The best architects know the importance of light and how to harness it. In Southeast Asia, this is tied to a sense of comfort; a dexterous handling of light and its counterpart shadow can combat the uncomfortable heat and glare of the tropics, letting inhabitants linger longer in spaces and live their daily routines with ease.
In this house designed by Singapore-based Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar, the interplay of light and shadow animates ambles through the home. Multifarious delights are experienced viscerally: canopies tuck the living room in cocooning shadow, stone walls in the gardens are softened with dappled light from tree foliage, and a trellised skylight running the length of the house sieves out heat while giving subtle cues of weather temperaments through the day, such as the patter of raindrops on glass when it rains.
This staging of nature, time and place forms the backdrop to Karina Tham’s everyday life. She lives here with her husband Darius Sit, her two-year-old daughter Sena and infant son Soren. There is also Ando, the spirited Shiba Inu that makes known his place in the home with resounding barks as I make my way in.
Having moved into the home only two months into this interview, the family is still discovering the house’s quirks and wonders. “This is our first family home as we were living with my in-laws for the past 10 years, so it’s quite exciting,” says Tham. She and Sit, the founder of digital asset trading company QCP Capital, met at an industry event when she was working in fashion and lifestyle public relations. An English literature graduate, Tham now works in corporate communications on a contract basis to spend precious time with her children.
“We aimed for every space to feel warm and unintimidating, and we may have achieved that because we’ve had guests nap in our living room!”
At first, the couple embarked on a project to build their home from ground up. A design with another local architect had been confirmed and a tender had been called when this 20-year-old property became available on the market. A tour cemented their decision to change course and make this understated home their own.
The location in a residential neighbourhood near town was also hard to resist. “I had grown up in the north in the Bishan area and my husband in the south in Pasir Panjang, so we felt that this area was perfect, being poised between both our parents’ homes,” Tham comments. Being a skip and hop away from manifold green spaces such as Peirce Reservoir, MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Brown also encouraged a holistic way of living. “Now we go for long walks every weekend. We’ve gone hiking at Bukit Brown. It’s also very quiet so in general, we’re happy here,” she reflects.
The design-savvy Tham took a scholarly approach to the home renovation process after finding out the identity of the architect, devouring tomes of Bedmar’s works. “We looked up recent projects by him and realised that they still share similar features to our home,” she highlights. “Our favourites are the wood-panelled ceilings, large glass doors and windows in every room, as well as the use of natural materials like granite and timber. We believe that his architecture will stand the test of time for another 20 years.”
There are also many pockets of outdoor spaces and greenery that large glazing and sliding glass doors give easy access to. This unbridled link between indoor and outdoor environments is a trademark of Bedmar’s houses and embodies tropical living.
Despite being 20 years of age, the house feels current. “This is rare as the architecture of 20-year-old houses usually looks quite dated,” says Tham. The original layout—sensible and generous but not indulgent—was retained as it worked perfectly for the family. “We liked that we could move in almost immediately. The flow [of spaces] really made sense to us,” she points out as we survey a room in the front that is an ideal home office for Sit to receive colleagues and guests without them traversing to the private quarters.
This room, the living area, family room, kitchen and powder room line up in a row on the first storey, traced on one side by a long fish pond that was transformed by landscape designer Lee Han Yang of Main Green—Sit’s ex-schoolmate, Tham shares—into a serene zen garden laden with sand, small boulders and potted plants. “This is like a giant sensory pit for Sena. But it’s also easy to maintain and is quite calming,” Tham observes.
On the other side, the living and family rooms face the cobalt-coloured swimming pool, backed by Traveller’s Palm trees. The C-shaped plan has the dining room situated perpendicular to the main spaces and facing a white cube housing a room across the pool that the couple use for contrast therapy.
“We do contrast therapy every morning,” says Tham. “Contrast therapy is where you go back and forth between the sauna and cold plunge pool, which we now have here. It builds immunity. Previously, we lived with my in-laws so our lifestyle was very different. Here, our intention is to try and live a holistic life. We also thought about how we wanted our day to flow. As my husband likes swimming, he also does laps in the morning.”
While the bones of the house were beautiful, the interiors needed updating, especially the kitchen, home office, powder room and master bedroom suite. “The other rooms only required a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture. We kept built-in cabinetry to a minimum so that we could easily repurpose the other rooms by switching out the furniture if needed,” says Tham, who worked with Stacey Leong Interiors on the refurbishment.
The chosen palettes took their cues from the architecture and surrounding nature. In the powder room, terrazzo pink flooring and the monolithic washbasin counter’s black-and-plum-veined Corvidae marble echo the Moroccan-pink pebbles in the facing garden designed by Lee. A mirrored wall augments the effect of space, landscaping and daylight.
In the kitchen, Leong applied subdued cream and off-white shades to cabinetry and wall surfaces. “The terracotta stone wall on the zen garden’s external wall elevation outside casts a warm glow on [these colours]; a pure white would otherwise look flat and harsh,” she explains.
The kitchen is a homey space made for the functionalities of prepping food, cooking and sharing meals. The 2.8-metre-long island’s Calacatta Oyster marble—“with bone, anthracite and taupe veins, and liquid-like crystals,” Leong describes—is characterful. The interior designer deliberately made this vivacious centrepiece lower in height to accommodate an integrated banquette seat, which is paired with a round table. Rather than high bar stools, this setting slows down the pace of activity while encouraging gathering and relaxation.
Indeed, Tham shares that this area is used for meals more than the dining room. “The banquette seating is informal and convivial. It sits up to six people and we’ve hosted everything from intimate private chef dinners to kids’ play dates in here. The kids like to stand on the banquette while the adults work at the counter,” she muses. Tham’s countertop activity usually comprises assembling sandwiches and smoothies. “My husband is the one who uses the stove more.”
The couple’s personal touches come in the form of a 1925Workbench brass barn door track installed over the pantry door, which Leong matched with khaki-grey paint. Next to this is a framed painting of Tiong Bahru Market by watercolourist Foo Kwee Horng who taught Tham ‘O’ level art in secondary school. “Coincidently, his daughter is Sena’s preschool teacher,” Tham comments, clearly delighted. While she did not go on to pursue art as a career, Tham clearly has artistic leanings. This shows in her curation of the house’s furniture and paraphernalia. In the living room, she commissioned a collection of botanical artwork by This Humid House to fill the voids of an existing glass shelf. “The previous owners used it to display their antiques. We don’t collect antiques so we filled it with this installation. The idea is to change it seasonally. Even so, this particular set can last months because the plants are dried. We went for this brown shade to match the zen garden,” says Tham.
In front of the living room is a sentimental display of nature. An olive tree, sculpted and graceful, grows from a planter as an emblem of parental love. “It was a housewarming gift from my parents. They’re getting along in years so they said ‘looking at this tree, you’ll remember us next time’,” Tham laughs at this thought she finds endearing rather than foreboding.
Her parents also contributed to the armchairs in the living room, accompanied by a capacious sofa that the couple purchased from a friend who was migrating. “As far as possible, we don’t want to be too precious with the furniture. After all, we have young kids. We just reupholstered the seats,” shares Tham.
Likewise in the dining room, the couple kept a custom-designed dining table with a concrete base and 12 B&B Italia dining chairs, left behind by the previous owner. New twin Overlap Suspension lamps from Flos illuminate them from above. “They look nice at night because you can see the paper grain,” Tham points out.
“This is our first family home as we were living with my in-laws for the past 10 years, so it’s quite exciting”
Existing glass shelves in the dining room are now a receptacle of memories, filled with objects that were kept in boxes for the past decade when the couple did not yet have their own home to showcase them. Tham tells me their origins: a Murano glass drinking set gifted from her parents that was displayed in their home, a set of Hermès plates she bought with her first pay cheque and an adorable, artful tea set with detailed, seam-like edges made by a South Korean artist on Jeju Island. “These things spark joy when I remember the stories,” she comments.
Upstairs, the playroom, children’s bedrooms and master bedroom suite line up in a row. The playroom is coloured by a pair of paintings by local design group Ripple Root. “They did them for our wedding invitation many years ago. We had already registered our marriage and were going to hold the reception in Japan, so in the painting there are yoshimura macaques, cranes and traditional Japanese architecture. But we had to cancel the wedding because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These artworks are memories of what could have been but in the end it’s all right, we had the kids. We might do an anniversary thing later,” she laughs.
Tham did up Sena’s bedroom herself, embellishing a wall with a peacock-motif wallpaper from Cole & Son and two Margaret Jeane landscape paintings. In Soren’s bedroom, an existing mezzanine accessed by a ladder holds potential for a future book nook when the children become older.
In the master bedroom, Leong enlarged a typical door into an arched wooden French-style glass doorway between the former sitting and sleeping areas—now the sleeping area and walk-in wardrobe respectively. Solid brass handles and walnut laminates for the dresser and door add an elegant patina to Bedmar’s American oak floorboards and sloped ceilings. At the wardrobe, glass doors put on show Tham’s collection of bags chosen for their forms and material, such as a Nina bag from Gabriela Hearst, a handbag from Chanel with wooden chain handles and a Half Moon handbag from The Row.
“In the two months since we moved in, we’ve hosted family and friends almost every day,” says Tham as we walk down the stairs, made light with floating timber treads. This was what she and Sit had wanted ever since they talked about their dream home. “We aimed for every space to feel warm and unintimidating, and we may have achieved that because we’ve had guests nap in our living room!”
A memorable event is a 12-hour hosting session comprising a housewarming dinner followed by a Rugby World Cup final viewing party at 3am. “We also love hosting our friends’ kids, especially for pool parties,” adds Tham. “We love the sound of kids’ squeals and laughter in our home.”
Photography Sayher Heffernan
Styling Nicholas See
Hair Kenneth Ong/Makeup Entourage using Keune Haircosmetics
Make-up Lydia Thong/Makeup Entourage using Gucci Beauty
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