Instant affinity

PHOTO: Instant affinity

When French expatriate couple Herve and Laetitia Barthe stepped into this terrace house at Serangoon Gardens, they knew instantly that it would be their home in Singapore for the next two years.

"This is the only house that had soul. We visited over 20 houses and while they looked good, there was nothing spectacular about them. We came to this house and felt it had something," says Mr Barthe, a flight instructor and deputy head of training at ATR Singapore Training Centre.

Instant affinity
Click on thumbnails to view (Photos: BT)

The two-storey terrace home, originally built in 1955, was sold to an investor two-and-a-half years ago.

The investor hired Creative Mind Design to handle the renovation, from the design, budget, and to the architect and contractor selection.

"The brief was that it had to be a unique home, and that it had to be suitable for leasing," says Constance Tew, director of Creative Mind Design, who did the interiors.

She roped in architect Chin Kean Kok, design director at Envelope Architects, for the job.

Ms Tew approached property agents who said that homes in this area would be popular with expatriates.

"A home with three bedrooms, a guest room, and a helper's room would be what most tenants are looking for," says Ms Tew.

The 57-year-old house was still in good condition when renovations on the home began about 18 months ago.

"The house looked like a cottage and it would be a pity to tear it down. I decided to retain the original architecture, even though it would cost less to tear it down and rebuild a new house," says Mr Chin.

Apart from the facade, little details in the home were also kept in its original condition, such as the pink mosaic-tiled staircase. "It is difficult to find new mosaic tiles so we felt it was best to keep the original ones," says Ms Tew.

The house's metal gates were given a fresh coat of paint, and Mr Chin converted them from swing gates into sliding ones.

The home's back gate was also kept, and is now a front side gate to the home.

Even the window grilles which have floral motifs were given new life.

They were removed from the window frames and given fresh coats of black paint.

Mr Chin then used them on the perimeters of the newly constructed balcony.

Compared with other landed homes, terrace houses tend to have dark interiors as there are no windows on the side of the house.

Mr Chin had to find new ways to introduce light.

At the front of the house, he created a study with a round skylight, so that the room is naturally bright.

The paint on the walls of this study were stripped away to reveal the original bricks.

There is also a small courtyard which opens up to the sky, between the dining area and the kitchen, brightening these two areas.

The original kitchen was turned into a guest room, while a new kitchen was constructed as part of the new extension built at the rear of the house.

Other ways that Mr Chin introduced light into the home included installing large windows and full height glass doors around the home.

"The house feels bright, and we still get our privacy, and the windows look into the home," says Mr Barthe. "We didn't like that some houses were built so close to each other, I could almost shake the neighbour's hand."

On the second storey, a bedroom has been turned into a family area which leads to the balcony and a small garden on the right.

The top of the skylight is also in this garden.

Ms Tew made the skylight round, "so that it can double as a table and the family can sit out here for drinks", she says.

In the front of the house, the false ceilings were removed to expose the original timber beams, which were sanded down and given a new coat of paint.

The first bedroom, which belongs to the Barthes' daughter Marylou, looks out onto the garden.

A new ensuite bathroom was also added in.

The second bedroom belongs to the other daughter, Emma, and this looks out onto the courtyard on the first floor.

In the rear extension is the couple's bedroom, which comes with its own wardrobe area, one side of which is not a solid wall, but constructed out of frosted glass cubes. "Some light goes through the glass, so this wardrobe area is naturally lit," says Mr Chin.

Ms Tew initially planned for the couple's room to be at the front of the house, but did away with the idea as "guests would have to walk through the bedroom to get to the garden, and the garden can only be enjoyed by two people", she says.

With this new arrangement of a family area leading to the balcony and garden, everyone can enjoy that outdoor space, which is greatly treasured.

The Barthes used to live in the Caribbean.

"We built our own home, that had no walls, so everything was very open. Laetitia would spend most of the time outdoors," says Mr Barthe.

"Moving here, we had to get used to spending more time inside the house than outdoors."

While most of the home came furnished, one of the first pieces of furniture the family bought after moving in was an outdoor table and matching chairs, so that they could spend more time outside.

The family, including their two daughters, moved in about three weeks ago with their suitcases, two cats, and nothing else.

Even without much of their personal items, the family already feels at home. "Rather than us adopting the house, the house adopted us," says Mr Barthe.

He is, however, eyeing some of paintings and hopes to be able to take them with him when they leave.