Work of Art

THE highlight of a Good Class Bungalow (GCB) in Ford Avenue is the 21m lap pool adorned with a sculpture by prominent American artist Guy Dill. Typically done in bronze, the homeowner commissioned for the sculpture to be done in Carrara marble so that it can withstand the chlorine from the swimming pool.

Dill had to fly to Italy to make the sculpture, and took a year to complete it. Dill called the sculpture Passage Singapore. Indeed, the house has proven to be an ideal backdrop for contemporary art pieces as the homeowner is also the co-owner of an art gallery in Singapore, and has an extensive private collection.

The architect, Rene Tan of ­RT + Q, the designer of many private homes in Singapore and the region, was commissioned to design the house to suit the lifestyle and needs of the homeowner. The result is a double-storey house designed as two C-shapes facing each other, with a built-up area of 10,000 sq ft, five bedrooms, a sizeable living room, dining room, kitchen, a mahjong room, a glass lift, and covered garage for up to seven cars. The house was completed in 2008, in time for the owner to celebrate Christmas in his new home that year.

As the house was designed for his own use, the owner was particular about the materials used — poured concrete, which is more expensive than concrete blocks, Carrara marble slabs for the bathrooms, high-end granite for the kitchen countertops, ironwood timber for the interior flooring, chengal wood for the outdoor deck and exterior feature wall, as well as full-height glass sliding doors in the dining and living areas opening out to the swimming pool. The ceiling height of the house was also raised to 4m. "I really like having a sense of space," says the owner.

No expense was spared as he was building his dream home. "I got an estimate from a couple of contractors recently, and they said it will cost about $6 million to build a similar house today," says the owner.

A top priority was for the kitchen to not be too far from his bedroom. "When I work late at night, or watch TV, I've to go to the kitchen quite often," he explains. Hence, the kitchen was made larger and moved to the second level where the master suite, living and dining rooms are located.

"I love the industrial-style kitchen," says the owner. The state of the art kitchen has everything from a double-door super-sized refrigerator to a stove hob with steamer, grill and hot pan, as well as a built-in oven. To bring the outdoors in, the windows on one wall of the kitchen can slide all the way across using a remote control. The kitchen looks out to the outdoor deck. "This is where we feed the birds and squirrels twice a day," he adds.

The master suite features a large full-marble master bathroom with a central skylight directly above the freestanding bathtub. "You can have a bath and get a tan at the same time," says the owner. There is a separate shower, water closet and sizeable walk-in wardrobe. The master bedroom also opens out to a patio that has been turned into a relaxation deck with a jacuzzi and tanning pool.

A guest suite is located on the second level and is also designed in the luxury resort style. As there are more bedrooms than occupants in the house, one of them was converted into a gym which overlooks the water feature and turtle pond. After playing mahjong just twice in the four years he has lived in the house, the owner decided to remove the mahjong table and turn the area into a cosy corner.

A customised house

The owner's previous home was a colonial style house in the Mountbatten area in the east, which he had rented for several years. Hence, it featured mainly antiques. "I collected a lot of antiques in the past," he says. "But I gave away most of them, and kept just a few pieces for sentimental reasons." Family heirlooms include two Peranakan-style antique side tables in the house passed down from the owner's grandmother. "I cannot let go of those," he says.

As the GCB in Ford Avenue is very contemporary, new furniture that complemented the architectural design of the home had to be purchased. The owner had to refrain from overindulging in his passion as a collector in the current home, as it was designed with a minimalist and uncluttered look in mind.

The central feature in the dining room is a teak dining table from Bali designed to seat 16. "But when I bought chairs in proportion to the table, I ended up with just 10 seats," says the owner. The dining table was so heavy that it had to be hauled in with a crane from the front of the house before construction was completed. The table came from a single tree trunk that was so thick that the owner decided to have it sliced into half — one half as the dining table, and the other half became the coffee table in the living room. "I thought I would entertain a lot more, but I actually don't," he explains. "I never had a housewarming party." So far, it has mainly been intimate dinners for eight to 10 people, made up of close friends and family members.

The first level of the house contains the gym, two other guest bedrooms, storage and utlity rooms, as well as the maids' quarters. There's also a washroom for chauffeurs in the garage. The maids' quarters feature two spacious bedrooms for each of the homeowner's two domestic helpers. One of the bedrooms is large enough to be partitioned into two rooms in the event that a future owner has a third maid, he adds. Alternatively, given the size of the bedroom, the whole area can be carved out into an additional bedroom suite.

The current GCB at Ford Avenue sits on a land area of 15,069 sq ft. The owner took over the property from his father, a retired businessman, in 2005. His father had purchased the GCB in 1998. It was during the Asian financial crisis and GCBs of such land size fetched $8 million then, based on caveats lodged with URA Realis. "It was an old double-storey house," recounts the owner. "The design was not functional as every room, including the entrance, was on a different level. My dad never stayed there. It was left dormant. He just stationed his secretary and a gardener there."

The original house was therefore torn down and with the help of Tan from RT + Q, it was fashioned into the current contemporary home. "I was very lucky that I managed to work with Rene Tan to build this house," says the owner. The design and construction process took about three years.

Too big for two

However, after living in the house for about four years, he feels it is time to sell it. "It is too big," he says. "There are only two people living here." This does not include the two domestic helpers, two dogs named Hershey and Oreo as well as 16 turtles in the pond.

"We wanted a smaller house of just 5,000 sq ft," he says. "But everyone we spoke to advised us that we should maximise the house so that we can fetch a better value for it later. So, we doubled the size of the house."

Tristar Properties has been engaged as the marketing agent for the GCB in Ford Avenue, located off Holland Road. The indicative price is $34.5 million, or $2,289 psf. If the price is achieved, it should set a new record for the GCB market following the sale of a newly completed bungalow by niche developer George Lim in Leedon Park for $33 million ($2,110 psf) last October.

The house in Ford Avenue has received good response since being put on the market last month, according to Vivienne Khoo, associate director of Tristar. This is despite the seventh round of property cooling measures introduced by the government on Jan 12, where even Singaporeans are not spared.

Those buying their second residential property will be hit by a 7% Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD), and those buying their third or subsequent property, will be hit with a 10% ABSD. What's more, those taking out a second mortgage will have a reduced borrowing limit of 50% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, and 40% on their third or subsequent mortgage. GCB buyers are, however, less affected by this as most of them typically take out a mortgage of only 40% to 50%, according to property consultants.

Permanent residents (PRs) are also limited to buying GCBs with land area of up to 15,000 sq ft, and will require approval from Singapore Land Authority's Land Dealings (Approval) unit. They are now subject to a 5% ABSD on their first residential purchase, and 10% on their second and subsequent purchases.

Tristar's Khoo sees interest in GCBs coming mainly from new Singapore citizens, although there is also interest from seasoned GCB buyers. "They are keen to purchase now in case the government implements further measures," she explains. The gap between sellers' asking prices and prices buyers are willing to pay has widened since last year, and is expected to widen further this year with the recent cooling measures.

"However, despite the hefty stamp duty, we still expect some potential buyers to shrug off the current measures and resume their home search," observes Khoo. "These are genuine homebuyers who are willing to take a long-term view. And there is still a lot of interest in landed homes and GCBs."

What's more, with rising construction costs and property prices, buyers prefer to buy a GCB that is relatively new and well constructed.

"But there aren't many newly built GCBs on sale in the market today," concedes Khoo. "Most buyers are looking for completed homes that require little or no improvement works as construction cost is still relatively high."

This is evident from the recent transaction of the new GCB in Wilby Road (sitting on 16,146 sq ft of land) that was sold in December for $22.8 million ($1,412 psf). Another newly built GCB in Windsor Park Road developed by Simon Cheong's SC Homes was sold for $27 million ($1,400 psf).

For the homeowner of Ford Avenue, another compelling reason to sell his current home is his desire to undertake a different project. "I always wanted to do new things," he says. "I used to have a bar and every three months, I would hack out the whole thing and redesign it. That's the fun of it. Even my housemate thinks I'm mad as I'll be shifting furniture and rearranging the house in the middle of the night. It's just me. Once a project is done, I feel the urge to do something new."

He is now flirting with the idea of restoring a heritage property. "The previous place that I lived in was in the old colonial style, and when I came here, I dabbled in something modern. Now that I'm approaching 50, I suddenly feel like it is time to address living as an older person in a smaller house, with older things."

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore weekly edition of Feb 25-Mar03, 2013.

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