Renovating a home is a massive undertaking that is made easier with an interior designer. But one couple decided to take matters into their own hands, cutting out the middleman and doing the entire $58,000 renovation by themselves – with the help of skilled contractors.
The homeowners, an archivist and a civil servant, spent around four months transforming their 4-bedroom resale flat in Hougang into a home that reflects their nomadic and eclectic lifestyle. We were given a tour of their abode recently and here’s what we saw:
Before the transformation
Image credit: @hominghumans
The couple received the keys to their resale HDB flat in late-2020 and started documenting their renovation journey on Instagram. Before this, however, they’d already begun the process of visiting warehouses, finding the right tiles, and diving deep into the best renovation practices. They also signed up for a new credit card to get the most bang for their buck.
The original floor plan of the flat and the new floor plan that the owners designed
Image adapted from: @hominghumans
After sketching out their ideal floor plan – which included hacking down the storeroom and reconstructing the service balcony – they realised that most of the work could be done directly with a contractor instead of engaging an interior designer. So they took it upon themselves to oversee the reno, saving the ID fee to be spent onother household essentials.
Why we decided to DIY the renovation
It’s becoming increasingly common for new homeowners to DIY their own home renovation, and this couple was not one to be left in the dust. “We had a sense of how we wanted the house to look and thought we could set out to achieve it without an ID,” said one half of the pair.
Being their own interior designers also allowed them to be fully immersed in the whole process from sourcing materials to the meticulous planning that is required. It also helped that they knew exactly the type of living space they wanted. “Our philosophy of how we wanted to live included natural lighting, cosiness, un-encumbrance, sustainability, and future-proofing.”
It might seem strange to some to not hear the words “Scandinavian design” or “minimalism” when they were taking us through their design. But once we stepped through the doors of their abode we immediately understood what they meant. The rooms were bathed in natural light streaming in from the clear windows, giving us plenty of the feel-good serotonin vibes.
One look at the furnishings and a visitor will understand what it means to live cosily in this home. “It’s hard to explain in words but if you were to peek into our wardrobe, it looks very similar to the colour schemes in the house,” the owners said. There are plenty of cooler hues in the living spaces – think blue and green – that come from plants and furniture.
The owners also decided to not rely on built-in furniture. Instead, they picked out pieces that don’t become cumbersome when they decide to move things around and reconfigure rooms in the future.
It also helped their sustainable-living philosophy that most of the furniture came through their doors pre-loved. The Tibetan-style shoe cabinet by their entryway was one of the said pieces, having been picked out from a vintage store in Pasir Panjang even before the renovation works started.
The homeowners opted for a custom tallboy cabinet in their bedrooms to complement their wardrobe setup
Another piece of furniture dear to their hearts is a custom-made tallboy cabinet. “We designed and customised it completely to ensure that we could retrieve our clothes without having to bend down too much,” the owners explained about their decision. Bonus points are awarded as the bottom is tall enough for their robotic vacuum cleaner to pass through.
And with this being their forever home, they had to ensure it’s suitable for long-term living a.k.a. making sure there are no dead zones in the house with no power or Internet connectivity.
Every room has a LAN port including one of the least-expected places – the kitchen. “We went a bit overboard in planning for electrical access points,” the owners sheepishly said. But having more is better than none, especially since there are now smart appliances that need access to the cloud.
Taking charge of the entire renovation process by themselves meant that the owners were also a lot more in tune with their specific needs. Case in point: the kitchen and toilet countertops.
The stainless steel countertops were a must as the owners are avid cooks who make meals in the kitchen daily
While it looks like a normal kitchen from the get-go, the countertops were configured to be just slightly taller than most as both owners are taller than the average Singaporean. This was also the case in the toilets.
“We’re both about 95th percentile in height – not quite something to romanticise when we’ve spent our whole lives straining our backs or crouching down to wash our hands,” the owners mused on their Instagram page documenting the renovation journey. “You can only imagine our glee when we no longer have to do so.”
It’s the little details like this that turn a house into a home, and it’s quite remarkable that the owners managed to think of these often-overlooked aspects without the help of an interior designer.
Designing a home with a cat in mind
There’s a lot of space afforded in a 4-bedroom resale flat, but thankfully the owners have a furry companion who roams and owns the space too. Meet Ducky, the tabby cat that has been a part of the household for two years now.
Since he’s been a part of the family before they began renovation works, it only made sense to have some cat-friendly elements around the home so Ducky feels the most comfortable.
One of the first – and mandatory – things the owners put up were invisible grills around the house. This is especially important in high-rise buildings for the safety of the cat. While most cat owners have grills that are on the bulkier side, invisible grills are easier on the eyes as they’re barely visible from afar, giving the windows a better aesthetic appearance.
You can barely see they invisible grills on the windows
Some other features designed just for Ducky include a cat flap on the master bedroom’s door and a DIY scratching post in the service balcony.
A water pipe was turned into a scratching post for Ducky with sisal rope
Image credit: @hominghumans
As for the rest of the house, the owners decided against any delicate items that might pique a cat’s curiosity a little too much. “We went without fragile ornamental pieces, but other than that we’ve been pretty liberal in our choices,” they explained.
It’s Ducky’s world and we’re just living in it
Thankfully, Ducky settled into his new home pretty quickly, and the owners also shared that he would hang out with the contractors whenever they came by to fix and rectify issues. “Home to Ducky is his humans.”
Challenges faced without an interior designer
Did you really renovate your home if there were no bumps on the road? The homeowners faced their fair share of challenges during the renovation process, especially as it took place during a pandemic and they did it without the help of an experienced interior designer.
One approach they went was to not go overboard with any structural changes despite the potential to do so. They also had to find ways to balance their time while planning the renovation due to work and personal commitments.
But the hardest parts of renovating their home by themselves were making trade-offs and being decisive. “We wish we had five kitchens we could design, but we had to settle with one,” they said. “Four more wouldn’t hurt!” After seeing the amount of detail that went into the kitchen, we understand why they’d want to have a couple more cooking spaces in their home.
The marble slab originated from Morocco and the legs were custom made
Despite the minor troubles, the couple has no qualms about doing it all over again. “It allowed for an outlet of expression and we could craft the house to our taste,” they shared. “We also enjoyed the weekend jaunts to hardware and electrical shops and sourcing of materials.”
One example was them finding a black marble slab during a spontaneous trip to Futar’s warehouse. They were initially hesitant about incorporating marble into their home, but their minds changed when they spotted this piece from the Moroccan desert that has fossilised marine animals embedded in it.
“Not only did it expand our knowledge of the construction and material industry, but it also brought us to areas of Singapore we would have otherwise not visited.”
What’s next for the home
The Batik painting on the wall was found second-hand on Carousell and matched the colour theme of the home
While the home might look complete to a visiting guest, the homeowners told us that what we’re seeing is just the first phase. “Our house is still a work in progress,” they said. “In fact, we’re embarking on Phase 2 to put up a glass partition to segregate one room from the living room.”
This tracks with their selection of mobile furniture and mobile serving carts strewn throughout the space. Since nothing is permanent, they can play around with the home’s configuration whenever they have guests over or if they’re feeling like a change.
After all, with their nomadic lifestyles stemming from their love of travelling, settling on one final design was never going to be the case for this couple.
Eclectic bohemian flat in Hougang
@uchify.sg This 4-room flat in Hougang was a DIY reno project by a busy working couple. Say hi to @hominghumans and Ducky, the cat! #sghomes #realhomes #sghome #hdb #homeowners #sgrenovation #sginteriordesign #fyp #sgproperty ♬ She Share Story (for Vlog) – 山口夕依
In a sea of Muji-themed and jungalow homes, it’s a breath of fresh air to step into a space unbothered by the dominant – and sometimes overbearing – trends of interior design. The owners of this eclectic and bohemian flat in Hougang know what works for them and by taking matters into their own hands, have carved out a home that is truly their own.
Photography by Alvin Wong.