Home & Decor – Upper East Coast Rd

Home & Decor Magazine Issue Oct/Nov 1998

The View Inside
Taking away the external walls opens up a bungalow to inviting koi ponds and colourful gardens.

Two years ago, John Tan faced two choices -move out of his family home which he had bought in 1982 or buy over his neighbour’s land. “Our neighbour was planning to sell it to a developer to build four terrace houses. They would have completely blocked my house. I counter-offered and, fortunately, she accepted” he recalls. Once the sale was completed, John had a new problem: What to do with his two blocks of land which, combined, totalled 29,000sq ft? The semi-retired businessman decided to renovate his home to incorporate the new land. But instead of a more glamorous, mega-sized bungalow, John dreamed of “something homely, peaceful and simple.

Something that would bring me close to nature… and away from civilisation”. HYLA were asked to come up with a creative way to merge the two land parcels. As John didn’t want drastic changes made to his existing home, the designers proposed a two-storey wing parallel to the old building. The front of the old house was redesigned to blend with the addition. A vast living room occupies the ground floor of the new wing, while the master bedroom suite takes up the entire floor above. The old and new sections are linked via a bridge at both levels.

HYLA created a tropical-resort ambience with ochre and rust-red walls, Balinese stone planters and carvings, and the organic textures of wood and stone. Natural materials were used. There are chengai rafters, pillars and window frames, teak doors, granolithic paving with insets of granite tiles and sandstone walls.

Hemmed in by tall bungalows and high-rise condominiums on two sides, there isn’t much of a view from the house. Undaunted, HYLA created enticing new views inside. Two large koi ponds sit between the old and new wings, forming new focal points for the home. A cooler take on the courtyard garden, the ponds are always alive with movement and colour from the flashing koi, gushing fountains and swaying lotus. The new living room has no walls on its long sides – wood-framed doors fold back flat to open the bungalow to the elements. The narrow layout and the open plan also maximise light and ventilation, giving a spacious and informal feel. Adding a unique touch to the 1.2m-deep ponds are massive Balinese stone planters filled with lotuses. Around the ponds are private spaces for John and his family. A ledge overlooking the main pond, formed when a window was cut through the dining-room wall, makes a peaceful spot for John to read his newspapers. The side patio is another quiet corner for guests and family to enjoy afternoon tete-a-tetes.

The openness of the bungalow does carry risks, although John is unfazed. “It’s a small price to pay for the tranquillity, for being close to nature,” he says. Nevertheless, he has installed a tight security system. The bulk of the new land was left bare. At the far end, camouflaged by colourful shrubbery and trees, sits a long, multi-car garage that resembles a stable. “My friends think I’m crazy to waste all that space building a garage. But I didn’t want a big built-up area. I wanted to maintain the sense of openness as much as possible,” says John.


I’ve always loved nature and plants. Whenever we went on holiday, I’d choose a place like New Zealand where there’s lots of space and greenery,” says John. But until he renovated his house, the semi-retired businessman never had time for a garden at home. “I was always too busy with business and travelling”, he sighs. When it came to the landscaping of his tropical-themed bungalow, he turned to his younger brother Arnold, a Polytechnic lecturer and ardent gardener with years of hands-on experience.

Arnold complemented HYLA’s vision with a tropical theme. But the self-taught landscaper made sure jungly foliage didn’t overwhelm the garden, to preserve the bungalow’s sense of spaciousness and for practical reasons. Keeping undergrowth to minimum stops mosquitoes from breeding, a danger with a garden as large as John’s.

John also had clear ideas about the look of his garden. “l like a riot of colour. I don’t like gardens with no flowers or a one-colour theme,” he says. So his brother chose flowering plants like heliconai rostrata, lantana, galphimias and plumbago. Low-maintenance, hardy plants with dramatic shapes and variegated or colourful leaves – thaumatocous, sanchezia, dracaenas, calatheas, marantas and tree ferns – surround the perimeter to give it shape, depth and texture. “I do my own gardening, so I asked Arnold for easy-care plants and flowers,” explains John.

What stands out in Arnold’s horticultural creation is his combination of simplicity or clarity of shape with colour. Whatever colourful plant or tree Arnold uses, he ensures that it stands out from its neighbours yet harmonises with the walls, fences, pillars and flooring materials.

For instance, along the covered linkway connecting the garage to the house, Arnold uses a colour gradation of various plants and flowering traveller’s palms, with their fan shapes, march along the walkway; mondo and white grass provide ground cover; colour accents were added with heliconias, large bromeliads and red and pink peacock flowers. For a softening effect, form a deep purple fringe spilling onto the path.

The driveway did not escape the brothers’ attention either. The sides and centre of the 40m long driveway is transformed into a golden carpet every morning when masses of tiny ground tulips bloom. Rows of calisthemum gold trees shade the sides. Adds john:”I didn’t want Arnold to use bright, gaudy flowers here. I wanted only trees and ground cover for a cheery welcome.”

Writer: Alethea Lim
Photography: M. Basheer