House Tour: Salina's Cosy, Family-Inspired, and Budget-Friendly Home

With a renovation budget of $4,000, Ina was able to fashion a charming home out of her three-room BTO flat in Yishun.

Updated on June 21, 2017 21:06 pm

Samantha Echavez

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"Humor and laughter," Salina Samsu, or Ina, begins. "These are important in my home." On weekdays, she lives alone, but on weekends, her family troops to her three-room BTO flat in Yishun and fills the space with animated talk, music, and laughter. Ina, a vice principal, devoted mother, loving girlfriend, daughter, and granddaughter, lives for weekends when she prepares hot Milo for everyone, turns her dining area into a conversation enclave, kopitiam style, and marvels at the comfort her home brings. Her home is like a sanctuary, a weekend hideaway, as bright and welcoming as a sunny day.

Her home is "simple but special," and it is true: the home has that charming simplicity derived from the absence of multiple overwhelming decorative pieces and bulky furniture items. Each space was carefully designed and decorated—by her, no less—with her family in mind. A wall by the entrance gets filled with black and white photographs of her family, including this particularly poignant photocopy of her grandfather's old ComfortDelGro taxi identification card: "Why did I put this instead of his picture? I remember him fetching me from primary school every day without fail. I remember that precious memory," she recalls.


There's a chalkboard of doodles made by her cousins ("I don't want to erase the [doodles]; I want them to last forever because it's full of memories"), a wall decal featuring her face and her daughter's, a bottle filled with love notes from her boyfriend that's placed by her bed. Vintage posters reminding everyone to be kind and love chocolate. A picture of her sexy cat, Abang. A home anchored on humour and laughter, indeed.

This is Ina's second home, made more special because she bought it and designed it all by herself. "With my first home, I still had a contractor. That was when I was still married. I had to apply for a renovation loan—it cost me about $11,500. I realised that even if it cost a bomb, it felt like they were minor renovations. Excluding the furniture and furnishings, it was just hacking the walls, painting, installing the kitchen cabinets, and tiling," Ina recalls. "This time around as a single parent, maybe I've grown to be independent. I liked that this was a BTO flat because everything's here. To apply for a renovation loan is quite a burden for me, so I didn't go for it."

It was a challenge, the most welcome one, for Ina to be in charge of the design process...and to do it on a budget. "When I first stepped in, I asked myself, 'What am I going to do first? Which can be done? How can I do it?'"

Decorating the home was a slow but sure process. The first thing she bought for her home was the bright yellow sofa for the living room. Each month saw the purchasing of a major item or the completion of a DIY project, and almost over a year after collecting the keys in July 2014, the home looks as it is now: a mix of vintage and industrial, contrasting colours and DIY creations, and in her own words, a "simple yet nice and special" home completed within her budget of less than $4,000.

Check out the rest of her house below:

"The first I did was this faux wall in the dining area. This was my first DIY project in this home. The 'in' thing right now is industrial, so I asked myself, 'Why not I make a faux wall myself?' I Googled it up, and it said I have to mix cement with paint. I just bought $20 paint and few dollars worth of cement, and I mixed them together. I used a paint scraper, and then I used cloth to create different kinds of texture. I also asked my mom to help me, so it was our 'work'. It took only one day to finish it."

The next thing Ina did was concentrate on getting furniture for the dining area: "I found this wooden butterfly table from Courts for below $200. This table could be folded into half, and came with those stools. My space is so small, so I need my furniture to be space-saving. Soon, I realised I was short of two chairs, so I went to Ikea, and because red is my favourite colour, I bought these chairs which contrasted with the wall." Also seen in the dining area is the chalkboard with scribbles like "Samsu Family" on it.

Bright colours—the yellow sofa and the tiffany blue TV console—enliven the living room, which is primarily covered in muted tones. The brick-like strips framing the window were another DIY project of Ina's: "I used masking tape, then cement. I made it in two days, because you have to wait for it to dry, then peel off the tape, and the flakes and specks would be on the floor so you have to clean it." Frames displaying Muslim prayers, vintage-type posters, and old Singapore notes adorn her wall.

The clock, about $30, was from an e-store selling Victorian items on Carousell, and the posters of quotes, with prices starting from $8, were purchased from a store in Bishan. "I like quotes so I bought those. I believe so much in family, love, light, and being positive. It's me. It's about love and life," Ina declares.

"This is a portrait of myself and my daughter. I wanted something different, because I have too many frames. I asked my best friend to do it. And for $150, I think he did a good job."

"This is my daughter's bedroom. She decorated it, chose the frames, and painted the wall herself. She told me I could not interfere with anything," Ina laughs. She also created a nook—a simple affair of two cushions, rug, and mini lamp—inside the bedroom. "They sit down here and chat, and have their privacy. It looks quite nice if the lamp light is on," she adds.


Even Ina's bedroom is understatedly elegant with a touch of whimsy. The turquoise bed ( "I bought this secondhand sofa bed, which was $140, from my neighbour.") shines in this predominantly white bedroom. Knick knacks reside on the nightstands: yellow clock, photo frame, a prayer book, the bottle filled with love notes handwritten by her boyfriend. "Before my boyfriend went away for a month, I asked him to write notes for me so I wouldn't miss him," Ina recounts with a smile.

The bathroom, a portion of which Ina had painted black on and added cutesy posters for a humorous touch

Ina renovated the kitchen right before this year's Hari Raya. "We went to Ikea and had this installed. I chose this vintage design. It cost me less than $1,200. The sink and cooker, I bought these separately."


Ina formed the words "Lapar," which means hungry, and displayed it right above the "food station" stocked with cookies, pastries, and chocolates.

Needless to say, Ina is very proud of designing and furnishing her BTO (bought at $170,000, with tiles, floorings, and doors). "I'm quite happy with what I have done. Everything is almost DIY, and I think it's quite an achievement," says Ina. "It's cheap, but it's well designed. And I did it alone without any design experience." Ina confesses that she loves looking at her house because she's just happy how her home turned out to be.

But more than achieving her dream style for her flat, what Ina truly appreciates—and keeps repeating in this interview for emphasis—is having this home as a sacred space for family gatherings. Her dining area, in particular, is the seat of this joy. Here, she gathers her family members and even her boyfriend's parents, and "I serve breakfast like in a coffee shop, where I serve toast, soft boiled eggs, hot Milo. It really feels and looks like a coffee shop. This area is pretty important to me," she says. This kind of cosiness—inciting feelings of belongingness, of old-school kopitiam comfort, of warm family love—is like a gift to the people she loves.

Renovation Details

Budget: About $4,000 ("Definitely not more than $4,000")
Time to complete works: Completed almost in a year ("I started August 2014, then each month I would buy one item or complete one project all by myself, and my boyfriend would help me do the drills or install them.")
Type of home: BTO
Total space: 67 square metres
Contractor: None

Ina's tips for homeowners about to renovate:

  • Find out more about home design and learn more about your own style. "You get ideas from other people. I get ideas then I improvise. If you are going to hire a designer or contractor, they might influence you with their ideas and then it's no longer your idea."
  • Be practical—banish clutter. "I don't like clutter; that's why I forbid people from giving me things. I'm quite practical, I don't buy things that I don't use. I'm also scared of lizards and cockroaches, so I don't keep a lot of cupboards and other hidden storage."

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Photos by Samantha Echavez

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