When the renovation works for their bungalow in Serangoon Gardens was completed in 2016, then Hong Kong-based corporate lawyer Rebecca Hong and her husband, Anthony, knew that it was to be a place they would retire to someday in the future. Despite building their lives and career in the city-state for more than a decade, the couple would visit Singapore with their three children at least twice a year, staying in the house that is very different from their Deep Water Bay property in Hong Kong.
“Maybe it was because we lived in Hong Kong for a long time, so we veered towards something
very different for this house,” Hong shares. The four-storey irregularly shaped bungalow, which is a playful departure from the conformist linear shapes of conventional architecture, sits on a
5,000sqft piece of land. Yet, despite the rounded edges and soft curves of the exterior, the inside of the house feels airy, light, and, more importantly, very spacious.
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To design and build the house, the couple interviewed three architecture firms and design studios before deciding on renowned architect Aamer Taher, who is known for incorporating
curvaceous forms in his designs. “Coincidentally, Aamer was also engaged by our next door
neighbour at the same time. So he designed both houses together,” she reveals. “If you were to look from an aerial viewpoint, both houses look like the inside of an opened shoe box. Ours is one half of the shoe box, and theirs is the other.”
Indeed, it is an interesting modern design that stands out from the rest of the bungalows along
the street. Since its completion though, the house had been mostly unoccupied until recently, when the couple decided to uproot and move the family back to Singapore.
“Moving back here was the result of various factors, to be honest. With the political unrest in
2019, coupled with the lockdowns due the global pandemic the last two years, the current
situation in Hong Kong was not ideal for the family. We wanted a more stable environment, especially for the children,” says the mother of three children, who are between the ages of 10
and 15 years old.
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So, with 600 boxes filled with a lifetime of memories and beautiful artworks collected through the years, the family returned to Singapore and settled into their home in January. While Hong is still building on the narrative for the interior of the house, it is clear that there is a recurring theme of finding a balance between modernity, tradition and culture, by way of the many art pieces displayed in the house.
One such artwork is a neon orange dinosaur sculpture with the words ‘Made in China’ stamped
across the belly. Purchased from an art exhibition in 2009, the sculpture—Chinese artist Sui
Jianguo’s commentary on high art and consumerism—is placed prominently at the reception foyer.
“I love the message behind this piece because it calls out the incorrect Western notion that things made in China can never be good and cannot be considered as art,” she says. “Plus, it is interesting how this dinosaur, which can also be interpreted as something old or as a representation of tradition, is done in such a bright colour, which is typically associated with something more modern and contemporary.”
Behind the dinosaur sculpture hangs a painting depicting a scene of Hong Kong in the 1990s.
Done by a Hong Kong artist and purchased at a charity auction, the artwork shows a plane, in
between buildings, landing at the old Kai Tak airport. “For us, this encapsulates Hong Kong. You
see all the buildings, you have the aeroplane, but you also have this old lady who is pushing a cart in the foreground. I just love the representation of how modernity and the traditional can co-exist in one space.”
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Tradition, Hong further expounds, does not necessarily mean not modern. “There is so much to be gleaned from tradition and culture. In fact, what is modern now can be said to have been repurposed from what was once considered traditional.”
It is the marriage of the two elements that perfectly describes the essence of how Hong, who recently launched her own traditional Chinese herb tea brand called qìsane, lives her life.
Moving beyond the reception foyer, following the curvature of the house, one is led to the dining area which has an open concept kitchen. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels allow light to flow into the space. A wooden door swivels out to a cosy sitting area with fluted panelling that leads to a narrow lap pool at the side of the house that is hidden from prying eyes. “My children use the pool a lot and my husband swims his laps in the mornings, but we also have a small gym set up in the basement,” she says.
Climbing the semi-spiral staircase to the second floor where the children’s bedrooms and master bedroom are, one notes how the glass panels really open up the space, making it bright even without any lights turned on. It is a design feature that was important to Hong and her husband, whose previous home in Hong Kong was perched on the side of the mountains, with a view of the water.
“I suppose living where we are now, we have to make do with the view,” she says, with a laugh.
“But the design of this house creates an openness that was very much welcomed and needed.”
The third floor is one of the two spaces where the family gathers: At one side is the TV room,
where they play board games and watch TV, while the other is where the outdoor rooftop terrace is located. Anchoring the two separate spaces, is a chic bathroom the couple designed. “Anthony and I designed it ourselves, and we call it our New York bathroom,” she shares. “We deliberately matched everything, and the black-and-white nautical theme is very much like the Hamptons in
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The other space the family gathers in is the great room right in the basement of the property.
Walking down the flights of stairs and into the basement, one is greeted with an expansive space
that belies the curvature of the above-ground dwelling. The basement occupies the entire area
of the land the house sits on, and has a built-in wine cellar, a guest bedroom and bathroom that
provides privacy for whomever that is staying with them, a sitting area for movie nights, as well as a game room that accommodates ping pong and mahjong tables, as well as the mini indoor gym set-up. Beyond that is the helper’s room with an ensuite bathroom and her very own spiral
staircase to access the house from the back.
The pièce de résistance of this expansive space is a larger-than-life pottery vase that sits in the
outdoor area leading to the guest room. Recounting how she got the vase, which she purchased from Chiang Mai where she was attending a wedding, Hong says, “We went to this pottery place and I fell in love with this piece. I asked if they could make it for me in the colour that I wanted. And they did.” What was more difficult, she says, was figuring out how to get it down into the basement.
Luckily, the open space above was big enough for the vase to be lowered down. “It took 10 men
and a lot of ropes to bring this to where it stands now. There is really nothing to [the vase] but I love its simplicity and how beautiful it is,” says the avid art collector who is a fan of contemporary Chinese artists.
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The basement is also where her favourite artwork in the entire house is located. The acrylic
painting by renowned Paris-based Chinese artist Ma Desheng spoke to her when she first laid eyes on it at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong a few years ago. Its title in Chinese translates to ‘Great Leap Forward’.
“At that time, I suppose I was going through some ‘mid-life issues’, if you could call it that,” she
says before breaking into a laugh. “So much was happening at that time in my life, especially with
what was happening in Hong Kong, and figuring out my career. I suppose it resonated with me
because it pushed me to make some bold moves.”
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And bold moves she has made, with the packing up of her family’s entire life in Hong Kong,
and moving back to Singapore, and then deciding to launch her own tea brand. As she puts it: “I have been very blessed. But this is a constant reminder for me to not be afraid to take the next step forward, whatever that may be”.
Photographed by Lawrence Teo
Styled by Gracia Phang
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