We're not joking when we say that stepping into Luqman Abdul Latiff and Amelia Natasha Ramlee's home feels like we are stepping into a part of Raffles Hotel.
With the antique furniture against the pop of greenery and wainscotted walls and ceilings, the four-bedroom BTO flat in Tampines has a colonial feel that envelopes you the moment you enter.
However, the vibe that they were initially going for was simply "hotel" — or rather, "expensive hotel", but on a budget.
By their estimates, their entire renovation and home furnishing cost came up to under $14,000 — an astonishing price for the end result and a fraction of the price of most home renovations these days.
Nailing the look
Shared Luqman on how they decided on the colonial theme for their home: "I had wanted a South Beach hotel type of style with a darker colour tone but my wife felt it was too cold and unwelcoming. So I asked her what kind of design she wanted, and she said she wanted it to look like a hotel, the most expensive hotel."
Raffles Hotel happened to be one of the first images they landed on when they turned to Google for some design inspiration.
Although the couple have never stepped into the heritage hotel at Beach Road, they knew that the colour palette and design of the property was exactly the look they wanted.
The style of Raffles Hotel resonated with them, said Luqman, 32, a real estate agent, as it was "congruent with the pre-war colonial vibe of my grandfather's house and her uncle's place where we grew up".
With the concept in mind, the real work began. That included sourcing for furniture and doing most of the design work and fixtures themselves to save on cost.
What's jaw-dropping is the fact that they managed to achieve the desired look in the living and dining spaces with zero external renovation cost.
"We only engaged an interior designer to do our kitchen as well as toilets, and that cost $11,000, nothing more. For the rest of the house we didn't [outsource] any renovation at all," the couple shared.
Even more impressively, the pair spent just slightly over $2,000 for all their furniture in the house, including their two bedrooms.
That’s right, almost all the furniture in the house were bought second-hand from online marketplaces such as Carousell.
Said Luqman: “We saved a lot on furniture — I think about $40,000 to $50,000. Thanks to Carousell, we spent just above $2,000 on all our furniture.”
"And that's inclusive of the delivery cost," Amelia added.
Luqman was proud that nothing was bought first-hand and added: "Not only does [buying second-hand] help financially, but it's also a green thing to do, rather than throwing it into the garbage and then buying something new, upcycling is one of the ways to do your part in saving the earth."
Being parents to three boys aged four, three and 18 months definitely factored into their frugal mindset.
"At the point in time when we got the keys [in February 2021], I was the sole breadwinner and we just had our third child, so that financial responsibility was always somewhere in my vision."
"I thought spending about $50 to $100 per furniture and restoring them myself wouldn't hinder my financial capacity to provide for my family," said Luqman.
They'd tried looking around retail stores for furniture that fit their concept, but with "most of them going for $3,000 to $4,000 for just one piece alone, I knew I couldn't afford it", said Luqman.
Added Amelia, who currently works as an administrative assistant at a childcare centre: “Because there’s a character that we want to our furniture, and not many places have it at an affordable price.”
The furniture also had to be sturdily built as Luqman didn't want it toppling over the kids if they decided to climb on it.
Another reason for not wanting to spend too much on their first home is because they envision requiring more space as their boys grow up.
"If we are going to spend so much on fittings and renovations and then eventually sell the flat, the new owners might tear it down and that would just be wasteful," reasoned Luqman.
"So I thought if we were to invest our time and money into things that we can bring with us to our next house in the future, then why not?
"These [pieces of] furniture are definitely built to last. I think I can even pass them down to my children if they have the class to appreciate these kinds of things,” Luqman joked.
The couple also went through the additional effort of sanding down the pieces and revarnishing them to get the exact shade of wood that they wanted.
“A lot of hard work and effort was put into the furniture, so that why we really, really love it," said Amelia.
Luqman shared that his "best buy" would have to be a floor lamp that coincidentally came from Raffles Hotel, which they got for $70 from second-hand furniture dealer Hock Siong.
He also snagged a $300 antique chandelier that originally cost $5,000. It now hangs in their dining room that was converted from one of the three bedrooms in the home.
The couple knocked down the walls to the third bedroom so that it extends towards the living area, with large plants and mirrored walls contributing to the feel of a luxurious dining hall.
Their dining room chairs, which cost "less than $20 each", were painstakingly reupholstered by Luqman.
He not only refurbished most of the furniture, but also did all of the installation works, including the intricate medallion from which the chandelier hangs, and the plant wall in the living room area that conceals the bomb shelter.
Also in the living room is a heavy-duty wooden cabinet that doubles up as their TV console. It was a steal from an expatriate who was leaving Singapore and moving out of his Sentosa Cove home.
"The fact that I got it for $120 is a blessing because this thing would have cost $4,000 to $5,000 if it were first-hand."
Pointing to their large coffee table, Luqman proudly stated that "this right here is $50 and it's made of solid teak".
"My three sons can be jumping on this table and I don't mind joining them also, because I know that it won't shake or move, it's that sturdy."
Watching DIY videos on YouTube
The couple described how Amelia, 31, was more of the visionary while Luqman helped to manifest her ideas "and made it better".
And with no prior experience in carpentry work, Luqman learnt all the tricks of the trade from watching YouTube videos.
He shared: "One of the DIY work that I’m most proud of is the wainscotting (decorative wood-strip panelling). At first, we thought it was an impossible task, but after learning from YouTube, I realised that it's actually very doable, it's just quite time-consuming."
Luqman decided to roll up his sleeves and do it himself, after finding out that a professionally-done job would have cost him $800 per wall, and only for single panelling.
And he's proud of the fact that he "didn't make a single mistake on his first try".
The wainscotted walls and large potted plants that adorn the corners of the house are definitely important components that lend themselves well to the theme.
Not to mention the framed-up TV monitor (also second-hand) which looks exactly like a painting while on screensaver mode.
“One of the criteria for achieving the colonial or mid-century concept is having oversized plants. Without it, the look will be [leaning] more towards the Victorian style,” shared Luqman.
Added Amelia: “A lot of people who came to our house [before the wainscotting was done] commented that 'Wah your house is just like Bali, but it was not exactly what we were going for, so we decided to do it.'”
Quipped Luqman: “Whenever we got the compliment that our house looks like a Bali resort, I said thank you, but deep down, I just thought ‘oh no, I failed my wife!’”
For their kids' bedroom, they kept to the neutral colour palette but decided that the colonial theme would be too "mature" and serious for them.
If there was a gripe to be made, it would be how their kitchen is a shade too modern due to the use of laminated surfaces, but both admitted that it's a minor shortcoming.
At the end of the day, shared Amelia: "Our main focus is that we want guests to feel comfortable when they come in, and that the house is cosy and warm, that's what we want."
Their home renovation experience has ignited Luqman's passion for carpentry work that he now even accepts small reupholstering and refurbishing projects from neighbours.
"To be honest, this is something that I really enjoy doing. I would do it for free in fact,” said Luqman. But it's still strictly a hobby for now, as "real estate still pays the bills".
Unsurprisingly, with Luqman's interest and perfectionistic tendencies, he still considers their home to be a "work in progress".
“I was just telling my wife that if we already sold our place and tomorrow is the handover, I’d still be trying to do something to improve the house."