walls are visible only from the upper floors of the home.

The walls must work because the traffic noise is muffled in the basement. The basement has rows of windows, so the area is still bright but not hot as the sun's rays are partially blocked by external party walls.

When he bought the house, Dr Ling began researching ways to deal with noise and the afternoon sun, such as constantly keeping the house cool.

Dr Lo, an avid gardener, was also worried that as the land was not big, she would have to forgo having a garden. Thankfully, that was not a problem.

Running along the side of the basement is a garden, filled with ferns, and other shade loving plants. "At night when the garden is lit, it looks mysterious, and friends joke that the home looks like it is in Jurassic Park," says Dr Lo.

From her orange armchair, Dr Lo catches up on her reading while enjoying the greens. It is no wonder that she says that this is her favourite place in the home.

A ledge separates the living space and the garden, and this ledge has become the ideal spot for Dr Lo to display her collection of knick knacks, such as a celedon lamp that she bought in Thailand, "because I like the colour", and two colourful bowls and a plate which Dr Lo made when she took pottery lessons.

Dr Ling's favourite spot is his bathroom, located at the far end of the basement. Here, in a corner by the tub, is a spot with a skylight above which is also ideal to grow plants. A dracena tree grows here. "I feel like I'm in an outdoor shower, but yet I am actually bathing next to the road in a 4m deep pit," says Dr Ling.

Upstairs, the main door leads directly to the dining room which has windows all around, giving the area an airy feel. "The family can look outside, but outsiders cannot look in," says Mr Tay. There is also a dry kitchen here, with a long countertop that allows Dr Lo to pursue her other hobby, baking.

There are two ensuite bedrooms on another floor for the two children, along with a family area. As Dr Ling has a keen interest in sustainable living, Mr Tay designed the home to be an eco-friendly one.

Rather than have timber flooring, bamboo, a renewable source was used instead. The interiors are mostly in light wood shades and white. "They help to reflect light, cutting down the need to use lamps," says Mr Tay.

The staircase leading to the upper floors is minimal - the steps are made of bamboo and instead of heavy handles, one side of the stairs is lined with stainless steel cables. "Making the stairs lightweight allow for better air flow in the home," says Mr Tay.

While the basement is cool, the upper floors tend to get warmer, as hot air rises. To help encourage air circulation, a fan on the roof sucks out the hot air.

On the outside, the terracotta walls offers good heat and sound insulation. Their unusual appearance, best seen from the flyover, has earned the home, its nickname, The Armadillo House.

Dr Lo was initially upset with her husband for buying this house. "It is so near the road, and the old house was so dark," she said. The family had been living in Upper Bukit Timah before moving.

But as they say, a happy wife is a happy life. Dr Lo now raves about the house, its central location and the many amenities that are nearby.

taysc@sph.com.sg