After trying for BTOs and Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) but to no avail, this couple finally settled down with a quaint, 4-room resale HDB flat located in the Eastern region of Singapore. With a floor area of 993sqft to work with, Jo and Kin of @thefookinhouse have managed to build a cosy home while sticking to a renovation budget of just $25,000.
From reno hacks to Taobao hauls and affordable gems sourced locally, the duo actively share learning lessons and tips from their reno journey on their Instagram to their following of over 6,000.
Of these followers, many fellow homeowners have shared their desire to emulate the style and design of @ourfookinhouse – you might just feel the same after this. Join us as we delve deeper into the story and inspiration behind this airy, welcoming abode.
Skipping out on an ID & working with a contractor instead
The original layout of the 4-room resale flat.
Image credit: Jo + Kin
Prior to moving into this home in March 2021, the couple were already what most Singaporeans might affectionately call, “Easties”. Having both grown up in the Eastern part of Singapore, this area was home territory for Jo and Kin. Today, they have taken inspiration from their childhood homes to build this current one.
Besides the familiar location, Jo and Kin were fond of the elongated living room layout of this particular 4-room resale flat. In fact, the view from the living room window was what first caught their attention when they viewed the house.
The kitchen before renovation.
Image credit: Jo + Kin
Then came the renovation. As first-time homeowners, Jo and Kin made the bold decision to do without an interior designer. This meant no 3D-rendering services and no advice on colour and aesthetics.
The master ensuite before renovation.
Image credit: Jo + Kin
However, they already had a good idea of what they envisioned their home to look like – directly enlisting a contractor would mean more freedom and control over how their home turns out.
At the same time, their research showed them that they could save costs – in general, contractor quotes are about 40% less than that of the average interior designer’s. They also noted that both options often have a range of works that are quite similar as well.
Thus, Jo and Kin settled on a contractor that was recommended by a close friend, who was known for his responsibility and quality workmanship – they were familiar with the contractor’s work on their friend’s home and were impressed with the outcome.
A minimal, Scandinavian-boho themed home
With a budget of $25,000 to keep to, the couple prioritised simplicity and functionality in their renovation, deciding to pass on a door or partition wall to separate their kitchen and living area. The wall had been hacked by the previous homeowner, which aligned with what Jo and Kin envisioned for the space – this also meant that they saved on costs for hacking.
They even painted and sanded the metal gate themselves, as well as kept the false ceiling from the previous owner – their thriftiness has evidently paid off.
The living room is spacious and airy, with a clear Scandi theme with white and wood tones.
The renovation work in the living room was kept to a bare minimum. They saved on their flooring, which involved no hacking – they merely laid the vinyl flooring of their choice, after removing that of the previous homeowners. They also further saved reno costs by retaining the false ceiling and existing ceiling fan from the previous owner.
As for why the couple chose vinyl flooring over ceramic tiles, Jo and Kin wanted to avoid the grouts between tiles, which might be a hassle to clean. Moreover, tile installation is generally costlier than that of vinyl across the board – this probably helped the couple to save on their reno costs as well.
Sitting right above the TV console is Jo and Kin’s Samsung Frame TV, a sleek and flat appliance that easily fits into the earthy tones of the home. Jo and Kin also seemed to fawn over their pecan brown leather couch from HomesToLife. Beyond being a classy addition to the living room, the couch also reclines to give them a cosy cinematic feel on movie nights in.
While furnishing their new home, Taobao became somewhat of a best friend to the couple. Their living room was one such space that reflected this – in Jo’s words: “I just add to cart.”
This TV console from Taobao is designed with beautiful rattan and fluted textures that have a rich, earthy tone.
From small decor pieces like their living room stool to bulkier items like a TV console, Jo and Kin hunted for affordable gems on the e-commerce site to save cost. And while online shopping is often risky, the couple took their chances and managed to discover some promising pieces – both affordable and of good quality.
Some of their best Taobao buys include the TV console, whose round edges and fluted textures really spoke out to the couple. Unlike local options which were more cuboid and “rigid”, Jo and Kin thought that the reddish, cherry wood of the console helped to set the tone for the living area, especially as it would be one of the first things you set your eyes on when entering the flat.
Jo and Kin discovered this mirror on Taobao, which cost SGD120 in Singapore, but RMB120 (about SGD24.90) on the e-commerce site. It sits right above a customised sideboard from the same site.
Other steals include mirrors, which were listed for 60-70% cheaper on Taobao, as compared to local options. Of course, there’s always the risk of damage to purchases during transportation. But the couple took a gamble and their mirrors managed to arrive safe and sound.
Jo and Kin also managed to customise a sideboard on Taobao, through voice messages and sketches exchanged with the seller online. It ended up costing about $200, which could cost $1,000-2,000 locally.
What is typically a forgotten or inconspicuous part of a HDB flat, the bomb shelter door has been decorated with a fabric garland and wooden characters.
The kitchen opens up into the living area, with no partition between them, making it appear more spacious.
As I stepped into the kitchen, I noticed that white-brown tones and uncluttered spaces seemed to be a consistent theme throughout this home. Some of the more prominent features include the bright, white countertops and the wooden panels of the drawers.
Speaking to Jo, we got to know that cooking is a hobby of hers and this was naturally a well-used space in the house. The previous homeowners had preferred a more vibrant colour palette, with most surfaces covered in magenta. But during their renovation, Jo and Kin decided to swap it out for earthy tones, with panels and vinyl flooring that resembled wood.
This meant that major carpentry work had to be done here. The couple shared that they decided to install cabinets and countertops on both sides of the kitchen, which was why the carpentry was a big cost in the reno.
Still, the couple managed to keep their kitchen reno cost to about $8,000 – they stuck to a simple, white backsplash and even directly sourced for features like their drawer knobs from Taobao.
On another note, Jo shared that she frequently cooks and is always trying out new recipes from TikTok. In fact, she often uses their home account on Instagram as a platform to share about their culinary journey, including recipes and airfrying hacks. With regards to Kin, Jo jokes a little, saying that “[she] wouldn’t eat anything he cooks”.
The homeowners purchased the pull-out drying rack and pantry set-up from Excel Hardware.
For the countertops and backsplash, Jo and Kin went with quartz and glass respectively – the white, reflective finishes helped them to achieve a bright and clean feel for the kitchen. As for the cabinets and drawers, they decided on using plywood, which helped to make the space inherently warmer and cosier.
The drawers in the kitchen all have a soft-closing feature, preventing harsh shutting as well as wear and tear. As for other built-ins like the pull-out drying rack from Excel Hardware, Jo and Kin took matters into their own hands and directly sourced for suppliers on their own.
For instance, the matte gold cabinet handles were purchased on Taobao and were much cheaper compared to local options – the homeowners were even praised by the contractor for the quality of their purchase.
The couple also shared an interesting tip to save on installation cost: for simple installations like drawer handles and knobs, seeking direct help from onsite workers could help you to avoid additional costs that the main contractor would have charged you with. Of course, it would also be beneficial if you maintained a good rapport with them.
Moving on to the service yard, Jo and Kin shared that the previous homeowners had hacked the windows separating the kitchen and service yard. This was a plus for them – they could save on reno costs since they had also envisioned the space this way.
The vinyl flooring of the living room extends throughout the kitchen and into the service yard, allowing the area to fit in with the Scandi theme. To save on costs, the couple did without built-in carpentry and went with a standalone washing machine and a portable trolley rack stocked with supplies.
They also explained why they chose vinyl flooring for the kitchen and service yard – in such a water or spill-prone area, most would typically go for ceramic or stone tiles which are more durable.
The couple shared that they rarely did heavy cooking such as grilling or deep frying in the kitchen – but that isn’t to say that they aren’t careful to avoid spills in the area – so far there haven’t been any major accidents.
At the same time, they used the same vinyl flooring for the kitchen, as that of the their living room and hallway, which gave their home a more uniform look.
The clean and minimal master bedroom only has a built-in floor-to-ceiling wardrobe and blinds installed.
Like the rest of their home, the master bedroom appears to be a blank slate that gives them the freedom to get creative with their furnishing. As they envisioned a clean and tranquil space for them to retreat to at night, the couple deliberately went with minimal furnishing and simple decor – proving that styling is all it takes to give a home great character.
A cheery tapestry from 3littlepicks is what greets you when you first enter the master bedroom
Moving on to the study, it is evident that the room is mostly filled with loose furniture to save on costs, which can also be easily rearranged to customise the space. On top of a selection of mostly white furniture, such as the BILLY / OXBERG bookcase from IKEA, Jo and Kin decided to switch up the vinyl flooring as well – this darker shade added more depth to the room.
With a mostly soft and muted feel to the study, Jo and Kin also saved on other costs like decor with the memorabilia they displayed. Arranged in the shelves and bookcases in the room, these vibrant knick knacks and momentos served to add a fun pop of colour to the study.
Another budget hack with a story behind it: Jo and Kin had signed up for a credit card and charged their wedding expenses to it, which in turn rewarded them with a beautiful coral swivel ErgoTune chair as a sign-up gift. The chair now sits snugly at the table when not in use.
It was also no surprise when the homeowners shared that the table in the study was another steal from Taobao. From what they recall, it cost about $50-$60 – a great price for a quality product.
This bookcase holds many of Jo and Kin’s souvenirs from their travels overseas, especially Marvel and Disney-themed knick-knacks.
The arched mirrors in both bathrooms were purchased from Taobao, while the overmount vanities were from Lola Sanitary Ware.
For their guest bathroom, Jo and Kin spent about $200 on their overmount vanity from Lola Sanitary Ware. They set aside a bit more for their master ensuite, which cost about $600. The homeowners also gave the master ensuite bathroom a facelift by replacing the old tiles in their bathrooms, opting for tiles that resembled wood instead. The homeowners also gave the master ensuite bathroom a facelift by replacing the old tiles in their bathrooms, opting for tiles that resembled wood instead.
However, despite the renovation of the toilet coming out on top as the costliest aspect of the overall reno cost, the couple managed to keep the total reno cost of their master ensuite under $4,000.
A 4-room resale transformation under $25K
From a vibrant, colourful flat that was adorned with purple, blue, and green surfaces, homeowners Jo and Kin have managed to give the resale unit a complete makeover.
Throughout their reno journey, the couple have battled spiders and dug through hundreds of Taobao listings for affordable buys. It might not have been an easy process, but the end result is a clean, minimalist-boho home that the couple can retreat to.
For other home renovations, you can check these out:
- Feng shui-approved home that uses Taobao for everything
- Midcentury modern Tiong Bahru walkup
- HDB that is a unique time capsule
Photography by Alvin Wong.