The route to Leong Hon Kit’s bachelor pad in an HDB block is a familiar setting in Singapore. Sauntering through a maze of concrete columns on the void deck, the nonchalance and sleepiness is somewhat endearing. Children have gone to school, parents to work, domestic helpers to market—the area basks in early morning calm.
On a high floor, the lift doors open to a landing floored with diamond-shaped, peach-and-cream tiles whose gaudiness contrasts with the tasteful interiors of Leong’s home in Sin Ming Estate. The director of interior design studio Wynk Collaborative had been living several storeys below with his parents for 30 years, but now has a dwelling to call his own. He enjoys the quietude that such older developments afford and was glad to have found a unit that allows him to indulge in his aesthetic leanings but is close to his ageing parents.
This is paramount for the 40-year-old architecturally trained designer as his work keeps him busy day and night. Filial piety ranks high alongside his love of design, which has birthed many memorable spaces. They include interiors for the Standing Sushi Bar chain, local fashion retailer Love Bonito’s boutiques, the nowdefunct Habitat by HonestBee supermarket and Chatterbox Café at the prestigious Herzog and de Meuron-designed K11 Musea art destination in Hong Kong. Thrown into the mix is a smattering of refreshing homes.
One of the firm’s trademarks is an unabashed embrace of colour and form. For instance, the first Standing Sushi Bar featured tangerine and cobalt shades, and an oversized sea of domes hangs from the second shop’s ceiling. So what would the home of a designer who projects such exuberance in his projects be like? There is colour of course, starting with the blue metal gate and mint green front door. There is also a strong material presence, heralded by the Superlight aluminium chair designed by American architect Frank Gehry at the gate.
The two windows looking out to the common corridor are unfiltered with screens or frosted glass, reflecting Leong’s comfort with curious neighbours who stop to peep into the atypical HDB interior. Pretty paraphernalia at the window, such as a Lego model of architect Le Corbusier’s Farnsworth House, a textural Reverse travertine-and-bronze lamp from Menu and a comical Ettore Sottsass Jr-designed vase beckon further scrutiny.
Indoors, the mint green shade colours an L-shaped wall. This and the cement floor backdrops chic assemblages of furniture. One of Leong’s design heroes is Konstantin Grcic. In the living room, the German industrial designer’s Kiki sofa for Artek upholstered in a canary yellow Raf Simons x Kvadrat fabric and Mattiazzi Clerici timber armchair sit friendly with Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s 1957-designed, ergonomic fire engine-red Mezzadro stool produced by Zanotta. In the centre, two glass coffee tables bunch into a singular composition.
“The green ombré Tacchini Daze coffee table was a gift from furniture shop Made & Make, where I bought many other pieces from,” shares the slim, statuesque and bespectacled Leong on the more colourful table. He is amicable, has no airs about him and speaks about his collection with honest affection. The Clerici chair in a customised marine shade was the first new piece to grace the home after Leong moved in early last year. “It’s one of my favourite designs. I had been eyeing it for years,” he says. It inspired the blue ceiling light trough running across the living and dining areas.
Above the sofa, a black, hazy print by local photographer and close friend Jovian Lim works as a counterpoint to the home’s many hues. On the floor, a Samsung Serif television is more furniture than electronic equipment with handsome alabaster curves, spindly A-frame legs and a dearth of buttons. “I didn’t want to mount the television on the wall, and because the house is small, I didn’t want to put it on a console that you would walk into once you enter the main door, so this is ideal,” says Leong. It is another piece he has been admiring since its release in 2017.
Save for the discreet shoe cabinet beneath the window ledge, there is no other built-in cabinetry here so as to give Leong’s artful furniture room. Many of them were housed in his office in Golden Mile Complex for years. Around the dining table is a family of chairs—the Menu Afteroom, Artek Lukki and Mattiazzi Osso—whose skinny profiles reduce bulk in the small space. Framed posters from Comme des Garçons’ pop-up stores that Leong visited add red accents to a white wall. They had been kept in a box for 15 years until this new home presented the opportunity to have them displayed.
There is plentiful thought that goes into the home’s serene and inviting feel, though this may not be obvious to the untrained eye. Glass strips embedded in these walls make the home feel larger than a conventional two-bedroom HDB flat. “I wanted to see the room beyond, but didn’t want to open everything up and have to air condition the entire home all the time. HDB flats can be quite deep so it can get dark in the daytime. These slits allow light from one room to enter the next,” Leong explains.
“Filial piety ranks high alongside his love of design, which has birthed many memorable spaces”
A fluid layout also gives the illusion of spaciousness. Leong reintroduced a formerly removed storeroom but as a buffer between private and public zones in the house’s centre, merged into the centre green walls, whose shade was chosen for its calming effect. The other spaces flow around this element so there are no dead corners—perfect for sparking dialogue among visiting friends who meet one another while ambling around.
Leong is brutally honest about his lack of cooking expertise, preferring to order food in at gatherings. In the spotless stainless steel kitchen, he pulls open a drawer to show me a full compartment of drinking glasses. “I have more glasses than cooking utensils. Recently, I’ve been into natural wines, so I’ve a lot of that.” His mother benefits from his bare refrigerator, using it as extra storage. “In exchange, I store a lot of my old things in her home,” he chuckles at this amusing domestic barter.
Colour gets punchier in the bathroom, amalgamated from two toilets. Blue ceramic tiles frame a portal into a curvy alcove dressed in terracottalike ceramic tiles from Japan. Leong moved the sink out to a stainless steel counter facing a window for ample natural light. On the counter, a Serax candle burns. Named 11pm, it sends a woody, meditative fragrance through the home. Unadorned skincare bottles from The Ordinary line up neatly, reflecting Leong’s penchant for the essential and elemental. “I like the brand for its simplicity and straightforwardness. The products are based on clinical skin treatment, and packaged and labelled with no frills,” he describes.
His structured and minimal fashion palette is equally muted and considered. On the vanity are an array of spectacles—mainly Berlin-made Mykita frames with screwless hinges, some of which are collaborations with fashion designers such as Maison Margiela and Damir Doma. “I like frames based on classic shapes but updated with current materials and fabrication,” says Leong. In the bedroom, commonly worn jackets in designer black hang on a rack. “I’ve always had an interest in fashion but I try not to buy trendy things. I still wear clothes that I have owned for 20 years. I go for the cut and tailoring. I used to buy a lot of Comme des Garçons but I think they have been producing similar designs in the past five years so I’ve been buying more Yohji Yamamoto and Jil Sander.”
Likewise in the home, many products were chosen for their cultural narrative or technical value. Lamps and chairs are a particular obsession. In the bedroom formed from two smaller rooms, a stumpy Parc 05 floor lamp from Lambert & Fils adds a playful air. From the wall extends Nemo Lighting’s Lampe de Marseille wall light by design greats Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier for the Unité d’Habitation modernist residential building in France. In the living room, their Parliament floor lamp designed for the Palace of Assembly in Chandigarh, India, is a treasured housewarming gift.
On chairs, Faye Toogood is another favourite, adored for her idiosyncratic, irreverent style. The British artist’s enveloping Driade Roly-Poly chair marks a corner in the bedroom, and her Spade chair manufactured by Please Wait To Be Seated by the main entrance offers multipurpose use. “I sit on it to wear my shoes. When it was in the office, I hung jackets on it,” says Leong, pointing out the useful, handle-like frame resembling its namesake tool.
In the bedroom, earthy ceramics sitting alongside shiny copper vases from &Tradition speak of Leong’s interest in craft culture since young. “I made the two on the left when I was 15 in a ceramic class at the community centre; some were from friends and two are by local artist studio Ripple Root. They were centrepieces from an art gala dinner we could take home,” he shares. Leong cites Wallpaper magazine as a key influence for his foray into the creative field. He was 15 when the first issue came out in 1996. “I had a lot of free time so I was always in Borders bookshop browsing magazines. Architecture was a sensible way of doing design so that was what I studied at the National University of Singapore.”
“In our projects, as well as my home, the layouts are quite sensible. We don’t do funny shapes. If we have curves, they are simple and for a reason”
An exchange programme to Sweden exposed him to Scandinavian design principles. In his kitchen, stacked Artek stools designed by iconoclastic Finnish architect Alvar Aalto stand by for guests. “The trip changed the way I thought about design—as something less about choosing colours, making sculpture, or following the work of architects like Tadao Ando or Zaha Hadid because they are nice,” says Leong. How people use the space trumps the look. “In our projects, as well as my home, the layouts are quite sensible. We don’t do funny shapes. If we have curves, they are simple and for a reason.”
This holistic approach also stems from his multifaceted training. Leong interned at a local architecture firm but was restless doing ‘paper architecture’ of projects in Abu Dhabi remotely from Singapore. In 2011, an ex-schoolmate roped him in to design a friends’ house and Wynk Collaborative was established. During this time, he dabbled in other creative pursuits: design thinking and consultancy with IDEO, and interior design for branding agencies Foreign Policy Design and Hjgher (his projects at the latter include hip yakitori bar Bincho at Hua Bee for Unlisted Collection).
“Working with these studios informed how I design. That’s why we have a lot of retail and F&B clients as we understand how branding works and how such businesses run. We don’t design spaces to only look good in photographs and we try to be collaborative—like in our name,” says Leong. Constant discussion is de rigueur in the office, which is why he found working from home during last year’s circuit breaker counterproductive. “There was no structure and we lacked that spontaneous interaction where we could answer staff queries immediately,” he laments. Fortunately, work is continuing at a good pace despite the economic slowdown. Local designer Gin Lee, for example, engaged the firm to design her flagship store during the circuit breaker.
Stuck at home, Leong had ample time to enjoy his new digs, though it also meant he ended up scrutinising defects. “Most people don’t notice them but I saw them everyday, like the imperfections of the cement flooring. But I’ve come to accept them. After the rug came in, it was much better,” muses the perfectionist. When asked if he is satisfied to live here for the long run, Leong admits that he is already itching to design a new place—one that he can fill with even more furniture.
Deputy Editor: Amelia Chia
Photographer: Sayher Heffernan
Fashion Director: Desmond Lim
Hair and Makeup: Greg’O using Keune and Estée Lauder