Featured Homes

This Couple Hacked All Their Walls & Doors To Transform Their HDB Into A Traditional Japanese Townhouse

3 August 2023 | BY

A love letter to Kyoto and all the machiyas.


During Danny and Nicolle’s trip to Japan, their biggest takeaway was not sushi or matcha, but a fondness for the traditional wooden townhouses in Kyoto, which are also known as machiya. Unlike a ryokan, a machiya is more of a home than an inn, and it doesn’t normally involve an onsen on its premises. But we digress.

So when the time came for Danny and Nicolle to renovate their new 4-room HDB flat, they naturally took cues from the machiyas that they stayed in. And with the help of Natasha and Felix from Comfort Home Interior, they transformed what was once a standard Singaporean BTO flat into a dark and moody traditional Japanese townhouse in just 6 months.

Replacing all their walls & doors with shoji doors

machiya hdb in singapore shoji doorsImage credit: Comfort Home Interior

In an article explaining the history and significance of machiyas, Bloomberg noted that the wooden townhouses in Kyoto were designed in a way that each unit had a uniform size and design to “foster equality and harmony among its members.” That observation made us think of HDB flats in Singapore and how they are also pretty uniform in size and design.

But before Danny and Nicolle could turn their own 4-room HDB flat into a machiya, they first had to hack away all the walls and doors of the flat. After all, an open configuration was one of the key design elements of the Japanese townhouse. In place of the concrete walls and wooden doors were shoji doors that demarcated the different spaces of the house.

machiya shoji doors in singaporeImage credit: Comfort Home Interior

This allows them to configure the space however they want. During the day, they can open up all the doors to let the good vibes flow through the home. In the evening if guests are over, they can extend the living room to make it double in size and have it act as a makeshift movie theatre, especially since they have a projector screen installed.

And at night, they can close all the shoji doors for privacy, and even create a second bedroom for family and friends staying the night.

projector screen in a machiya-inspired hdbA projector screen was installed in one of the ceiling beams so it can hide in plain sight.
Image credit: Comfort Home Interior

This deliberate design decision did not come without a hefty price tag. Danny and Nicolle shared that the fabrication and installation of the shoji doors took up 25% – the largest percentage – of their $100K renovation budget, and it was the most challenging aspect of the process. It also didn’t help that there weren’t many contractors in Singapore with the expertise to design and construct the shoji doors.

“The design features many interlocking carpentry elements, and precision was required in order to achieve a good result,” they said, adding that each door had to be custom-made and fitted as they have to serve as both a wall and a door. “It is a huge feature of our house and something that stands out wherever we look.”

shoji door detailsPeep the details of the shoji doors.
Image credit: Comfort Home Interior

To ensure that their design stayed true to the traditional Japanese style, Natasha and Felix gave Danny and Nicolle many iterations of shoji door designs that they came up with, including 3D mockups to help the couple envision how the final product would look.

machiya hdb floor planThe 4-room HDB flat has been turned into essentially a 1-bedroom machiya.
Image credit: Danny and Nicolle

Comfort Home Interior having an in-house carpentry workshop was also a godsend, as this allowed the couple to have close communication with their carpenters throughout the 6 months of renovation works to ensure that their expectations would be met.

“Coming back to our home is a really relaxing experience for us as it is a huge change from the urban environment in Singapore,” they said.

Using dark walnut instead of light oak tones

machiya hdb kitchenThe kitchen of their home is equally dark, but under-cabinet lights help to illuminate the countertop.
Image credit: Comfort Home Interior

Rather than opt for the light and bright tones of oak wood, Danny and Nicolle chose to go dark for their new home. The use of darker materials also aligns with how traditional machiya houses in Kyoto have been designed.

machiya hdb bathroomImage credit: Comfort Home Interior

“We felt that the concept of a machiya resonated with us well given the relatively small sizes of apartments in Singapore and also our preference for a more open configuration,” the couple shared with us about the inspiration behind their renovation. 

Transforming an HDB flat into a traditional Japanese townhouse

machiya hdbImage credit: Comfort Home Interior

Rather than follow the crowd and do what’s been done a hundred times before, Danny and Nicolle broke the status quo and built their very own machiya in Singapore. Of course, this couldn’t have been done without the expertise of Natasha and Felix from Comfort Home Interior. “It is important to pick a designer who is experienced and can think on the same wavelength as you,” they advised those who dream of embarking on an undertaking like their own.

And an undertaking it was, with the entire renovation taking 6 months and $100K to complete. But in the end, it was a home that they felt truly comfortable in; just as comfortable as they did in the machiyas in Kyoto.

Check out other Japanese-inspired HDB flats:

Cover image credit: Comfort Home Interior

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