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This 3-Room HDB Resale Looks Like a Modern Japanese Apartment Complete With An Onsen-Themed Bathroom

27 September 2022 | BY

Japan in the heartlands of Singapore.

Many Singaporeans love travelling to Japan and bringing a piece of it back home, and it looks like homeowners of Instagram account @houseofhungrydogs, Fion and her husband are no exception. In fact, Fion once envisioned herself moving to Japan for a short stint. Many years later, she was able to realise this dream in the form of her first home. 

However, as rookies in the home renovation department, it might have been tricky to build a home that looked like it came from the land of electronics and onsens. That’s why they enlisted the help of David from Happe Design Atelier, who helped to turn the 5-room unit into a 3-room home that’s more like a zen Tokyo apartment than your average HDB flat.

A 1,388sqft 5-room resale flat located at the heart of a mature estate

The original floorplan of the 5-room flat.

Image credit: Fion

After their unsuccessful BTO application, Fion and her husband decided to go for a resale flat because they simply couldn’t wait.

Some of the main factors they considered were resale value and floor area – they wanted to ensure that they could easily put it back on the market for a decent price, should they decide to move in the future. As a couple planning to expand their family and have kids of their own, purchasing a home with more rooms and living space would’ve been ideal. 

This flat was also located nearby Fion’s maternal home, which made them eligible for the Proximity Housing Grant – another factor that drove them to try for a resale flat instead. 

The reimagined layout of the flat.
Image credit: Fion

This spacious flat spans 1,388sqft and originally housed 3 bedrooms. Yet, to build the abode of their dreams, the couple decided to give this resale flat a major overhaul – prioritising both aesthetics and functionality. From hacking down partition walls to getting rid of existing tiles, they were willing to spend a little more on the renovation works.

On one hand, they got rid of the wall adjacent to the master bedroom to create a master bedroom almost double the size of the original one. This meant that they could make space for a large built-in closet, as well as roomier master and common bathrooms. 

On the other hand, they also decided to replace the original marble and parquet floorings with wood-looking tiles to give their senior beagles a better grip on the floors and make the cleaning of messes easier. 

The inspiration behind this modern, Japanese-inspired home

Homeowner Fion was drawn to the interior designs of bright, airy modern Japanese apartments. In fact, some firms and architects that she was inspired by include the Japanese firm, anestone. Many of the apartments designed by anestone paired wooden elements with pale-coloured walls.

Japanese themed house
Image credit: CONTENT Architecture, @japaneseinteriors, I IN

Beyond the typical short vacation, it has always been Fion’s dream to one day work in Japan for a short stint; she hoped to truly immerse herself in the culture and lifestyle there. But if you can’t ship yourself to Japan, you can always bring Japan back to you – and that’s what Fion did.

Some elements that she incorporated into her own home include natural materials and clean lines, which evoked a modern yet welcoming feel. Fion also realised that to achieve this look, one didn’t have to pay too much attention to the styling of the place. She anchored it to minimalist principles like neat spaces and prioritising functionality. 

Fion jokingly admits that she and her husband aren’t the “neatest people around”, so they had to get rid of visual clutter – a “painful” habit they have since  learned to keep. In order not to ruin the aesthetic of their home, the homeowners have to actively refrain from leaving grocery plastic bags or mismatched coasters lying around.

Beyond design decisions, the couple also worked towards adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Of course, they’re taking baby steps, such as becoming more conscious of their consumption and home living habits. 

Renovating the house as first-time homeowners

Image credit: Fion

The homeowners had considered going directly with a contractor, but this was their first time handling a reno project and they just felt that they wouldn’t have enough experience. In the end, they ended up working with their interior designer, David from Happe Design Atelier.

And it would seem like they found the right guy for the job, for David struck just the right balance between giving his clients enough creative liberty, while he provided his own professional input and design sense. 

Zen vibes

As rookies to home renovation, the couple began their project with a modest budget of $60,000 for both reno and furnishing, but eventually realised that they had to stretch it to achieve their dream home look.

Some aspects they didn’t want to skim on included having tiled floors instead of more affordable but less durable vinyl floors, having loose instead of built-in furniture so they can easily switch up the look of their home. 

Plus, the floor area of their house was relatively greater as compared to 3- and 4-room flats, which measure between 700-1,000sqft. Hence, the couple anticipated that they would eventually have to stretch their budget. After numerous rounds of trial and error, the final renovation cost amounted to nearly $85,000.

Trying to achieve a clean, zen look for the house

clean zen look

Stepping into the house, you’ll first be greeted with a beautiful woody kitchen. The glossy white tiles on the backsplash and quirky kitchen decor also add a whimsical touch to the space.

In total, the renovation cost for the kitchen came up to about $11,000, excluding appliances. For those who’re curious about where Fion and her husband sourced their beautiful tiles, they’re mostly from Hafary, Soon Bee Huat, and Lian Seng Hin; this goes for the rest of the house as well.

aesthetic dining table
The transparent acrylic legs of the bench makes it look like it’s floating.

Instead of a traditional dining table, Fion explained that they decided to opt for a long kitchen island, which sits up to 8 pax. When they have guests over, they’d like to fit as many people as possible. This was also the reason why they decided to go with a bench at the very last minute, shared Fion. 

She and her husband had initially considered bar chairs, but couldn’t find the right fit for their kitchen island. Fortunately, they were able to reach out to a Taobao seller, who custom-made the beautiful wooden bench that sits in their kitchen today. Pair it with some round cushions and it looks just like traditional zabutons that the Japanese use in reception rooms.

sliding doors
The kitchen and living room are separated by tall sliding doors that resemble traditional shoji doors.

natural lighting
The long and wide windows invite natural lighting and ventilation into the home, while the sheer curtains shield the home from scorching afternoon sun.

The kitchen is cut off from the living room by a set of sliding doors that resemble traditional shoji doors. Other than acting as partition and aesthetic choices, this door also serves as a barrier for their dogs. Fion jokingly mentions that her pups are very food motivated which is why they need to be kept safely away when she cooks. 

More on the living room itself, you can easily see that the kitchen’s warm and airy ambience extends to this space as well. From light-washed wooden tiles to white walls that have a warm undertone, the living room appears both spacious and homey.

textured glass windows

Notice this tall window in the back – it’s made of a stylish textured glass with a texture resembling that of fluted glass panels. It also allows natural light to flow between the spaces, making the home appear more spacious. 

To seal up what used to be part of a hallway or balcony, Fion and her husband decided on this window as a fun transition between the living and dining room. Fion’s mother also advised her not to have the home’s entryway lead straight into the living room – Feng Shui perhaps?

Japanese bathroom

Next to the living room is the common bathroom.In contrast to the living room, the homeowners have selected darker wooden tiles that signal a transition to a different space. Coupled with the dark concrete-looking tiles, the bathroom evokes the feel of a modern Japanese bathroom.

Here’s the highlight of the flat – a master bathroom that looks just like an authentic onsen with smooth concrete tiles and a wooden tub to soak in. Not to be mistaken for a walk-in wardrobe, the hallway that leads to the bathroom is a light-drenched path dedicated to their towel rack. The closed off space also gives the bathroom a more private, intimate feel.

back-lit mirror
The back-lit smart mirror adds a modern touch to this culturally-inspired bathroom.

textured glass panels
Before stepping in, I noticed an elegant textured glass panel similar to the one in the living room. When asked about this choice, Fion shared that glass panels were a popular feature in Japanese restaurants and homes, especially this particular design. As such, they wanted to incorporate it into their home.

While fluted or frosted glass panels might be all the rage now among Singaporeans, Fion and her husband decided to be more adventurous and opt for this grid-like textured glass. Coupled with the recessed nooks to store toiletries, everything appears to be very stylish, yet simplistic.

japanese onsen bathroom

The couple even carved out a small nook to display their false bamboo plant, which does wonders to convince you that you’re in a Japanese onsen.

onsen-inspired bathtub
The onsen-inspired shower and bathtub.

Fion’s a fan of soak baths, especially the luxurious kinds you have in hotels. Fond of the times she soaked her worries away during vacation, Fion decided to take that experience home with the addition of a tub in her master bathroom. 

From now on, she can indulge herself in the “ultimate luxury” of taking a rejuvenating soak whenever she fancies – if her utility bills permit. 

minimalistic bedroom

The bedroom was kept simple with minimal furniture pieces and white roller blinds that blend into the rest of the room’s walls. To add a touch of luxe, two-tone lamps have been hung on either side of the bed, while the bed has hidden lighting underneath it. These little details truly make the minimalistic room look like it came out of a cosy countryside guesthouse. 

grid-textured glass
Their closet doors also sport a beautiful grid-textured glass.

How the hoomans outsmarted their dogs with the choice of furnishing

cozy bedroom

Fion and her husband also happen to be hoomans to 2 adorable beagles, Spencer and Summer. They’re notorious but “great counter surfers” – that’s because they often hop onto counters to snag food. Especially at their previous rental home, these doggos have been known to commit “multiple daylight robberies” of breads, fruits, you tiao, and even bee hoon

How else to put a stop to these crimes by elevating their counters and seats? Since moving into their new home and purchasing their tall kitchen island, Fion is glad that there have been “zero food-stealing incidents”.

In the common bathroom, the enclosed shower area also acts as a special wash area for Spencer and Summer, so that they can’t easily escape washing their paws after their walks. It’s also much easier to blow dry them on the raised settee.

Creating the perfect Japanese retreat while living in a fast-paced city

For first time homeowners, it might seem daunting to take on a renovation project for the first time. But here’s what the homeowners behind @houseofhungrydogs have learnt from their reno journey: if you’re indecisive or unsure, opt for an interior designer that’ll offer you the right mix between professional inputs and space for personal creative freedom. 

Furthermore, don’t get too excited to get your hands on everything all at once. Sometimes, purchasing loose furniture over built-ins can save you the trouble of un-installing everything when you want to change the configuration or look of your house.

Image credit: Fion

Also, for those looking to build a minimalistic home that’s clutter free – instead of hiding away clutter and other objects in hidden storage, try keeping storage in the open so that you’re conscious of the objects you’re organising at home.

All in all, there’s no set way in which one can construct their dream abode. Fion and her husband have managed to create a comforting, aesthetic home by building it around their family and what they love. Pair it with a little determination and careful planning – you’ll have yourselves a wonderful home to call your own in no time.

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