One cannot be faulted for being momentarily confused upon stepping into Ann and James’s home. It simply doesn’t feel like it’s located in Singapore. I notice many things at the corner of my eyes―a mint green fridge, tools and kitschy cups hanging above the kitchen counter in neat rows, a naked bulb chandelier peeping above the inviting stairs up, cats slinking in and out of corners―but am irresistibly drawn to the gorgeous open balcony beyond, which spills sunlight in a huge wave over the living room. It takes me a while to take everything in.
Ann and James wait patiently for me to stop gawking while Dasher, their exuberant 4-year-old terrier, completes his enthusiastic sniffing assessment of me.
Standing by the door offers a great vantage viewpoint. There is a little sitting nook carved into the small wall on my left, meant for one to wear their shoes comfortably. Just beyond this wall is where their guinea pigs’ home take centre stage in a large cage perched on a wooden pallet. Ann’s bicycle adds a touch of calm blue and wood, blending with all the pastel colour accents throughout the house.
A family that is larger than most dwells here: Ann, a “pretty ordinary person who’s crazy about animals and loves beautifully designed things”, James, who slaves away in a bank and “loves exploring new things, places, food, countries and experiences”, and a total of 8 other furry members: Dasher the dog, Eet, Mathy and Caellum the cats, Meatball and Mac Jr. the guinea pics, and Effie and Appie the gerbils. Most of these animals were either rescued from the streets or adopted from animal shelters.
There is, therefore, no lack of activity in the home, but in the quietest way possible: in the form of cuddles, soft leaps and the clicking of Dasher’s paws sprinting across intertwined with mellow music playing from the living room.
Swedish and Scandinavian design are obvious major influences here, not just in terms of aesthetics but functional value. A clean light palette is supplemented by furniture and adornments that are well-designed, simple, yet all with a touch of quirky and whimsy. Each has its role to play, and there is no excessive clashing of design elements.
Microwave oven in-built into the kitchen island / Laundry and ironing corner
Leading up to the living and balcony area is a corridor flanked by shelves built into the wall carrying pockets of books, travel mementos, and vintage cameras. A cheerful string of mini flags adorns the top, as if announcing the happy presence of these displayed knick knacks. And there is the living room corner―a place so cosy there is no wonder Ann is a self-professed “full-fledge homebody” while James recharges by “lazing around at home, watching our[sic] furry family play with each other and enjoying the silly situations that they get themselves into”.
With the balcony doors open, the place is not just full of light but also has a lovely afternoon breeze.
I marvel at how neat and well-maintained the house is, despite the couple having lived here for around two years. James attributes the lack of clutter to the good space-planning skills of interior design firm Artistroom, in creating storage spaces that keep their home looking clean and new. (An extra tip from him: “Get a robotic vacuum cleaner if you have the budget for one because they work wonders!”)
More than just space-planning, Artistroom was chosen after meeting over 10 interior designers, because they could understand what the couple had in mind.
“A lot of interior designers we met were very used to typical interior styles, like 'Modern', 'Resort', or 'Zen', and didn’t quite understand what I was going for,” Ann explains. “I also really liked that the small team at Artistroom work together on every project, and that they were willing to listen and accommodate my many changes throughout the process.”
This was despite her having new design ideas and changing her mind through the three-month-long renovation process. Instead of turning her down, Artistroom gave “very good suggestions and valuable input that helped me keep things beautiful but also practical”.
The involvement of the team extended to even furniture shopping trips. Even if they were not physically present, they could always be relied on to give feedback.
“All we had to do was take pictures of whatever we were thinking of getting, send it to them, and they’d respond almost immediately to share their thoughts with us,” James relates. “Their responsiveness was something we really appreciated and valued.”
It was also a wise and conscious decision to keep built-in furniture to a minimum. With inspiration striking Ann at unexpected moments, there would be flexibility and space to incorporate different decorations within a uniform style.
For example, the second floor of their maisonette employs much deeper woody tones, keeping to the original flooring the flat came with.
Accents are then kept to white to temper it down, as seen in these windows which were fitted into the wall enclosing the staircase to introduce openness and more light. Their combined love for craft, travel and animals remain apparent in their bedroom, which incorporates a small hangout area with a sofa, gerbil cage, and a table that, with the potted plants hanging above, could very well be looking out to a summer garden.
With their furniture from various different places including vintage stores, each piece carries differing features and its own story. Perhaps it is the element of fun in the industrial-style glass cabinet, or the wood grains in the TV console and bookshelf, or even the exact shade of mint or zigzag pattern of the chair cushion that encaptured the couple to include it in their house―and as a result, creates a house that is cosy and deeply personal; a sanctuary of their combined tastes and dreams.
Their advice to homeowners? Save, but not scrimp. Even though comments from relatives and friends brought about doubts regarding their expenditure and budget, the couple decided not to sacrifice certain ideas to reduce their budget.
“While it’s important to spend within your means, it’s also very important to have a home that you feel happy in because that’s where you’d want to spend most of your time, especially after a long day out,” Ann says.
“Ultimately, there’s not much point in scrimping and saving on renovation, just to end up with a house that you’re not entirely satisfied with.”
Who: Ann & James + a big furry family of 8
What: Maisonette at Yishun
Renovation cost: S$90,000
Interior Designer: Artistroom
Inspiration: http://bo-laget.se/oversikt.php (design), AIR and Room of Woods (furniture)
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Photos by Xiangyun Lim (Alexa)