Chaqa Hill had lived away from Singapore for half of his 44 years. When he returned two years ago, he found work, bought himself an HDB apartment and wrestled with assimilating back into a country that had become foreign to him.
With a strict budget and criteria, he looked at 20 apartments before settling on this five-year-old building in Sembawang. The sale process was subject to the numerous regulations on HDB ownership, and the difficulty was exacerbated because he had never worked in Singapore. “HDBs are not cheap anymore. I could afford this one because it was in a run-down condition and part of a divorce settlement. It was what I wanted, though; I immediately found a contractor and gutted the place.”
In HDB lingo this space is known as a five-room improved condo, which means it has three bedrooms, and separate living and dining rooms. There are two bathrooms and a stand-alone kitchen within the 1,200-square-foot apartment. Chaqa wanted to create a loft-meets-kampong concept, he says, recreating the look of the first HDBs which were built in the 60s with the traditional feel of kampong or village life. But achieving the look proved more problematic than he expected.
Only one of the five contractors he contacted could do the cement-scrape flooring and walls, and he ended up using the same man to do the tiling. “I could not get Singaporeans to do this work. They have moved on, and moved on without cherishing the old, unfortunately. I ended up using Malays as they are still familiar with the concepts I wanted.” He lived here for two months during the renovation work, putting up with numerous discomforts, because he wanted to be onsite to supervise the contractors.
Now that it’s all finished and furnished, Chaqa is extremely proud of the result. “It’s a relief to come home, after feeling stressed out in the city all day. When I walk in, I always think how good it is to come home to this,” he says. “Being so high, I can see Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Orchard Road skyline and even the fireworks.”