A designer and his wife have turned their compact-sized HDB flat into an open, social space for two, and a testing ground for a variety of design ideas.
1 September 2021
Home Type: 3-room HDB BTO flat
Floor Area: 730sqft
Text by Janice Seow
When Gary Gay and Annie Cheong embarked on the design and renovation of their compact three-room HDB unit, it soon became a test bed for all sorts of ideas. Gary, who is one of the founding partners of The Merry Men Interiors (TMMI), saw the opportunity to turn their small flat into a ‘case study house’ that would serve as a blueprint for projects down the road.
“It was definitely an exciting experience. As one of TMMI’s earliest projects, it was a chance to test out ideas, and I approached it with an almost trial and error mentality,” says Gary. He adds that he was partly influenced by Osaka-based furniture company Truck, and its founders Tokuhiko Kise and Hiromi Karatsu. “I was drawn to the couple’s simple philosophy of designing only the things they’d like to use,” he explains. “My goal at the end of the day was to simply make myself a house that my wife and I would enjoy using.”
Gary and Annie’s first impression of their 730-square-foot flat was that it felt cramped, even for just the two of them. In particular, Gary saw the hallway leading to the rooms and the clearance for door swings as dead space that did not add much to the living experience.
From that first visit, the couple decided that significant changes had to be made to the flat’s layout if they wanted to maximise the use of space. Says Gary, “The ideas we had for our new flat were very much tied to our living habits and how we saw ourselves using the space.”
One key move that Gary made at the start was to take down all the walls that divided the bedrooms in this small flat, and to open up the kitchen so that all formerly enclosed areas would become one harmonious and seamlessly connected space. The programmes were then laid out based on their privacy requirements; the dining area is set at the front of the flat, with the living area/media room now where one of the original bedrooms once stood, and the sleeping quarters positioned at the deepest end of the plan.
A single galvanised steel and glass sliding door is a pivotal element in this new, open configuration. Slide it to one side and it closes off the kitchen; slide it to the other end and it closes off the living cum sleeping area from the dining space, for situations where guests come calling, or when Gary or Annie require some alone time. Motorised blinds behind this room divider can be drawn for an additional layer of privacy in this small flat.
The couple subscribes to a rather minimalist way of living, rendering large amounts of storage space unnecessary, even in a small flat. The flat thus carries an air of calm; it is a bright and uplifting space, with its uncluttered appeal further enhanced by a seamlessly designed cabinetry that keeps personal effects and unsightly wiring out of sight. This runs down in a single stretch where the original hallway once stood and conveniently integrates storage, including modestly-sized his-and-hers wardrobes, the television and media requirements.
The same carpentry work also incorporates the sliding doors leading into the common and master bathrooms.
Gary took the opportunity to conduct experiments into materiality, build detail and construction processes throughout the flat. One key example is in the use of cement screed on the floor and walls. “We consider cement screeding to be an art form,” says Gary. “It is easy to do a screed, but a beautiful screed with a consistent and even ‘grain pattern’ becomes a complex challenge. It takes a lot of experience to maintain the consistency of the cement mix and strokes when screeding.”
Another experiment plays out in the foyer where Gary has built a ‘cove’ out of solid wooden slats. Besides concealing the entrance to the household shelter, the size, stain/varnish, and arrangement of the slats have been designed to “celebrate the tonal difference of solid wood.”
As busy individuals, Gary and Annie enjoy the moments they get to hang out together in their home. What was once a cramped flat with an anti-social layout is now an open and light-filled space – one that fosters a sense of connectedness and encourages bonding, yet remains sensitive to the need for privacy.
The Merry Men Interiors
Photography by Wong Weiliang
Art direction by Betty Wong and Siti Nurfaizah
This article first appeared in Lookbox Living issue 60
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