House Tour: This Good Class Bungalow In Novena Has A Sprawling Basement Lobby

Conceptualised from the underground up, this bungalow is transformed into a tropical resort in a dense neighbourhood.
by Low Shi Ping

Novena Bungalow

On paper, this Good Class Bungalow appears to have the perfect storm of challenges.

Located in Novena, it sits on a fan-shaped plot in a dense neighbourhood. The curved edge, which is also its longest, runs along the bend of an arterial road, resulting in high vehicular and foot traffic.

Fortunately, the owner’s “light brief” made the project relatively straightforward for Robin Tan and Yong Mien Huei, the design team from Wallflower Architecture + Design, the firm commissioned for the project.

In addition to comfortably accommodating a family of four, the owner, a property developer, wanted the house to resemble a classy resort. Most importantly, he wanted to live away from prying eyes.

Credit: Skylights are embedded at the bottom of the pool to light the basement. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

“The owner has a very modest lifestyle. The question was how to take advantage of this simplicity to design a space they would be proud of,” says Tan. “Working in our favour is the sweeping curve that gives the house a grand frontage.”

The result is an L-shaped building that hugs the back of the lot, positioned as far as possible from the arterial road. The remaining parts of the 2,000sqm estate were landscaped extensively, including the entrance, curved boundary, terraces, and balconies.

A 25m long swimming pool and koi pond with a willow tree in the centre serve as buffer zones between the living area and the rest of the world, evoking the feel of a verdant, oasis-like retreat. This illusion is reinforced with minimal high-rise buildings in the surrounds.

Subterranean refuge

Novena Bungalow

Credit: The spiral staircase adds sinuousness to long stretches of wall. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

The boundary wall by the entrance is made of basalt rock and when the gate slides open, guests will see a porch that extends 9m deep.

Beneath that, a second basalt rock wall stands guard, this time a formidable wall of the house, with the main door cut into it. It extends to the left out from under the porch and where sunlight first brushes it, a series of vertical planters are positioned to take the edge off the severity of the stone.

Here, a surprise unfolds. Instead of grass, a 5m wide ramp winds gently down into the basement. Tan reveals that, counter to convention, the project was initiated by the basement design.

“The owner needed a big basement for guests, since the traffic rules do not allow cars to be parked along the road. What persuaded him to work with us was the knowledge that our basement designs are bright and airy in the day,” explains Tan.

Novena Bungalow

Credit: The main skylight is cut out from the planter housing a willow tree. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

Several design strategies were used to achieve this, starting with a terraced wall lined with plants on the right of the ramp upon entering the basement. This creates a long void that runs on one side, letting light in. On the opposite end, a sculptural spiral staircase of stainless steel and granite rises elegantly.

A few steps away, an oval pool of sunlight punctuates the floor at mid-day — the result of a skylight being cut out from around the planter where the willow tree grows. Beneath the skylight is the subterranean entrance to the house, while adjacent to it are four more skylights, this time set in the floor of the swimming pool. On a cloudless day, it’s tempting to linger and lounge here.

“We don’t believe in designing our basements as dungeons,” says Tan. “Our solution means there is no need to use artificial lighting and the space is naturally ventilated. The best part is that it is big enough to park 10 cars — exactly what the owner required.”

Practical layouts

Credit: The bedrooms are located towards the centre of the house, away from the traffic noise. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

Inside the house, each room is strategically located for maximum privacy and distance from the sometimes noisy traffic. The entertainment room is set in the basement to be way from, well, everything.

On the first floor, the front door opens into the living then dining room, followed by the dry and wet kitchens. This makes up one wing. The other is occupied by the family room, guest room and gym. Outdoor decking with generous overhanging eaves form a border between the building and the garden.

As is popular and expected, the floor plan is open. Large, thick windows and sliding doors soundproof the house, while keeping it connected to the gorgeously landscaped exterior. Natural materials are used throughout, from marble on the floor, to teak on the ceilings and travertine stone wrapping the lift core.

Novena Bungalow

Credit: Tom Dixon pendant lights add the supernova touch to the living area. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

The dining room is stunning in its loftiness. A cluster of Tom Dixon rose gold Melt pendant lights fill the space, seemingly giving the house its personal collection of supernovas.

On the second floor, the rooms are placed away from the end of each wing to be as far from the road as possible.

The side above the main door is occupied by an altar room. At the other end are the master bathroom and walk-in wardrobe. Between them are four bedrooms, including the master, and a music room. Chengal louvres by the windows offer an additional layer of privacy.

Credit: Natural materials are used throughout, such as marble for the floors. (Photo: Wallflower Architecture + Design)

“Because of the owner’s brief, we were able to keep things very simple with large, spacious rooms and high ceilings on both floors. The house rises to the full 12m height that is allowed and can even have a comfortable pitched roof to tie in with the aesthetic of a resort,” says Tan.

The landscaping was done in collaboration with Plantwerkz. “It was important that we provide a sufficiently large canvas for them to find the best flora and fauna to enhance the project,” says Tan.

Because of these design details, the perfect storm was successfully metamorphosised into a calm sanctuary. The best part? Passers-by are none the wiser.

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This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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