A tropical enclave in the heartlands

Situated at the edge of an HDB estate facing lush greenery, The Heartland Cave is a minimalist tropical sanctuary for a couple and their dog.

  • A tropical enclave in the heartlands

Home Type: 5-room HDB flat

Floor Area: 1,130sqft

Text by Stephanie Peh

Affectionately named The Heartland Cave, this five-room HDB flat is the dream home for slow living. Designed by Open Studio for a young couple working in the finance industry, the spaces are defined by a ‘tropical brutalist’ aesthetic with raw concrete elements softened by lush greenery and warm colours.

“Intrinsically, the couple viewed their first home as a place to retreat to after a hard day’s work – a respite from the hustle and bustle of their work life in the CBD,” explains Lam Jun Nan, the co-founder of Open Studio. “We would describe them as well-balanced individuals who are passionate about making the most of their lives and leisure time,” he adds.

breeze block

In consideration of the homeowners’ personalities and living preferences, the creative team determined from the get-go that the living spaces had to be fluid and breathable. The original layout – a standard plan with three bedrooms plus a study – was overhauled to create an open space where there are no boundaries across the lounging, dining and cooking areas.

tropical HDB home by Open Studio

“We crafted the space based on the sequence of arrival and dwelling,” Jun Nan says. Upon entering, one is led down a dark timber-clad pathway before being greeted by a breeze block wall, which shields the living area from the corridors without closing up. Beyond this wall, an expansive view reveals itself through open windows that invite the endless blue sky and facing forest into the home. Looking back at the threshold, another side of the breeze block wall is revealed. It turns into a sculptural centrepiece, merging with a live-edge timber top that serves as a dining table.

tropical HDB home by Open Studio

Reminiscent of the couple’s early experiences of staying at The Slow, a hotel in Canggu, Bali, The Heartland Cave is composed of raw materials inspired by brutalist architecture. Despite that, it is by no means cold nor inhospitable, with walls bathed in earthy tones, carpentry wrapped in warm timber cladding, and potted plants littered throughout.

It was not simply about how the space appeared but how it would feel to the touch. “The haptic quality of the space was necessary as a counterpoint to the brutalist intent,” Jun Nan quips.

tropical HDB home by Open Studio

A case in point, for the wall finishes, Open Studio experimented with application techniques and colours in partnership with Tsuri Custom Concrete to achieve the ideal surface – visually raw yet smooth to the touch. The team also paid close attention to the intangible elements, such as the play of light and shadow. Apart from the big windows that welcome natural light into this tropical enclave, the lighting design, although largely concealed, illuminates the home with a soft glow, adding warmth.

Open Studio project

“One particularly interesting feature is encountered at the dining table, outside the bedrooms, which was borne out of happenstance,” Jun Nan points out. When the wall of the guest bedroom was shifted inwards to enlarge the dining space, it resulted in a thick mandatory beam being exposed. To minimise the visual impact, the team conceived a perpendicular false lintel and added top panels to the room doors, creating the illusion of taller doors behind the beams. This lent a unique architectonic quality to the HDB unit, “literally embracing the brutal structure of public housing design for a very unexpected, aesthetic effect,” Jun Nan says.

bathroom Open Studio

Despite this being their first home, the couple was clear about what they wanted from the beginning and gave Open Studio free play to work out everything in between – a sure-win strategy when it comes to any creative process. “The clients provided us with the ‘ingredients’ to the design but they did not dictate how the design should be executed, which is the kind of clients we love,” Jun Nan shares.

tropical HDB home by Open Studio

Open Studio

Photography by Khoo Guo Jie

This article first appeared in Lookbox Living issue 64 (cover home)

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