'HDB asked if we are doing something illegal': This couple knocked down the walls in their Yishun flat to create a rustic, open-concept space

Liew Kok Fong and Ong Cai Yi have been living in their Yishun flat for nearly seven years — and it shows.

From the wine stains on their raw wood dining table to the sentimental knick knacks on their shelves, this couple's open-concept space screams lived-in, but that's just how they like it.

A home that ages

The first thing that strikes us when we meet Kok Fong, 38, and Cai Yi, 37, in their home is how different it looks from the photos of it we've seen.

Just four years ago, it was the epitome of minimalist Japandi chic. Now, they've accumulated an entire 'green corridor' of plants, a couple more chairs to lounge in, and the space reminds us more of a tranquil garden.

With all the flora, they even attract bugs, bees and the occasional hummingbird, says Kok Fong, who runs his own architecture firm, Studio Super Safari.

PHOTO: AsiaOne

The couple, both trained in architecture, explains that their vision was to create a homely, practical space that would grow along with them.

"The house will change every year because we add in plants, and we add in our buys along the way," says Kok Fong.

PHOTO: AsiaOne

Drawing our attention to the plywood shelves lining their dining space and their impressive three-metre-long table, he adds, "These are all very raw wood and we do not treat or finish them. They are meant to be aged along the years."

Space over rooms

To turn their dream home into reality, the couple had to make some big changes to their five-room BTO flat.

With just the two of them occupying the flat, they really only needed one bedroom, says Kok Fong.

And so, they knocked down nearly all of their internal walls to create three open-concept spaces tailored to their lives: a dining room that doubles as their workspace, an entertainment room perfect for hosting their friends and family, and a master bedroom which they call their sanctuary.

Their remodelling was so extensive that it even earned them a call from a HDB officer, Kok Fong tells us.

"They asked me why I'm hacking (down) every wall and if we are going to do something illegal!"

Fortunately, the officer was amused by his explanation that they "love space more than rooms" and they were able to obtain the required permits.

No sofa? No problem

Besides their outdoorsy dining room, the couple's living room and bedroom are filled with unique design choices.

For instance, they don't have a sofa.

Gesturing at their rubberwood platform floor which spans their living room and bedroom and functions as extra storage space, Kok Fong declares, "The whole area is actually a sofa, because everyone can sit everywhere."

Before the pandemic hit, they comfortably hosted groups as large as 25, Cai Yi says.

Six collapsible tables are situated right in the middle of the room — perfect for game and karaoke nights — but easily stowed away when Cai Yi wants to use the room for yoga with her friends.

PHOTO: Kok Fong and Cai Yi 

All in all, their home renovation cost them around $80,000 and they didn't have to pay a design fee. Kok Feng quips, "There's no design fee because we are the designers."

Their only regret? Not installing an air conditioner in their dining room.

As Kok Fong puts it, "This is where we share experiences, share stories over a long table with the greenery behind, and with the wind across. But sometimes it gets hot lah!"

kimberlylim@asiaone.com