Downsizing from a three-storey house to an apartment was a big change for Dr Tyrone Goh and his wife, mainly because they had to do away with their five ponds.
Their two grown-up daughters had moved out and their terrace house was too big for the couple.
But when they moved into their three-room condominium unit near Old Airport Road about 18 months ago, they wanted a piece of their old house to come along.
So Dr Goh hired Water Concepts & Consultancy, a specialist contractor for water features, to build him an $8,000 timber-decked patio in the 125 sq ft balcony of their apartment.
The spruced-up space incorporates a metre-long koi pond and a water-spouting Balinese figurine from his old house. He also added LED lights, a filtration system and sparkly granite tiles to jazz up the area.
Dr Goh, who is executive director of National Healthcare Group Diagnostics, 63, says: "I wanted to reproduce the soothing sound of running water and have something nice to look at. I'm always out here when I come home, whether it's to read or have a drink."
Landscape companies and interior designers here say there are many home owners like Dr Goh, who spare no expense to work elements of nature into increasingly smaller homes.
Water Concepts & Consultancy in Hong Kong Street, a specialist landscape company that has been building water features for homes for the past decade, has seen demand from non-landed property home owners jump. The number of water-feature projects it has undertaken for apartment owners has jumped from about 20 in 2011 to more than 80 last year. This year, it has already completed more than 100 water features in flats.
Companies in Singapore that sell these water features, such as Fukai Environmental, which has stores in Changi Business Park and Woodlands East Industrial Estate, as well as Joaquim Garden in Telok Blangah Road, say prices range from $500 for a basic feature that comes with a small tank, water pump and minimal decorations to $15,000 for timber decking, a larger water tank and a more specialised filtration system for features with fishes.
With landed homes which are more spacious, prices can go higher. Mr Kenneth Chee, director of Joaquim Garden, says he installed a $50,000 water feature in a semi-detached house in Serangoon Gardens which came with an 8m-long koi pond, artificial and natural rocks, as well as an extensive filtration system.
Water features these days are a far cry from their dated-looking plug-and-use predecessors, which are mass produced and small enough to fit on a study table.
Instead, fancier options can now be customised to length and come with small pools, LED mood lighting, natural stones and mini cascading waterfalls.
To enhance the beach resort feel, many also opt for timber decking that surrounds the water features. These water features, which range in lengths from 0.5 to 2m, depending on the space available, are usually installed in balconies or living rooms.
Ms Anita Lim, marketing manager of Water Concepts & Consultancy, says some apartments, such as those in the Design, Build and Sell Scheme projects, are built with balconies almost as big as the living rooms, thus giving flat dwellers more room to play with water-feature options.
"It's not just a balcony anymore. Rather than just have a space with empty planter boxes and floor tiles, flat owners don't mind spending money to beautify the place with a small pond, even if it doesn't come with fish," she says.
Ms Celeste Loo, manager of Tai Kwang Garden in Farmart in Sungei Tengah Road, says buyers' tastes have also changed over the years.
While many still buy water-feature sets for fengshui reasons, they no longer want the typical "rolling ball or water trickling over a mountain" type of fountain. Instead, they prefer sleeker set- ups.
Ms Loo, whose company specialises in water features and landscaping, says: "Traditional-looking water features don't appeal to the younger crowd, who have homes with modern interiors. They want their water features to match those."
And while people used to buy water features off the shelf, they now look for flexible designs that work like Lego pieces, instead of ready-made ones that cannot be changed.
"They can mix and match everything and decide, for instance, if they want the water to flow down from pots or from a simple spout in the centre. There are also options for natural rocks or artificial ones made from fibreglass. There are so many ways to decorate water features now."
Mr Lim Jun Beng, a procurement assistant who bought a $500 water feature for his four-room HDB flat last year, appreciates the modern designs.
The 28-year-old says of his 1m-long set, which comes with a water fountain spouting from the middle: "I didn't want one that was too plain or had Chinese characters on it. For me, it has to look modern and be easy to maintain."
Indeed, part of the draw of these water features is that they are easy to set up and maintain.
You have to top up the water only once every few months and drop in some chlorine tablets to keep the water clean and prevent mosquitoes from breeding. Pools with fishes require a more complex water filtration system to remove dirt and keep the water flowing.
But interior designer Tay Lee Lee from Multi Attributes advises home owners to plan how they want their water feature to look and sound.
Ms Tay, who is in her 40s, says: "Sometimes, the sound of running water in the living room may be too loud and distract from the television. So people turn it off most of the time, which makes it pointless to have a water feature."
Water features can make good gifts too.
Ms Nur Atiqah Abd Rahim, 25, and her husband gave one to her parents, whom she lives with in a four-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang. It has three marble bowls at different heights, with water pouring down from the top one.
She added pops of colour to the earth-toned water feature with plants and orchids.
Ms Atiqah, who bought the $950 set in time for Hari Raya a few weeks ago, says: "The water feature is a pretty addition to the hallway. If not, it would just be an empty space, which is boring with just a plant."
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