After three long years, Andy Meier and Jessie Chew can finally sit back and enjoy their stunning conservation house in Joo Chiat.
The row of brightly coloured Peranakan houses just off Joo Chiat Road is a landmark conservation area in Singapore. It also happens to be the area where Jessie Chew grew up. Jessie and her English architect husband Andy Meier have transformed a rundown, unloved terrace house into a practical, modern and comfortable home, full of space and light.
They’d lived in an HDB flat since 1995, but been thinking about a heritage home for a long time. For Jessie, as a Peranakan, it was about her heritage; architect Andy’s appreciation of terrace houses came from years in a gazetted Georgian house in London. After viewing a number of unsuitable properties, they stumbled across the pink terrace in Koon Seng Road; it was quite literally an empty shell.
“It was completely bare. No kitchen, no bathrooms, only a staircase winding up the side of the house,” recounts Jessie. “I think Andy had been half-hearted about a heritage home until then, because of the bad renovations he had seen. They were dark, relied on air-conditioning and had very small rooms – he wanted something much better.”
This blank canvas was too hard to resist, however, and by July 2006 the house was theirs.
Renovating is seldom a smooth process, but this one was more than usually full of trials and tribulations: a change in contractor and the couple’s determination not to compromise meant this project took three years to complete.
Andy’s vision was to open up the interior to make the most of the space, avoid reliance on air-conditioning and combine respect for the traditional with a contemporary interpretation. The front of the terrace was conserved and restored, but the rear was completely demolished. In its place arose a magnificent, open-plan three-storey annexe with a roof terrace, centred around a light-well.
“Terraces are very efficient and you find them all around the world. The best of them organise rooms around a central stairway and light-well – to make sure that full-width rooms have window walls. Being on the equator, it’s not as if you need walls to keep warm; you want air movement for comfort. So this design is as much about logical planning as it was about avoiding the cluttered, over-worked interiors common to so many houses here,” Andy explains.
As he puts it, “4,500 square feet is no use to anyone if it’s not usable; it’s just a number on a calculator.” Jessie remembers well the inevitable “negotiations”.
“We had so many arguments about all sorts of aspects of the renovation. It was really, really tough, but after three long years it is done. Anyone who has renovated will know how hard it is – you want perfection. So we traipsed around supply yards in obscure parts of the city looking for finishes we could agree on.”
These included hard-to-find Italian tiles for the en-suite bathroom (“We nearly gave up!”), the Carrara marble flooring in living rooms, unusual granite for kitchen work-tops and a futuristic shower in the main bathroom that would not be out of place in Star Trek.
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