A 12 Month Labour of Love

The story behind 73 Eng Watt began in May 2015 when I bought a 1930s conservation status home in Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods  – Tiong Bahru.  I managed to buy get my hands on a rare find: a ground floor corner unit which is larger than most, with more natural light as it has windows running down the entire length of the house. Only the ground floor units have the most amazing double height ceilings and two separate entrances, a front and a back door.

In August 2015, I wrote a Medium post about it!

Did One Man a Real Estate Market Make

Designing something big

I needed an architect/designer and I only had two conditions:  I wanted someone Singaporean and I wanted someone fabulous.  And it was Glen Goei (who has three Tiong Bahru apartments) who suggested that I speak to Vince (who also lives in Tiong Bahru and has completed several Tiong Bahru projects and is familiar with URA conservation rules.).  Vince Ong of Ebon Designs was DesignSingapore’s first architectural scholar and completed his 6-year degree in Architecture in London under an Architectural Association (AA) scholarship. This unnaturally young and extraordinarily talented boy, only graduated in 2009 and has worked for Fosters + Partners and WOHA before setting up his own studio.

I found this quote in a media article on Vince’s website: 

“He has become the go to architect for a new breed of homeowners who don’t just want art on their walls – they want it seamlessly incorporated into the very building.”

And true enough, Vince has designed my  uber sexy cement screed kitchen countertop, my cast concrete sink and all my floor-to-ceiling, built-in cabinets.  He is now working on sculpting my dining table and my bedside lamps!

What do you do with a blank slate?

73 Eng Watt DrawingHuddled over many glasses of wine at PS cafe, we drew hundreds of sketches and floor plans in the initial brainstorming phase, debating every possible option under the sun (including a full sized, walk-in wardrobe for me – SCRAPPED, way too indulgent; an elevated kitchen with a breakfast bar overlooking the living room that leads into the garden for grilling / BBQs – SCRAPPED, because I don’t even like to cook; what time and at what angle must the sunlight hit the shower in the bathroom in the garden so that I can have rainbows in my shower – NOT SCRAPPED, STILL EXPERIMENTING!

On to Materials!

Once we agreed on a floorplan, we moved on to materials.  That’s when I realised I had no idea what Vince was talking about most of the time.

The difference between recessed and cove lighting? What on earth was a backsplash? (Sounded like something that splashed out of the loo after a #2 if you ask me!)   I had no words to describe the pictures I had been accumulating in my “One Day When You Build Your House” mental compartment.

Tiong Bahru is one of the few places in Singapore where you can achieve a natural, red exposed brick wall because the walls are thick enough and the original bricks were of the right colour.   I desperately wanted to replicate my Clerkenwell loft (which was an old silk warehouse converted into 8 lofts, with high ceilings, beautiful exposed brick walls and massive, industrial steel windows). This was the loft I bought in 2007 but never got to live in because GIC decided to move from East London to Marble Arch, which was 4 stops away from my apartment in Notting Hill.

But I also thought the whole exposed brick look has been overdone in Tiong Bahru (and definitely something that I’ve “done” already).I remember a brief conversation with another friend, a Malaysian architect, and he laughed at me “playing it safe” calling me “so Singaporean”.

Now that made me want to…

Try something different, something out of my comfort zone

But did I want wood or steel? Concrete or slate? Granite or Graphite? Timber wood or concrete floors? What bathrooms? What lights? What kitchen fixtures?  Round or square? Matt or shiny? What colour? What fabric? What material? The  decision paralysis that resulted from psychologist Barry Schwartz’s “paradox of choice” never been felt more real.

When small things become big decisions

For the first 10 months, I insisted on retaining creative control, wanting to specify every fixture in the house.  I also wanted everything done cheap.

Note to self: Not a good combination.

Compounded by a complete loss of rationality

I have come to realise that that beauty trumps rationality – every ounce of rationality gets washed down the drain once I seen something that is beautifully designed versus the cheap alternative.  1,000X more so than when I see a beautiful dress or a gorgeous pair of shoes.  Architectural / interior design trumps everything else I’ve ever bought in the past! I would never in my wildest dreams have guessed that I would love a ceiling fan as much as I love my Haiku, or my bathroom sink as much as I LOVE my Palomba Hans Grohe Sink! And the green wall? Worth every cent for the auto irrigating, auto-fertilizing green wall, even if all the plants die after a month. They will just have to be replaced.

My hard, rational bias to economise and keep costs low resulted in my insistence that we pick only cheap fixtures, only to realise that I HATED the cheap fixtures and had them all removed and replaced with Vince’s original proposals.  I must have flip flopped and changed my mind a hundred times; like a bipolar, schizophrenia freak.  I’m sure I drove Vince crazy.  To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t fired me as a client and still talks to me after what I put him through.

The Original House

The original house was a one bedroom flat with a massive courtyard. (If you’ve ever seen the apartment, this is where the White Annex Apt is!)

00. 73 Eng Watt (Original)


So we tore the place down and started to rebuild it.


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