Breathing new life into old homes

PHOTO: Breathing new life into old homes

MARRIED couple Patrick and Jacintha Tan have an unusual hobby. They like to buy old homes, give them a makeover, live in them for a few years, before moving to another place. Over the past decade, the couple have moved five times.

Perhaps their interest in homes and decor stems partly from their careers - conveyancing lawyer Mrs Tan often deals with properties in her work, while Mr Tan is vice-president of architecture at CPG Consultants.

"We enjoy looking at old houses or apartments and seeing how we can transform them," he says. Their home for the last two years is a two-and-a-half storey terrace house in Upper Thomson that Mr Tan had redesigned. Though the house is 50 years old, it looks almost brand new, as most of the home except its original structure was torn down and rebuilt.

Terrace houses tend to be dark and dingy since they don't have windows on either side. The Tans' home, however, has a cosy, tropical resort feel about it.

Mr Tan designed a skylight at the courtyard to allow natural light to fill the home. Large windows by the living room and in the dining room also let in light. The result is living spaces that can do without artificial light during the day, allowing electricity bills to be cut down.

Being nature lovers, the couple incorporated sustainable features into their home.

The large windows on the ground floor not only let in light, but are often left open to let natural breeze flow through.

Even in the four bedrooms upstairs, there is plenty of cross ventilation so the rooms do not feel warm and stuffy even on hot afternoons.

Specially placed windows, such as in the couple's bathroom, and at the kids' library and play area in the attic mean that these areas are naturally lit. The couple have three daughters, Shayna, 11, Alayna, eight and Leanna, five.

The terrace house did not have much space for landscaping, so Mr Tan found a way to bring the outdoors into the home. The courtyard has a green wall adorned with plants such as ferns and flame violets, which grow well under partial shade.

"Having trees, plants and shrubs in the home can increase indoor air quality. And better air quality equates to a healthier body," says Mr Tan.

Creepers were planted in the attic, which not only provide a dash of green to the area, "but also serve as a safety barrier", says Mr Tan.

The greenery has attracted crickets, butterflies and humming-birds to the home. "It's exciting for the children to be able to see them," says Mr Tan.

Rather than buy new timber to construct the home, Mr Tan bought recycled wood instead. He had chanced upon a contractor who was about to get rid of the chengai wood from Chung Cheng High School, which had undergone a renovation.

After salvaging and treating the wood, Mr Tan found new uses for it, such as the construction of the timber floor. He also fashioned the timber into screens for the bedroom and the front gate, the staircase and even the couple's bed frame. Mrs Tan, too, found a new use for some of the timber pieces that were chopped off - she glued them together to form the base of a lamp. The table lamp now stands proudly in her bedroom.

Mr Tan says that treated recycled wood costs as much as new wood but "it has more character". The family's eco-living extends to its choice of furnishings, too. An artwork and several stools in the living room are made from rolled-up recycled magazines.

Even though the family do not live in one house for long, they have managed to turn the space into a home.

An avid photographer, Mr Tan framed up many family pictures. And in the attic, there is a row of sketches of wildlife done by him as well. "I used my daughter's coloured pencils to draw these sketches."

Though each home takes months to rebuild, Mr Tan doesn't feel it is a waste of his efforts when they move. "It is my passion to rebuild houses," he says.

The downside is that the family has accumulated more belongings over the years, making each move more of a chore.

The couple are planning to look for a new home, possibly in the Bukit Timah area, to be close to the girls' schools.

While some may feel deeply attached to their home, the same can't be said for the Tans. "After moving for the second time, there is no more attachment," says Mr Tan.

"The family knows they will just have to get used to moving," echoes Mrs Tan.