Cubes / Domestic Magic

Architecture, Interior Design, Print Articles
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Issue C73

Domestic Magic

HYLA Architects devises an ingenious way of mitigating an irregularly shaped site in the Faber Terrace House, resulting in delightful moments of charm and connectivity.

The Faber Hills Estate is a residential vicinity in the West of Singapore marked by similar two-storey, terracotta-roofed terrace and semi-detached houses. Many of these houses have withstood change, which explains the rare homogeneity, as well as laid-back charm, of the neighbourhood.

It also explains why a recently completed house designed by HYLA Architects along Faber Terrace stands out all the more. Yet, the design, though markedly different from the surrounding houses, is not at all offensive. On the contrary, its simple form and dark-toned material palette has it receding quietly into the estate’s lushness. A distinct, half-gabled form caps its corner location elegantly, the shape extending along the site’s length and articulated by a façade of timber brise soleil held up by a straightforward charcoal-grey steel I-beam structure.

Han Loke Kwang, the founder of HYLA Architects comments that the screen takes care of the glare and heat from the harsh tropical sun as well as mitigates privacy – a particularly important consideration as there is so much frontage to the road. This screen extends over a terrace at the front of the house, creating a pleasant, voluminous, semi-open space. The latter faces a small front garden where a single tree is planted as a visual anchor as well as a climatic filter against the Western sun.

A delicate filigree of differently spaced timber louvres, with some upturned and others that can be opened for the interior spaces above to connect with the front terrace, lends a liveliness to the façade. Accoya was chosen as the timber of choice for its anti-warping quality.

While this screen is a key datum in the house’s design, it is in the interior planning that there is most ingenuity. The house sits on a trapezoidal site, with the front tapering to a narrower rear. “What we did was design a very simple rectangular plan parallel to the site boundary [along the length of the site], and then we pushed the remaining splayed spaces to the party wall side and put the circulation and serviced spaces there. So the bathrooms all have a splayed layout and the bedrooms are very rectilinear,” Han explains. This decision, while practical, also accords the bathrooms and triple-volume staircase air well at the front of the house a unique and somewhat spirited personality. On the façade, they are expressed as a more opaque volume abutting the party wall.

The first storey is defined by a simple, free-flowing space containing the double-volume living room, dining and open kitchen. A double-volume bookshelf that divides this space from the stair core accentuates the loftiness of the living area while putting the knick-knacks of the occupants – a young couple that live here with two young children and a maid – on display.

Also on display are many framed photographs on the wall of the double-storey shelving facing the stair well. It uses an inventive wall system devised by Han incorporating commonplace adjustable shelving hooks that allows for versatility in changing the display as and when desired.

The stair well acts as an artery connecting various spaces vertically and laterally: bridges cross the space linking niches at the front – this contains a family room on the second storey and the wife’s study on the third – to the other rooms. Encased by glass balustrades rather than opaque walls, these spaces open up to the activity at the stair well; for the wife, they prove valuable in being attuned to the activities of the two young children.

“I’m always looking to create spaces that overlook each other, that create conversations between different spaces in a house,” Han expounds “That is very important, especially in Singapore because land sizes are so small so the more you have these views between spaces, the more open and spacious the whole house feels.” Meanwhile, the staircase layout is splayed, following the trapezoidal shape of the space, hinting at an elemental, Escher-like character. The proportions of the narrow width and high volume here, washed with light from the skylight above, also create a cavernous feel.

The bathrooms, while irregularly shaped following the trapezoidal layout, are decently sized. The master bathroom in particular is an exercise in packing a bundle of requirements – a separate WC and shower, a sunken bathtub, and a garden – into a modest, wedged-shape plan without the feeling of claustrophobia. Sandwiched between the walk-in closet and gym, the client highlights that this layout functions perfectly for watching the kids play in the bathtub while she works out in the gym.

This liveability is exactly why the clients had picked HYLA Architects to work on their dream home. “The big design idea is one thing; my husband is big on spaces that are also functional. This is quite a simple and elegant design, not something flashy, outlandish that you will get sick of after a while,” she quips.

“It’s important for clients to feel comfortable and for the design to incorporate their input,” says Han. Additionally, it is equally important for the architect to rein in the clients’ desires should they gear towards the illogical. For instance, here, the clients had requested for a glasshouse without curtains or blinds – an ill-suited proposition for the tropics. The screened façade is partly a response to this, as is a dense canvas of planting on the first storey along the house’s length. These elements filter the light nicely into the house, the client shares. “It’s not just stark, white light all the time.”

This house has led to a third commission in the vicinity (the owners of this house had come to know about HYLA Architects through a house he had designed nearby at Faber Avenue), attesting to Hans’s dexterity in creating sensitive design for everyday living.