Strong point of view

PHOTO: Strong point of view

IT is a long ride up in the lift to Norman Ho's home, and apart from the promise of a bird's eye view, you wonder how the 33rd storey penthouse will look.

The lift door opens, and instantly you see that the interior designer has paid close attention to details, even in the private lift lobby.

The walls are clad in dark timber panels, and Mr Ho, a partner at a law firm says: "You can't even tell there is a shoe cabinet here."

His penthouse at River Valley was designed by Terence Chan of design studio Terre, who had designed Mr Ho's previous home.

Even the main door has a designer touch. Mr Chan removed the wooden door that came with the apartment and replaced it with one made of tinted sandblasted grey glass and crystal clear glass with stainless steel mesh in between. He also specially designed the door handles, and instead of keys, a wedge placed over the handles keeps the doors locked.

"I trust Terence fully, and left the design to him," says Mr Ho. Even the choice and layout of the furniture were left to Mr Chan. "Sometimes I would shift the chairs in a certain way, and Terence would shift them in another way, which looked better," says Mr Ho.

There are more of those timber panels on the walls of the living room. Together with the Minotti sofa and Digamma armchairs which are in different shades of grey, and an olive green leather Christian Liaigre loveseat, the apartment has a masculine look.

Mr Ho says he entertains twice a month, so having a large enough space to accommodate guests is important. The walls of a bedroom were knocked down so that he could have a larger dining area. He holds buffets for his church friends. "But for clients, it is usually sit down dinners," he says. Friends make themselves comfortable on dining chairs from Poltronau Frau around a bespoke table that Mr Chan designed.

A corridor between the living and dining areas leads to the more private areas of the apartment.

There is a family area here, and three more bedrooms. The apartment came with five bedrooms, but Mr Ho didn't see the need for so many rooms. His previous home was a three-storey bungalow, and having grown up in large spaces, he says: "I bought this apartment even though there is more than enough room for one person."

Mr Ho says that he enjoys the security that comes with living in a penthouse, and it is easier to maintain, compared to a landed home.

Two bedrooms have been turned into guest rooms. A third bedroom has been converted into Mr Ho's study, which is now part of his bedroom.

The bedroom, like the rest of the apartment, has a masculine feel. Reddish brown timber panelling line a wall, which provides contrast to the silver, textured wallpaper on the opposite side.

To give the room a clean look, light switches are neatly hidden under the bedside tables. "I discovered these light switches by accident," says Mr Ho. Of course, main light switches that are on the walls are clearly labelled, so there is no guesswork.

The bathroom originally came with beige marble tiles which Mr Chan replaced with stone tiles, which complement the dark timber bathroom cabinets. Instead of a white bathtub, Mr Chan built another made of stone. The look of the bathroom can rival that at any five-star resort.

"Terence is a stickler for details, which I appreciate," says Mr Ho. Mr Chan's eye for detail extends even into the choice of accessories. For example, in the study, Mr Chan selected a light with a single bulb, which he installed by the side of the room. "The light is bright enough when I work on my computer at night, but placing it at the side, means that I don't see the reflection of the light on my computer screen," says Mr Ho.

Over in the dining room, Mr Chan selected a Yamagiwa Taliesin 2 floor lamp by Frank Lloyd Wright to be placed in the corner. "The room would look dull otherwise," says Mr Ho.

And instead of typically displaying a painting on the dining room wall, Mr Chan opted to install a Sturm und Drang mirror by Piero Lissoni that comes with a Murano glass frame. Mr Ho says there was not anything that Mr Chan did which he didn't like. "He is a thoughtful designer and gives me pleasant surprises," says Mr Ho. He cites the example of how Mr Chan designed an alcove hidden away from the dining room for the coffee machine.

"I would have wanted this at the dining area, but by hiding it away, it looks so much neater," says Mr Ho.

Mr Ho's input comes from the different display items that are around his home. He travels once a year for holidays, and rather than buy numerous souvenirs, "I buy only one item to remember the trip," he says.

The items are showcased on specially built shelves and consoles. In the dining room, there is a clock that Mr Ho bought from Paris. There are small Greek helmets from Athens on another shelf.

Other items that Mr Ho has hand carried or shipped home include bronze bells from Thailand, an antique typewriter from London, wooden print blocks from Beijing, and a Chinese screen from Guangzhou.

"I bring back pieces that are classic, and depict the place," says Mr Ho, who trawls the local markets for his items.

There are also plenty of artworks around the home, such as two black and white photographs by Rodney Smith from Fost Gallery and two Tintin lithographs by Ole Ahlberg.

Friends and clients who have visited the home are so impressed with the interior design that they have often asked to be introduced to Mr Chan. In fact, there is a stack of Mr Chan's business cards in the apartment which Mr Ho gladly hands out.

After living here for five months, Mr Ho has yet to find a favourite spot in the home, because "I am seldom home", he says. But there is always one thing that he does, when he comes home. He heads out to the vertical green wall at his balcony, which overlooks Orchard Road and the Istana, to contemplate the day's events.

There is another balcony in his bedroom, which looks out onto Raffles Place. Apart from the apartment's central location and the layout of the rooms, the balconies also enticed Mr Ho to purchase this unit.

"Having the balconies is like living in a house," he says. "I spend many hours in the office, so it is lovely to come back home and be able to enjoy the outdoors."