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Christopher’s Castle: Renovating an apartment in Singapore

By: Verne Maree, photography by Michael Bernabe

With a wife called Rachael who has “more shoes than Imelda Marcos”, a soccer-mad stepson Harry (10), toddler Jack (15 months) and a new baby due in November, Christopher Cribb needed to make the most of his 1,800 square feet of space – and stick to budget. Good thing he’s an architect by profession, thought Verne Maree, as he showed her what he’d done with their fourth-floor Hillcrest Arcadia apartment.

Flick through the gallery above for heaps of photos of Christopher’s gorgeous home in Singapore, plus see more readers’ homes here…

What is your background?
About eight years ago, I sold my partnership in a London firm of architects – where I’d done nice residential projects in areas such as Chelsea and Notting Hill – and joined a US firm here in Singapore. Since then I’ve been concentrating on hotel and resort development. I spent three years in Central Vietnam, and I’m currently working for a building asset consultancy that’s based here in Singapore.

So, now that I’m no longer a practising architect, this was a good opportunity for me to get back into it. I did all the drawings, design, specifications and contract management and oversaw the project myself – not easy when you’re also holding down a day job and travelling frequently for business!

How did you choose this property?
Our previous home was a rental in Whitley Road, and we finally got onto the property ladder a few years ago by buying this condo. After its tenancy agreement came to an end in the middle of June 2013, we renovated the place to suit our needs and moved in.

Built in 1975, Hillcrest Arcadia isn’t much to look at from the outside, but you do get interesting spaces to work with; ours stretches over three half-levels. The amenities are fantastic, there are lots of expat families living here and Harry has already made friends.

What did you want to achieve with this renovation?
We wanted our new home to be as light, open-plan and as modern as possible. To do that, the place was completely gutted, walls moved and almost all the surfaces replaced. Our first step was to demolish the wall between the kitchen and the living room, and reconfigure the space to make the helper’s room smaller.

For the floors, we chose a grey, homogeneous tile. As I often used to say to my clients, good design doesn’t have to cost a fortune: the trick is to limit the variety of materials. Construction materials can be expensive, especially in Singapore; but there are ways to keep costs down without sacrificing style.

Here, we’ve tried to be consistent with our materials palette. Everything on the walls is white, as you can see; and we’ve repeated shades of grey and black on the floors, but left the wooden stair treads to link in with the furniture. The final step was to populate the space with art and colour.

We prefer to rely more on natural ventilation than on air-conditioning. Our ceiling fans (about $130 each) are exactly the same ones you’ll find in coffee shops all over Singapore; we just chose black ones.

Any challenges along the way?
A couple, yes! My wife and I come from different sides of the cultural universe: Rachael is a Chinese-Singaporean banker, and her perception of how a family house needs to be is rather different from mine.

She is extremely practical, while I’m naturally more design-driven. At the time of the renovation, she was a stay-at-home mum, so daily practicalities sometimes had to take precedence over the selfish side of me that wanted my creation to look like the pages of a magazine.

What with three different relationships at play – British-Singaporean, the architect-client and husband-wife – compromises had to be made. And on top of that, we had to stick to our agreed budget.

Where are the shoes?
We’re a very storage-hungry family! For Rachael’s vast collection of shoes, plus handbags to match, we’ve installed hidden storage across most of the main entrance and living room wall. To the right are concealed shelves for books, games and so on.

Instead of a series of boringly regular doors across this expanse of wall, we introduced some abstract textural interest by having drawers at different levels; and of course there’s a niche for the TV.

How did you approach your kitchen design?
Black-and-white and basic, it was made by the local joinery shop and cost a small fraction of what a fancy-pants design company would have charged.

The kitchen island achieves two purposes: it creates a visual barrier between the kitchen and the lounge, and it serves as a central place where we can congregate as a family for breakfast, homework and snacks. I wanted polished concrete, but the workmanship is hard to find in Singapore, so we settled for black basalt.

The suspended light-fittings are made of concrete and weigh 7kg each! I hand-carried them back from the London design studio, where they were half the price I’d have had to pay in Singapore.

Would you recommend your contractor?
Yes, I would – and especially to someone who hasn’t undertaken this sort of project before. Innovation Décor was exceptionally customer-friendly, patient and flexible. Considering that our renovation budget was around $100,000, I think we got a lot of bang for our buck.

Where is the living room furniture from?
The old wooden dining table came with me from London; I designed new legs for it – mild steel sprayed black – to give it a more contemporary look. We got the Eames pony-skin chairs from Lush Lush, and the new kitchen chairs are from XTRA in Park Mall.

Our new sofa from OM in Liang Court is great for TV-watching and has all the bells and whistles we need – each section reclines individually. We needed something linear to suit the space.

Tell us about the collection of artwork on the dining room wall.
You’ll notice that they’re all more-or-less architectural. On the left is one of Hoi An in Central Vietnam: though fairly abstract, it suggests the glow of the lanterns that the town is famous for. We lived between Da Nang and Hoi An for a while, and we love the place.

This pen sketch of London was a birthday present from my wife; it was done by Stephen Wiltshire (MBE), the autistic British artist who is able to make these extraordinarily beautiful drawings after looking at a scene for no more than around 15 minutes.

We picked up the colourful St Paul’s Cathedral on holiday in London last year. Next to it is a linocut scene of Kyoto; and then two shophouses, one in Singapore and the other in Penang.

How did you change the master bedroom?
To make better use of the space and give it the feel of a luxury hotel room, we replaced the bathroom wall with glass and installed sliding doors to define a walk-in wardrobe area. Again, another whole wall conceals wardrobe space.

Both this and Harry’s bathroom were completely redone, again making use of black basalt and installing big mirrors to extend the space visually.

This being our personal haven, we’ve retained an Asian feel. The carved screen above the bed comes from Taylor B, the rug was a gift from Rachael’s father and the abacus is from Cambodia.

From the look of Harry’s room, he clearly loves soccer.
It’s designed to be a place where he can hang out and kick a ball around with his friends, complete with fake green turf on the floor and Wembley Stadium wallpaper. To maximise the playing area, he has a bed that can be pulled down from the wall. The two red beanbags open out into beds for sleepovers.

How do you find living in this neighbourhood?
I love the green approach, and it’s really quiet. It reminds me of how England used to be when children played safely and happily in the street. I like to see the kids here coming down the hill on their bikes and skateboards.

Watten Estate Park is just around the corner; and a walkway from the back of the condo takes us to Greenwood Avenue, where Baker & Cook is perfect for coffee and croissants on a Sunday. There’s a super family-style Italian called Fratini La Trattoria there, too, and all sorts of other eateries.

Between Harry playing soccer for the International Soccer Academy (I play once a week, too for the British Club veterans’ team), and Jack going to Sunflower Baby House, we spend a lot of time at Turf City. Our favourites spots there include PasarBella @ The Grandstand and the Dutch Colony Coffee Co.

The man himself, Christopher
The man himself, Christopher



Baker & Cook
77 Hillcrest Road, 6469 8834

Dutch Colony Coffee Co.
200 Turf Club Road, 6467 0255

Fratini La Trattoria
10 Greenwood Avenue, 6468 2868

Innovation Carpentry & Décor
6556 1810

International Soccer Academy
39 Arab Street, #02-01, 6291 1258

Overseas Family School
25F Paterson Road, 6738 0211

PasarBella @ The Grandstand
200 Turf Club Road, 6887 0077

Sunflower Baby House
200 Turf Club Road, 6463 1303

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