Octavia and Donny’s house is fun; the kind that begs for a tour. A cafe-esque welcome sits comfortably beside showroom quirkiness, whilst sleek Scandinavian touches peep out from the kitchen. The long corridor leading to their rooms is lined by framed black and white photographs leaning light against the wall, hinting at intrigue beyond the doors.
Their apartment is not a shy one: sofas a bright trio, shapes chosen for boldness, lamp a large spotlight eye. Yet these elements are so tastefully celebrated that you don’t feel overwhelmed―just happy. Such a harmoniously eccentric combination of influences is the result of the couple’s strong DIY spirit, something they hold a deep quiet pride in.
Clear on what they wanted for their apartment, they worked directly with a contractor for their house. Perhaps the favourite result of taking charge of the process was carving out a space where both of them could create together as one, Octavia says. “I think it’s pretty amazing how we integrated our passions, and we really enjoyed the process.”
Here’s what we learned from them on the perks of D-I-Ying your house:
1. You know that it can save costs and be fun, but you may not know how it turns out―in a good way.
“It's almost impossible to find items that you want to truly match your home interior,” Octavia says. “We experienced minor hiccups throughout our home-planning process when it came to item selection―it wasn't easy to find what we exactly wanted that were sold in stores.”
Their way to solve the problem was to simply add their own personal touches: none of the lighting shops carried pendant lamps in the shade of colour desired, so the couple sprayed them yellow to match their kitchen interior. The cardboard stag head that came in white was also spray-painted hot pink, just because.
This “unfinished industrial concept” on the study room walls was also an organic result from Don’s painting of the house. “It would have been a feature that may not be imperfectly perfected, if we had paid someone else to do it,” Octavia says.
Ultimately, the sense of accomplishment from the completion of a hands-on project―something both of them relish greatly―is not something one can find on shopfront shelves.
2. The process allows your skills and relationship to shine.
The couple was more than just prepared for glitches with workmanship during the home renovation process―they chose to correct those with their own hands. When they found some parts of the silicon lining their wall skirting imperfect, Don promptly went to the hardware store for silicon and filled the gaps in himself (like a superhero in disguise, we say).
One might expect a certain amount of stress from undertaking such a huge project together, yet Octavia and Don faced no conflicts through what to them was an “awesome” process. “We knew we already have the same tastes in design and fashion, so it was a joy,” Octavia says.
3. Every corner holds a story.
There are old refurbished pieces that carry old history: “Some old-school chair pieces we have now are hand-me-downs from my mother and a friend; we bought some coloured paint to give them a new look.”
There are inspired projects which are now the top eye-catcher of visitors: “The steel drum and canvas art were inspired by Pinterest. We did a search on Google for the steel drum available for purchase and sent artwork to a decal printer. Same for the canvas art, we sourced for the lowest priced canvas printer in town and provided them the artwork for print.”
And there are the spots which will be where the couple grow stories to tell: “We have a rocking chair in the living room, and often race each other for it. But because it’s strategically by the window, and pretty much the only place where Don can smoke, he often conquers,” Octavia says.
4. Your house will not be boring.
It’s basically like an extension of you: breathing and changing all the time. And with such deep D-I-Y fingers, the couple find possibilities and ideas sprouting unexpectedly―and they make them into reality. Octavia describes how “the study/craft room is a creative space that is growing and Don often adds new details to it, like the peg-board that we’ve been looking for since forever. I'd say that would be his favourite space now.”
Both photos by Donny
This framed fishbowl is also one of the items the couple lugged back from their Bangkok trip, after I visited them. Octavia also tells me about finding another much-coveted item unexpectedly: “I’ve always been on a search for the traditional melamine tiffin carrier as a decoration piece for the kitchen shelf, one that is reasonably priced. I was elated when we stumbled on a brand new all-white one at a Bangkok night market. Best part, it was ours at an unbelievable bargain. Score!”
5. The home you create is undeniably yours, your family’s―and unlike nobody else’s.
“We wanted our home to be a collective presentation of our travels, adventures and projects we did together,” says Octavia. “It’s always nice to know that we’re probably one of the few who own particular pieces that have been customised or modified to our specifics.”
The couple’s love for travelling and inspiration runs along every corridor. Octavia describes their walkway, which is “lined with frames holding pictures that were snapped by Don on our honeymoon and vacations. It’s special because I personally feel it highlights Don’s passion for photography, and it never fails to bring back memories of the places we enjoyed together.”
“But it also tempts us to keep traveling and snap more pictures. Not too healthy for the pocket, is it?” She laughs. “But then again, someone said, ‘Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer’, so here’s looking forward to our next trip!”
Some notes on D-I-Y:
- Start early. Do research on designs and shop around for the right contractor you will want to work with.
- It's almost impossible to find items that you want to truly match your home interior; it wasn't easy to find what we exactly wanted that were sold in stores.
- Shop wisely. Spend good money on furnishings and fabric, but accessorise with items that are unique and looks high-end but yet affordable. Impressive stuff don't necessarily have to be expensive.
- Start plain. Only shop for accessories and decor items until moving in and getting a better feel of the space. This helps you decide which walls to fill up, and which areas need accents.
- To keep things interesting and unique, have an object of focus, like our steel drum. Modernise the traditional, and accessorise in colour.
- Think out of the box. You can even use washi tape to decorate practically and make items blend in.
- Don’t forget the small spaces, like the bathroom!
Who: Muhammad Hamsani Hashim (Don), 33 & Nur Arfah Octavia Jaffar, 34
Where: 4-room HDB in Woodlands
Cost of renovation: Around $25,000 for renovation and $10,000 for furniture and lighting
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Photos by Alexa Lim Xiangyun