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Urban loft: Tour this incredible renovation in Tanjong Pagar

By: Amy Brook-Partridge; photography by Ken Tan

German expat Andreas Balzer and his Singaporean wife Siew Bee Goh live on top of an MRT station. Okay, admittedly 42 floors above it, but still, you can’t really be more conveniently or centrally located than at this 138-square–metre, two-bedroom apartment in International Plaza, above Tanjong Pagar MRT on Anson Road.

The 50-storey high-rise tower in the heart of the CBD was the tallest commercial building with residential apartments in Singapore when it was built in 1976, until the Sail @ Marina Bay was completed in 2008.

See all the photos above….

Stepping out of the lift and seeing the yellowing of the walls of the huge stairwell gives you a feel for its dated conception. But walking into Siew Bee and Andreas’s apartment is like entering a another realm in different era. Andreas describes it as a “London loft meets Asian style”, and I can’t disagree. The warm, and golden hues of the open-plan living area lead into the cool, crisp-white kitchen. Making the most of every centimetre of space, this is city living at its best.

The views are spectacular, taking in the CBD and Duxton Hill’s traditional buildings juxtaposed with The Pinnacle. Currently under construction, however, is the 67-storey Guoco Tower, slated for completion in 2016, which will partially block the view.

“This is the advantage and disadvantage of the whole area being redeveloped. The construction views may not be attractive, but the beauty is that modern architectural design is much nicer than that of previous decades,” says Andreas. I ask if they can see runners on the track on top of The Pinnacle, and they say yes. “We can even see kids bouncing on the trampoline on top of the building, which looks a little odd and can be worrying,” they laugh.

Starting from scratch
Andreas has lived in Singapore for eight years, and he and Siew Bee had had enough of packing up and moving every two years. “We’ve been so annoyed by the endless moving, and with the landlords increasing the rent all the time, so we decided to buy.

“We wanted somewhere that was close to work and near an MRT,” says Andreas. “We actually found this one by accident,” adds Siew Bee. “We viewed a unit on the 45th floor, but the owner was asking for a higher price. We thought we’d just take a look at this unit, didn’t really pay attention to it, and a week later the agent actually chased us to find out if we wanted to make an offer. We found out the owner needed to sell the property urgently, we made an offer, and it was accepted in July 2012.”

Although the apartment had been recently renovated and was in fairly good condition, they decided to gut and renovate the place. “It was so funny when we asked the contractor to knock out the marble flooring; they nearly cried,” says Andreas. Most units in the block have three or four bedrooms, using partition walls to separate the areas, but Andreas and Siew Bee wanted to open the space up by knocking out partition walls, false ceilings and a huge centralised air conditioning unit.

The contractor they used was a former colleague of Andreas’s, Korene Tang, who had started her own business, Atelier Tan. Overall, the couple are happy with the result. “They did fall behind with their already busy sub-contractors, and we also came up with some changes during the project’s execution, so there was a big delay in delivering the flat to us.”

Having taken ownership of the flat in September 2012, they’d given the contractors until 30 November, when they had to vacate their previous condo. “It was a disaster; the contractors just cleared an area for our furniture, where it sat, covered, in the middle of the apartment. We had a corner for ourselves, and the workers became our flatmates! In the end we moved to a hotel for a week to let them get everything finished,” says Andreas. “We laugh about it now, but it was very stressful at the time.”

Working the space
The open-plan living, dining, kitchen and bedroom area is the perfect set-up for a couple. When they have guests, the floor-to-ceiling Chinese doors are a stylish way to partition the space for privacy. Exposed metal and original stonework form the frame for the doors from Just Anthony; they came from Fujian province in China.

“The story is that the two warriors are loyal generals, Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde, who protected the Tang Dynasty’s second emperor, Emperor Tang Taizong,” explains Siew Bee. “Legend has it that a ghost was harassing him, resulting in him suffering from insomnia, so one night the two generals guarded the house so he could have a restful night’s sleep. It is now believed that these generals can aid sleep, so they are perfect for our bedroom,” she adds.

The couple knocked down existing walls to create an integrated bathroom and walk-in wardrobe; the latter has a glass wall and air vent, a clever feature that lets light and air into this corner of the apartment. The replica pig-trough sink has a moveable mirror above it, “so you can see the view ahead and see what weather is coming in the morning,” as Andreas says.

It’s impossible to ignore the enormous Buddha statue sitting almost like a guard at the end of the bed. They bought it from Eastern Discovery, a shop their friend Darika used to run. “We felt there needed to be a centrepiece in the flat, holding it together, but also keeping it separate,” says Andreas. Due to the sheer number of Buddha representations around the apartment, I ask whether the couple are Buddhist. “Siew Bee is a non-practising Buddhist and I’m a freethinker,” he answers.

The large Buddha statue by the front door was bought in Chinatown and is more than 300 years old. “People would sit at his feet, pray and burn offerings; you can see burn marks around his head,” says Siew Bee. Fresh jasmine hangs around his neck, the aroma of which mixes nicely with the slightly charred smell of the wood.

A Mongolian “hell door”, bought from Just Anthony and used as a wall hanging, sits behind the Buddha statue. Large wooden candleholders presenting the eight gods, purchased from Shang Antique in Dempsey, hang either side.

What’s fascinating about the space is the eclecticism of the furniture, art and sculpture combined with distinctive colours and interior style. The black concrete floor and warm wooden Buddha statues work alongside the clean lines of the more modern pieces on the console by the front door. “We made it like this because we have a lot of old things we wanted to harmonise with more modern pieces,” says Andreas.

This includes the ceramic green birds bought from Sydney. “I found them so ugly I just had to buy them,” he chuckles.

The retro 1960s-style sofa has been recently reupholstered with a leafy pattern called Gorgeous Green, reflected again in an elephant chair used as a pseudo-daybed in their bedroom area. Two large sparkling chandeliers were flown in from France and had to be painstakingly remade after almost being destroyed in transit.

The perfect contrast
Andreas and Siew Bee, originally Malaysian but now a Singapore citizen, met in Singapore seven years ago. After some months of procrastination on Andreas’s part, Siew Bee messaged him on the off chance he was free to join her to visit her family in Malaysia, and he said yes.

“She has a really large Chinese Malaysian family, and I was quite overwhelmed,” says Andreas. After a rocky start, the family strongly supported the relationship. “I understood their concerns,” he freely admits. ”These intercultural marriages can be super-challenging.” But, just like their stylish apartment, they harmonise perfectly.

 

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