When people think of designing their homes, they flock to Pinterest to look up the latest Interior Design trends for the year and reference their saved mood boards. Homeowners Dillon and Xue Li, however, have rejected the status quo, and designed their @3queensroad flat as a high-utility place of refuge for themselves and their adorable 10-year-old Frenchie Jules.
With a budget of $65K, the couple have managed to transform an old, cookie-cutter flat into something that would make it onto Instagram as natural living inspo. On a bright Saturday afternoon, we take a tour of their 4-room Queens Road HDB flat to find out how they did it.
First impressions: Rustic industrial meets Jungalow
The entrance to the unit, as seen from the inside.
When we were greeted at the door by Dillon, Xue Li and Jules, our first thought was, “wow, we’ve somehow travelled to a rainforest”. This home takes on the very literal meaning of concrete jungle with the bare bones of the flat being very raw, and almost industrial – cement screed, exposed concrete beams that look weathered and an abundance of wood.
Then there’s the veritable cornucopia of plants that pepper the walkway into their flat, with the trail continuing indoors with green in view literally everywhere from ceiling to floor.
Dillon jokes that they started with just one, but the plants eventually just started multiplying. Not that it’s a bad thing, since plants are known to breathe life – both literally and figuratively – into otherwise flat spaces.
With the block tucked into the corner of the road and the unit itself only accessible by accessing the floor above and walking down, one can say it may give visitors quite a hard time, especially with Chinese New Year coming up. However, it is exactly this privacy that made both Dillon and Xue Li consider this unit. After all, who doesn’t like a cosy, peaceful respite away from the hustle and bustle of life?
Renovating with a purpose-driven design
As the couple bring us through their lovely home, they also tell us about how it came into fruition. Contrary to what we see, Dillon says that he never had a set theme in mind while designing the flat.
He believes that themes, like trends, expire and change unpredictably. Rather, it was the utilisation of the space, its significance and what it symbolises that drove the couple’s design choices. This, in addition to taking the age of the flat into consideration.
When Dillon and Xue Li first purchased the flat, they had one thing they wouldn’t compromise on: the main living space. The couple wanted a common space where they could spend the bulk of their time “working, consuming, communicating and relaxing”.
After all, their jobs usually keep them busy, so they definitely treasure the time they’re able to spend together. They also eliminated sofas and TVs for this exact reason; living in the present. Plus, there’s that added benefit of not having to wince every time you look at your screen time report from Apple.
The main living space that functions as a dining area, living room and work space all in one.
When asked about the table, Dillon tells us that they had two conditions for picking it: said table should be able to fit into their block’s lift, and round the staircase. They happened to find a table that not only looked good, but also fit the above criteria to a T. Thus, this table was hauled back from the furniture store all the way in Kranji.
A closer look at the table.
Dillon also tells us that the table was fashioned from the trunk of a large tree from Malaysia. The table did end up being a bit pricey, but Dillon says it’s a worthy investment for somewhere he and Xue Li can spend quality time together.
Looking around, you may notice the lack of doors and walls. That’s because the both of them wanted one large space where the possibilities are endless. Thus, the only doors we see are for privacy in the bathroom and bedroom, and for practical reasons – main door.
Another purchase on the more expensive side was the shelves. Facing the dining table, the display was curated personally by both Dillon and Xue Li, with the books, crafts and various knick-knacks reflecting their personalities. In Dillon’s opinion, it was worth every cent, since in his opinion, the price of things is comparable to the thoughts, effort, design, time spent, quality, sensitivity and service. Nice things do in fact make people happy.
Dillon and Xue Li’s little collection.
You would also find a little empty space towards the beautifully decorated wall. Dillon’s principle is simple, “if you can’t decide what to do with a space, just simply don’t decide”. So when the couple could not decide what to do with a living room’s worth of space, they just decided to leave it empty save for a small chair. The remaining space is minimally filled with posters, second-hand cow and deer skin rugs and interesting wall deco.
The empty, chill space.
Dillon and Xue Li are also trying their best to minimise their waste, so they have placed some homemade pots and vessels outside on the aircon ledge to collect rainwater. In turn, this water is used to keep the various plants alive.
The rainwater collection point, with a view of the surrounding blocks.
Cosy pottery nook
To the left of the entrance sits an unassuming, cosy little nook. It’s where you can find Dillon almost every Sunday, at the potter’s wheel working on his latest project. The interior design lecturer says that pottery is an outlet to destress after a long week, and “keeps him sane” and his creative spirit intact.
The pottery nook.
What does he do with the extras then? Since there’s only so much tableware two (three? Do we count Jules?) people need. Dillon gets commissions sometimes on his Instagram account @nom.pottery, of which he donates the proceeds to various animal organisations in Singapore. Other than that, he’s happy to give them to loved ones. Sharing is caring, after all.
Some of Dillon’s works on display in the kitchen.
Fun light fixtures
If you take a closer look at the lighting near the front door and above the table, you can find geometric lampshades surrounding the living room area. These origami pendant lampshades were hand-folded by a friend of Dillon’s (@desinere_sg).
Other than its unique design, the light diffuses gorgeously through the paper, which ensures it isn’t too bright and disrupts the atmosphere. Dillon adds that there is a delicate sense of precision as well as sensitivity to how they work, too.
The hand-folded lampshades.
In the corner near the pottery nook, there are also several red mood lamps, which Dillon and Xue Li have collected over time. They mainly use these when there are guests around in the evening, and the ambient atmosphere is enjoyed by the couple and their guests alike.
The red mood lamps.
Image credit: @3queensroad
The rustic, natural vibe extends to the kitchen as well, with the cohesive combination of real wood cabinets and wooden vinyl countertops. To balance out the warm tones of the kitchen, Dillon and Xue Li use stainless steel appliances, as seen on the stove, fridge and sink.
Look to your right and you’ll see their ceramic tableware collection, lovingly handcrafted by Dillon. Towards the left is the stove and cooking area, where the couple often cook together on weekends.
The entrance to the kitchen.
No, the contractor didn’t forget to cover up the beams. Like everything in the house, the bare beams were a deliberate design choice on the couple’s part. You see, there used to be a wall between the living area and the kitchen, but that was hacked down in favour of an open-concept living space. You can even see a 50-year old cigarette butt wedged somewhere in the cracks.
The cigarette butt trapped in the ceiling beam.
A well-organised, clutter-core storeroom
Dillon is pretty clear on the layout of their storeroom: the shelf near the wall is for the things he has no space to keep, while the items to the left are other items he has no idea what to do with. After all, Dillon expresses that his house is a “constant work in progress”, and he has no idea when the next train of inspiration will hit. These items will thus need a temporary home.
The various items found in the storeroom.
This clear organisation system makes their storeroom way less cluttered than one you might expect of someone in a similar living situation. In fact, Dillon says if it weren’t for the fact that this room gets almost no natural light, he would have turned it into something else.
It is also here that we get to know that the design firm behind his renovations, Mins Studio, were Dillon’s former students. When asked how it was like leaving his home in their hands, Dillon says trust is important, and that he hopes that their design education and training would have prepared them for their futures. We assure him that it seems like both students and teacher have done a great job.
Bedroom with rustic, natural vibes
The bedroom, with a little corner specially for Jules.
Right next to the storeroom is the bedroom, where they retire for the night. Where’s the bed frame? We asked. Turns out, like everything else, deciding to forgo a bed frame was a practical choice: there was no space, in the room or in the lift and corridor, for one. Besides, it makes it easier to get out of bed in the mornings.
There is a little corner beside the window reserved for their beloved Jules. Dillon and Xue Li tell us fondly that he’s scared of thunderstorms and likes to have company when he goes to bed.
Their wardrobe shares a wall with the storeroom, which Dillon was a little bummed about. He tells us he had plans to hack the wall down to create a walkway from the storeroom to the bedroom, but ultimately decided against it.
Living, breathing plants for a living, breathing home
Dillon has one philosophy about homes, and that is the fact that a home is a space that breathes, is alive and always changes. True to this idea, his and Xue Li’s home is thus full of living, breathing plants.
These plants take up almost every nook and cranny of the place: from outside the unit to the pottery nook to sprucing up empty walls, it seems there isn’t anywhere the plants haven’t touched.
The plants in the pottery nook.
In particular, one thing that caught our eye was the floating branch on the corner of the living space. If it wasn’t for the fact that we walked closer and saw the thin wires holding it up, this optical illusion might have stumped us for quite a few days.
The floating branch.
Funnily enough, Dillon has a story behind the procurement of said branch. He tells us that he had to walk home with the branch, since it wouldn’t fit in his car and he didn’t want to face the judging stares of the bus uncles or risk accidentally impaling anyone. Thankfully, he managed to get the branch back home in one piece, but we assume it must have been quite the journey.
Advice for first-time renovators
When asked if there was any knowledge they would like to impart to homeowners looking to renovate, Dillon and Xue Li have quite a bit in store. They say that the best start would be thinking of something you enjoy doing at home, then build a main space around it. For example, the couple like spending time together, so their living room/main space is built and designed with that concept in mind.
Secondly, hire someone you can trust and build a working relationship with. For Dillon, the team he hired consisted of his former students, and it’s clear from the results that both Dillon and his students did their best.
The most important thing though, Dillon stresses, is being able to manage your expectations. Give your designers and builders time to work their magic. After all, they are the experts with the plans, and rushing them along very often doesn’t yield good outcomes. Also, cheap may not always necessarily be the best option, so set aside some money to splurge on quality items if you have the means to.
Jules the Frenchie.
Last but definitely not least, remember to remain true to your concept. Like Dillon says, a home is a place for refuge and safety, to be protected from the world, to have peace mentally, physically and spiritually. Ultimately, you’re gonna be using this space for quite a while, so why not make it something you can truly call home?
For more featured homes and inspo:
- Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw’s mid-century modern apartment
- Inside a multi-generational GCB
- Feng shui tips for your kitchen
Photography by Brad Lee.
Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.