Cubes – Cove Way

Cubes Magazine Issue No. 48 Feb/Mar 2011

A Brassy Retreat
HYLA Architects’ latest house is like a contemplative, seasoned ship at berth along a street in Sentosa Cove.

Sentosa Cove is a strange place – a forcibly – manicured Hamptons –like locale where boundary walls are strictly forbidden in favour of neighbourly relations in Pleasantville fashion, and where roofs must strictly take on a brown colour so as to evoke the uniform tropical island feel that the authorities desire for the enclave.

Drive down the perfectly tarmacked lanes and you can’t help but wonder if this is really Singapore – modern houses by ‘starchitects’ sit side by side with kitschy abodes of all shapes and materials. Amidst the hodgepodge of constructs and set behind a quiet curtain of bamboo is a subtle and sensitive piece of work at 34 Cove Way by local architecture firm HYLA Architects.

As if in quiet rebellion, the bungalow, home to an extended family with three children, eschews the trend for everything bigger, glassier and shinier. Instead, sombre brass sheets wrap the entire house’s front elevation, stopping short above the first storey in an overhang that shelters the entrance from the elements. “In their brochure, the illustration showed timber shingles, roof tiles,” architect Han Loke Kwang says of the enclave’s building regulations, “but we wanted something modern”.

Han is clear about the makings of a home that will age gracefully – materiality plays an important role – and here, the brass promises an ever-evolving character through time. Unafraid of the rustic oxidising patina that the brass roof has already started to take on, “the clients were supportive of the idea from the start” he says, proving that well-travelled local tastes have warmed up to more novel ideas.

The façade is one that jealously guards the privacy of the house’s occupants. Save for a short line of clerestory windows over the staircase and a porthole skylight into the master bathroom, this closed-off façade is the first layer in Han’s strategy to provide both privacy as well as openness to the occupants.

As if turning its back on all its neighbours, the spaces are orientated towards the waterway behind the house. “When you come into the house, you don’t realise there’s this monster development,” says Han, referring to massive project that is Sentosa Cove. “That was the idea… you just see in one direction. The sides [of the house] are quite solid actually because in Sentosa, you’re practically staring [into one another’s homes].”

The introspective first layer at the front of the house contains the utility spaces and a timber-clad steel staircase behind a screen of timber blinds. A calming pond and well-disguised bomb shelter provide a pause before the reveal of the grand view – the large and airy living and dining spaces that bleed out to a deck and swimming pool before finally opening up to the waterway.

This layered sequence is echoed upstairs on the second and third storeys with the former housing the bedrooms and a family room and the latter holding a study and guest room. The bedrooms open up to terraces with panoramic views towards the back of the house.

In spite of its insular three-faced façade, the house is airy and well lit throughout all three floors. Natural light streams in through the triple-volume stair core and large windows on the back elevation. Clerestory windows at the front encourage air circulation through the house when they are opened.

A clean, homely palette of white walls and teak timber flooring is used for the main spaces while the bathrooms are laced with a touch of luxury given the mix of Volakas marble, travertine, shimmery glass and earthy slate mosaics. Despite the calm palette and simple forms, Han has imbibed this home with elements of fun. Bathrooms contain organic, curvilinear shapes that subtly evoke nautical imagery, “to soften the otherwise rectilinear plan,” and in the corner of the study, “a mirror was angled so that you can see the other waterway.” Han elaborates, “That’s the only unique corner where you can get an [alternate] view of the waterway.”

Like the crisp, concise answers that he provides, Han’s projects are simple but laden with meaningful spaces. The 483m2 house, which took nearly 18 months to complete, is an embodiment of Han’s quiet design philosophy that is, in his own words, “simple, clear and honest.”

Cubes Magazines Feb/Mar 2011
Writer: Luo JingMei
Photography: Derek Swalwell