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What do furniture designers’ homes actually look like?

They furnish or build our homes. But how do the homes of creative folks in the design and furniture industry actually look?

Lim Choon Hong

Founder of Xtra

Had Lim Choon Hong not spotted an ad for a private cluster housing project in Upper Bukit Timah one day, he would not have bought his current home – a four-storey home within walking distance of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

“It was really by chance that I saw the ad, and we went to have a look,” says Lim, founder of furniture store, Xtra. He lives with his wife Sara, and their eldest daughter. They have two younger children who are living overseas.

Lim says he has come full circle since moving into Bukit Timah about three years ago. He lived in the Sixth Avenue area when he was young, but moved to the east when he got married, as his wife grew up there.

Lim Choon Hong, founder of Xtra

Lim Choon Hong, founder of Xtra

While it took Mrs Lim a while to get used to the new area, Lim is enjoying it very much. “This place is very quiet, and I’ve got so much greenery at my doorstep which is a big plus,” he says. He goes for hour-long walks in the nature reserve each morning, and says the exercise rejuvenates him.

“This area feels like a sanctuary, and yet it is only 20 minutes by car from the city,” he says. And when he is not out walking in the reserve, he enjoys spending time on the balcony looking into the greenery and watching the antics of a family of monkeys that make an appearance regularly.

The less positive side of living so close to nature is that nature also comes to visit. “One time, we found a snake in the kitchen, and called Acres for help,” he says. They know how to keep reptiles away by using a natural snake repellent.

As the more design-savvy of the two, Lim designed the home himself, but “I made sure there was plenty of storage space that Sara would like”. He made minor changes such as changing the wooden floor to marble, and also redid the kitchen. He describes his home decor style as “eclectic, but also giving a feeling of quiet luxury”.

Lim Choon Hong's Home

Bright and airy living and dining rooms.

His kitchen is the only one of its kind in Singapore. The Cinqueterre kitchen, by Italian designer Vico Magistretti for Schiffini, is made of aluminium. Xtra used to distribute Schiffini, and this kitchen was in Xtra’s showroom until Lim installed it in his home. He likes Magistretti’s work, and “the ribbed aluminium panels are just amazing”, he says. The kitchen, however, is mostly used by the family helper.

Most of the furniture in the home is, not surprisingly, from Xtra. Lim, 59, says he picked his favourite brands when furnishing his home but even then it was not an easy task.

“I had to make sure that the different brands would complement each other,” he says. He adds that there is no trick to it, but rather, he used his “design instinct of 28 years”, which is also how long Xtra has been around.

In the living room, he has paired the Ghost sofa by Paola Navone with the design classic Eames lounger and ottoman. The Ghost sofa comes in white cotton, and “is quiet, and not many people have it”, he says.

Lim Choon Hong's House

View of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from bedroom balcony.

His home is bigger than his previous apartment, which means he now has space to display bigger pieces. “I don’t entertain very often, but at least now there is a big enough dining table for guests to gather around,” he says.

It is also around this dining table that he has his favourite chairs, which include the Gray 21 and Gray 26 armchairs by Navone, and an Eames moulded fibreglass chair.

His other favourite brands, which also appear in his home, include Tom Dixon, Boffi, Foscarini and Dedon.

Yet, his home doesn’t feel or look like a showroom. For example, the bookshelves are filled with his collection of architecture and design books, interspersed with designer accessories such as the Juicy Salif lemon squeezers from Alessi, and two Puppy plastic dogs from Magis.

Lim Choon Hong's House

Cinqueterre is the only kitchen made entirely of aluminium.

“These items represent the long relationship that Xtra has had with these brands,” he explains. The Puppy dogs were specially commissioned for Xtra’s 25th anniversary a few years ago. The silver matte Puppy dogs were given to guests, while a chrome version is the only one of its kind.

When asked if the architecturally-trained Lim would design his own home one day, he says that is unlikely to happen, since he hasn’t practised since he left school about three decades ago.

He is however, happy to be living in a home designed by one of his favourite architects, Sonny Chan, of CSYA Architecture + Design, whom he admires. Lim also likes that the home is constructed from off-form concrete. “In architecture school, we were taught about materials, and concrete in its natural form appeals to me.”

Lim says he is likely to stay put in this home for a long time before considering moving.”Maybe that will be when the children have moved out, and we may have to downsize to a smaller home.”

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Jefery Kurniadidjaja

Co-founder of Grafunkt

Jefery Kurniadidjaja says homeowners should not spend so much on renovating their homes. They should invest in furniture instead. Yes, he says that because he’s in the business, but he also reasons that a homeowner can always take the furniture with him when he moves house.

“This is especially so, when you buy a piece that you really like, you want to grow old with it and you will naturally find space for it,” says Kurniadidjaja, co-founder of furniture company Grafunkt. “The furniture need not be the most expensive, but it should be an original. I see a house as the canvas for furniture.”

Jefery Kurniadidjaja's House

Kurniadidjaja likes furniture and lights with clean, simple lines.

Kurniadidjaja co-founded Grafunkt in 2009 with award-winning industrial designer Nathan Yong. Yong designs the furniture range for Grafunkt. The two met when Yong was running his previous furniture company, Air Division, and Kurniadidjaja was his customer. Today, Grafunkt also carries brands such as Ligne Roset, Conde House and Vitra.

Unlike his business partner, Kurniadidjaja, an Indonesian-born Singaporean has no background in design. He used to work in IT, and was later a civil servant, but he always had an interest in furniture.

The 44-year-old is married to Singaporean Teo Su-Lin, who is the operations manager at Grafunkt. The couple have a 10-year-old son.

The family home is a three-storey corner terrace in Serangoon Gardens, which they moved into about three months ago. They were living in an apartment before, but decided it was time to find a bigger space. “We wanted more living space, and also a bigger place, would allow me to better display the furniture,” he says. They liked this house, also because of its rectangular layout, and the high ceiling.

Since the 3,500 sq ft terrace house was only built six years ago, Kurniadidjaja decided that only some minor renovations were needed. He worked directly with a contractor and spent about $50,000 on renovations. “We only changed what we really couldn’t live with,” he says.

For example, the house came with sunken showers with blue tiles. “They looked like swimming pool tiles, and were hideous, so I changed them to chic-looking black ones,” he says.

In the master bathroom, a window by the sink opened up to a planter on the outside. But this meant that there were no walls to hang mirrors. Kurniadidjaja had his contractor install mirrors that hang from the ceiling.

In another bathroom, the previous owner had grey patchy tiles installed. “They are garish,” says Kurniadidjaja, but he found a way to make the bathroom look more presentable without hacking away the tiles. He hung a poster on one wall, and placed a wooden shelf in the bathroom by the toilet. “Little tricks like these help to improve the space,” he says.

Jefery Kurniadidjaja, co-founder of Grafunkt

Jefery Kurniadidjaja, co-founder of Grafunkt

Kurniadidjaja also believes in not underestimating what a new paint job can do. There are no white walls in his home, because he finds the colour too harsh. Instead, the walls around the home are in soothing shades of grey, green and blue for a softer and warmer feel.

“Paint is also good at masking defects or eyesores,” he says. For example, he didn’t like the skirting in the bedroom, but had that painted the same shade as the wall, and now it looks less hideous.

He wasn’t too fond of the bedroom doors, but decided to keep them because they are made of solid wood. He had them painted over and bought new, and more trendy looking, door knobs.

Some of the walls are adorned with art work, but not the conventional kind. They are instead, framed pieces of washi paper, which Kurniadidjaja bought while on a business trip to Japan. “I like the traditional element of paper,” he says of the washi paper. He bought a few in different colours and had them framed up.

Jefery Kurniadidjaja's Home

Prado sofa and Oxydation coffee tables from Ligne Roset, and Cassina LC4 daybed in the living room.

The furniture in the home naturally includes pieces from Grafunkt, such as the Hakama dining table from Conde House, and the Prado sofa from Ligne Roset. There are also pieces that Kurniadidjaja has had for a long time, such as the Cassina LC4 daybed, and the Ercol Originals love seat on the second floor.

He is a firm believer that a home should be filled with what the owner likes, not what an interior designer may suggest. He is often amused when customers say they have to get their interior designer’s approval before they can buy a piece of furniture.

“It is not practical and difficult to maintain the perpetual showroom look,” he says. “This is also why our stores are done up to feel more like a home, than a formal showroom.”

But while he is happy to fill his home with furniture that he sells, Kurniadidjaja isn’t averse to buying from other retailers either. Once he was shopping at Space furniture, and was spotted by a customer.

“I love our brands, but at the end of the day, I’m still a customer and would want pieces from other brands,” he says.

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Philip Yong

Director at CSYA Architecture + Design

An architect with 17 years’ experience, Philip Yong is no stranger to building homes, whether landed property or condominiums.

Yong, 44, has built two homes for himself. The first was a four-storey house, and the second, where he is now living, is a two-storey home along Yio Chu Kang Road. He has lived there for about 18 months with his partner and their helper.

So is it every architect’s dream to build his own house? “It is an architect’s revenge,” Yong quips. “Whatever ideas that you can’t push on the client, you have it in your own home.”

As you walk in, Yong says “it is a simple home”. But it is far from that. The 4,000 sq ft house sits on a plot of land that is 50 metres long and 6 metres wide. He was attracted by the length of the land.

From the main door, you see the long corridor that leads all the way to the back of the house, where Yong has built a new annexe, which houses two bedrooms.

Because terrace houses only have openings at the front and back of the house, they often tend to be dark, but Yong has gotten around this problem by building his house one metre away from the neighbour’s wall.

Philip Yong, Director at CSYA Architecture + Design

Philip Yong, Director at CSYA Architecture + Design

One side of the house has no walls, but instead, there are full glass panels and louvred windows. These help to ventilate the home and allow natural light in.

The long and narrow shape of the land meant that the various rooms had to be built like compartments. So there is the living room, then the dining room which has the home’s original 1940s brick wall, the large kitchen and a powder room.

The same compartment-like layout applies to the second floor, where there is a guest room at the front of the house, a sitting area, the master bedroom, a walk-in wardrobe, the bathroom, and another dining room at the back.

“When you design your own home, you tend to change your mind more often, but once you know what you want, it is easier to make it happen,” he says, when comparing designing a client’s home and his own. Since this is the second time Yong is designing his home from scratch, he had a better idea of what is needed and what’s not.

For example, instead of the typical wet and dry kitchens, he decided to just have one big kitchen, because the dry kitchen was hardly used in the previous home. “So now, there’s just a single kitchen, that is spacious, functional and also looks good,” says Yong of his Toncelli kitchen.

Upstairs, the shower and toilets are housed together in a door-less bathroom. “The bathroom becomes more spacious and there are no shower panels to clean. It is more practical this way,” says Yong.

While his previous home was clad in marble, which friends had described as over the top, this house is mostly cast in concrete. “Friends now say this has a more down-to-earth feel,” he says. He has left most of the concrete in its bare form, as he finds it more attractive. “There is nothing cosmetically enhanced about this home,” he says.

As concrete can give a cold look, he has found ways to soften the overall feel, mostly with the use of curtains around the home.

The curtains are a floral print that look better on a frock than on the walls, but it is deliberate. “I want the curtains to be like a dress for the house. The bright colours and floral prints soften the bareness,” he says.

In the living room, the floral curtains are paired with a striped sofa in shades of pink, purple and green. In the corner of this room, there is a bespoke neon light installation of a pair of angel wings, which are lit up when there are guests. And when Yong draws the curtains, the room gets a purple glow. “It is always my dream to have a purple room. People ask why, and I ask them back, why not?,” he says.

In the guest room, that same floral print is on the curtains, and on the upholstery. “The print is so in-your-face. Even the lady selling me the prints had to repeatedly ask if I was sure,” says Yong.

For some, it gets a bit too much. Clients who have been to the house have two reactions – pleasant surprise or fear. “The ones who are scared will ask if this is the house they will also be getting,” says Yong, laughing. Thankfully, they have little to worry about.

While he makes personal decisions on the design of his home, Yong says that not all of his ideas are realised.

“There is always the next home,” he says. He designs according to the land, and believes in creating quality spaces over quantity.

“I save some of my dream ideas for my next house, rather than have them all crammed into the present one,” he says. “We like living in new spaces, so we don’t mind moving homes.”

Story first appeared on The Business Times.

PHOTOS YEN MENG JIIN / THE BUSINESS TIMES