“Details, when they are successful, are not mere decoration. They do not distract or entertain. They lead to an understanding of the whole of which they are an inherent part.”
This quote by Peter Zumthor comes to mind when I visit this apartment in the central part of town by JOW Architects. While small at only 78 square meters, it abounds with details on every surface and touch point. Instead of being claustrophobic, it feels expansive. This is in part due to the voluminous ceiling height, which is what drew the owners – who work in the energy sector and is an O&G (obstetrician and gynaecology) specialist respectively – to purchase the one-bedroom apartment.
JOW Architects is a husband-and-wife team founded by Joseph Wong and Zhenwei Lai. Both studied architecture at the National University of Singapore and went on to gain experience at reputed firms. Wong practiced at Kerry Hill Architects and SCDA Architects, while Lai designed many high-end interior projects at Studio Terre.
“When we saw the apartment, what excited us was the tall ceiling height of 4.2 meters. We formulated the design to accentuate the height by using vertical visual elements, such as vertical timber trims [on the walls] and display shelving that draw the eye up to accentuate the height,” says Joseph. A floor-to-ceiling mirror at the end of the living room creates the illusion of depth and brings more sunlight and the view of the outdoor greenery into the space.
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“To bring about spatial order, the ceiling heights are simplified and organized into two heights of the original 4.2 meters and 2.7 meters,” says Wei. The lower height controls the line of doors and passageways. For “visual order”, the living room, master bedroom, and their connecting passageway are designed as a timber ‘box’ using the singular material of African Teak veneer and timber trims.
Aside from this material, mirror glass, neutral wallpaper, and antique bronze metal accents lend a serene yet upscale ambience to the home. The bathroom is another ‘box’, with the floor, walls, cabinetry doors and basin clad in Dekton – a material fused from natural quartz stone, porcelain, and glass. “The floor and walls use large-format Dekton tiles to achieve minimal joint lines for visual seamlessness,” Joseph highlights.
The home features plenty of storage concealed behind meticulously detailed panels. “The timber veneer box is a box of surprises, where there are hidden doors to the study behind the television, an electrical riser/storage space for the owners’ luggage and bicycle, and a private bar,” says Wei. The latter comprises a flip-down table for preparing drinks. “It can be a conversation starter or a gesture that signals the transition from a meal to after-dinner drinks,” Joseph adds.
Another clever space-expanding trick is in the master bedroom. Within the small footprint, the design team doubled the wardrobe space by stacking two rows of wardrobes. The upper row is accessed via a compact yet elegant spiral staircase that leads to a slim mezzanine. “They are constructed out of steel framework to minimize loading and achieve a light, delicate look,” says Joesph.
A lot of thought went into designing these features. The staircase’s curved steel plate balustrade is painted white to accentuate its sinuous form, while the glass railing on the mezzanine floor enables the full height of both wardrobes to be appreciated from below. “The wardrobe doors are finished in bronze satin mirror to catch the light from the window,” Wei highlights. The staircase is placed beside the window so whether ascending and descending, the owners can appreciate the full vertical extent of the exterior views.
The immaculate finishing and clever cabinetry evokes a well-attuned, tastefully finished hotel suite. “We think the projection of luxury in this house, besides what is tangible like the selection of materials and the crafting of details, is more intangible – that of the design becoming greater than the sum of its parts. It just works beautifully and is tailored exactly to the lifestyles of the occupants. We always believe that in modern-day urban living, the home should be a retreat that offers respite and a sense of order. This is the spirit we hope to instil in our works,” says Wei.
The completed home deviated little from the original scheme presented to the client. “We believe that trusting and having faith in what we do, and designing in the client’s best interest, forms the very foundation of a mutually respectable collaboration, which allows us to perform optimally to provide the best possible service to the client. In the end, beautiful work is created and meaningful relationships are formed,” says Joseph. That the partnership between clients and designers came about in the most informal way – the clients liked what they saw on JOW Architects’ social media – gives weight to this ethos.