Home & Design – 33 Everton Road

Home & Design Magazine Issue Vol.1 No.1 – 1996

Threading Past into Present
The modern new home of renowned fashion designer, Allan Chai, holds the magic of the past.

Fashion designer Allan Chai’s home might have been totally anonymous along a row of restored shophouses if not for the matt silver handles on glazed dark green doors. This detail screams current in the Chinatown neighbourhood and hints at Allan’s love for putting objects in unexpected settings. The guess proved to be accurate upon stepping through the doors.

The vast space on the other side of the door reveals an inner private world filled with objects charges with memories and history, balanced by modern sculptural pieces of furniture that accents the home.

In the living room, a magnificent antique Indian window on the crisp white wall echoes the intricacy of the carved Indian chest opposite. The entry area is dominated by a large wall mirror framed by lovely rosewood carvings of scenes from Chinese legends. Ancient Indian dowry chests piled on top of one another form a towering structure on which statues of the Chinese Sun and Mood deities stand. The rest of the house holds similar relics of the past, absorbed into modern city living. Antique Korean chests are used as bedside tables, Chinese lamps originally used in royal homes light up the doorway of the master bedroom, a structure used in ancient China as a hanger for the emperor’s robe in used as a partition, and three bold red frames of Chinese calligraphy sing out against the muted colours of the bedroom. Under these is a portion of Allan’s massive collection of Chinese teapots. On the top landing, panelled floor and sloping roof retain their original, attic feel while an unexpected splash of yellow on a freestanding wall adds a sharp, contemporary touch.

Walking through the house, one sense that the objects have been chosen with the greatest care. “On our travels, we pick up things that appeal to us,” says Ross, Allan’s business partner and housemate.” We especially like those with a piece of history.” Indeed, the accessories seem to have lived several lives, having gradually abandoned the intensity of their colours. Some, like the dowry chests and statues, are today washed out, almost ethereal.

Despite the abundance of objects bearing witness to times gone by, furniture in bright modern colours prevent the interior from slipping into nostalgia. In the spacious living room, freestanding furniture defines the space. Each is sculptural in its appeal – the moulded shape of Norman and Quaine’s Whistle armchairs, the bold sweep of Gordon Mather’s Button ottoman, and the elegant curves of Eileen Gray’s sofa. Philip Stark’s Lord Yo chair gives the predominantly period bedroom a cool, current edge. The furniture can be rearranged to suit the owner’s mood, something Allan admits to doing occasionally. In fact, the furniture arrangement was different from the first time we saw the house.

Apart from holding things he loves, Allan made sure the house was a free-flowing space. Like the typical shophouse, the existing unit was sombre and narrow before reconstruction. His experience as a fashion designer, however, sharpened his eyes to see the potential to open up the space. Following Allan’s brief, architect Han Loke Kwang of HYLA tore down the inner structure of the house and rebuilt it to let in the light.

“To overcome the potentially constricting feel of a narrow shophouse space, we designed the house such that the occupants were able to see other parts of the house from any chosen spot within,” architect Mr Han says. The new house is illuminated by welcome shafts of light streaming in from skylights, airwells and large windows – elements that also allowed spaces in the house to interact. From the landing on the first floor where we were standing, for example, we could see several areas of the house – the master bedroom on the next level, the guest bedroom and its outdoor balcony above, the dining room, the kitchen, the living room front door, as well as the outdoors. Even from the attic on the uppermost level, we were able to see the living room, master bedroom and the outdoors.

The flow of space is not only conducive for creative thinking, it also gave the owners a natural rhythm of calm and quiet. ” After a hard day’s work, you really need breathing space, both mental and physical,” Allan says. Soothing melodies from a state-of-the-art system in the attic float down the airwell and fills the entire house. The kitchen, though indoors, is open to the ever-changing sky through an airwell. The white-tiled bathroom, with its two-storey high skylight, is a cool backdrop for waltzing shadows when the sun shifts. Indeed, walking through this house is akin to drifting in a delicate universe composed by little touches radiating the magic of life.

Writer: Sim Peck Hwee
Photography: Tim Nolan