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A shoebox apartment inspired by Hemingway

Inspired by American novelist Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban plantation home, this shoebox bachelor pad is small in size but enormous on style.

Home Type: 2-bedroom condominium unit

Floor Area: 450sqft

Text by Yvonne Xu
Images courtesy of Aiden T

When homeowner Fonzarelli Ong approached Arjan Nijen Twilhaar, Principal Designer of Aiden T, he had broadly defined requirements for his home. The specifics included having a place to display a large artwork, an area to read, and another to listen to music or just hang out with friends. An appreciator of mid-century modern furniture, Fonzarelli revealed a liking for a gentlemen’s club or cigar room style home with a mild colonial feel. The summation of these lifestyle and aesthetic preferences led Arjan’s mind to Finca Vigía – Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway’s house in Havana that’s now a museum.

shoebox apartment

Arjan explains: “I started with the idea of tropical plantation homes mixed with cigars which brought me to Cuba. Hemingway lived in a home named Finca Vigía from 1939 to 1960 – so that was my mid-century modern reference. I looked at the colours of his house and how the rooms flow from one into the other. Personally, I am not a big fan of open-plan living, as I feel each home should have different areas for different functions. My preference is to create an enfilade layout, where one defined area moves into another. These considerations influenced the overall layout as well as material choices and colour scheme for this home.”

shoebox apartment

The result is a deeply personalised 450sqft home that’s bold in character. Arjan’s decision to plan the space in the enfilade style organises each area’s function clearly while creating a sense of visual flow and spaciousness.

shoebox apartment

Upon entry, one sees the dining area in the centre of the house. The space looks through the library towards the view outside. Off the dining room stands a cosy nook where Fonzarelli listens to music or watches films. The other rooms include a kitchen, a powder room, and a master bedroom, all of which are impressively detailed and styled.

shoebox apartment

Arjan designed the kitchen first. “I wanted to do something bold in colour and picked a dark green hue for the cabinets, which was mixed with brass and marble,” Arjan shares. Facing the cabinetry is an antiquated chevron wall with mirrored panels cut to fit into individual metal frames. “This gives a nicer finish versus opting for an overlay of the chevron pattern on a large mirror,” Arjan explains. “Because of all the angles, we made templates for each section and had each mirror cut to a specific size and angle. It needed a lot of adjusting and re-adjusting to ensure that each piece fits into the pattern.”

To balance the strong character of the kitchen, an wood-beamed ceiling and a large bookcase define the library. The dining area, sandwiched between these two spaces, is kept simple. Here, all attention is drawn to the stunning artwork on the wall. To further enhance the plantation home feel, Arjan changed all the tile flooring to American walnut laid in a chevron pattern. And all the doors were changed to dark wood louvred ones.

shoebox apartment

The powder room makes a big first impression with its custom-made banana leaf print wallpaper. Here, Arjan removed the shower so the existing bathroom is converted into a dry area. Dark granite and brass elements are introduced for that gentleman’s club vibe.

shoebox apartment

Arjan shares: “The apartment has a lot to take in and the design reveals itself in different ways. I prefer to design in a well-rounded way – at first, you see broad strokes of the overall vibe. Then when you settle down, the small details and other layering effects catch your eye. I like how the orange curtains pick up the colour from the artwork while also referencing the Cole and Son wallpaper in the bedroom. I love the little copper backsplash in the kitchen, which might not be something you notice at first glance.”

Much like the other little styling gems – the rose quartz side table in the powder room and agate knobs on the vanity (sourced from the UK), and the tall skirting boards to further enhance the design. “The overall look is well coordinated and the homeowner was on board with the design. He also put a lot of effort into getting the styling just right,” Arjan adds.

Aiden T


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