What is a house if it’s not a home? And what is a home but a manifestation of one’s dreams and aspirations? In this homeowner’s case, it’s a long-harboured dream of living in a colonial-era home. Also called black and white houses for the signature colours of the exterior, they are recognised by their distinct regal architecture and lush, green surroundings.
Aside from their sense of history, these houses are coveted for their large interiors. Mostly built by the British who had lived here in the 19th and 20th century, the high-ceilinged rooms with ventilation blocks were instrumental for letting in cool air, in a time where air-conditioning didn’t exist. In these buildings, heat then rises and escapes from the interiors to regulate the temperature. The pitched roof and wide overhanging eaves keep the tropical downpours out of the home. Much like the Malay vernacular architecture of the region, they are typically elevated to keep the home cool. The spacious verandahs also serve as a reminder of less harried days.
“The demand today for home styles of the past speaks well for the way these houses were designed and built, that is, to fit well into the climate, lifestyle and context. Today, they are still in demand, perhaps for their resilience but also for that nostalgia of a simpler life of a bygone era. Or as in this case for David, the owner, to achieve his lifelong dream of owning a black and white home, reflective of the status of the past colonial masters,” says Aamer Taher, founder of Aamer Architects.
Once available in thousands, only about 500 remain with many of them given conservation status. These houses are hard to attain, so building a house from scratch was the next practical move for the homeowner. He now enjoys his retirement with his wife and children in this modern colonial-style home.
From the outset, the home appears like a grand colonial house of the past with a long driveway lined with landscaping. “While the look and style are of a black and white house, the planning and layout are not typical of black and white houses of the past,” Taher explains. This is where he bridged the past and the present.
The house sits on a sloped site, where there’s a 1.5-metre drop from the entrance level. As such, it called for designing the house in blocks, with the master suite and the other bedrooms on separate blocks. The verandah is integral in linking them all. A long swimming pool runs below a connecting verandah.
A cosy ‘outhouse’ sits singly, signalling it as a space for enjoying quiet contemplation alone. Inside the main structure, however, the spaces are large and airy. Most areas have been designed with the collection of Chinese art in mind. With a newly built house, the homeowner had the liberty to integrate conveniences and modern touches in the home. Clean-lined recessed lighting and air-conditioning can be blended into the home. Dedicated spaces like the entertainment room, wine store and a well-planned master suite can be realised.
Conservation houses are highly sought after. As this property shows, however, building a modern home inspired by colonial-style architecture from scratch allowed the design team to include other modern requirements such as the en-suite bathrooms.
A revival of the interest in architecture specific to the region can perhaps be a salve to cookie-cutter architecture that has arisen from globalisation. When asked how such homes that combine the old and new add to the architectural landscape here, Taher says, “Indeed, there seems to be a reversion to ‘old school’ styles, perhaps a reaction to the rather boring and boxy modern styles. This project shows a way to adapt an old style to a new site. While the ‘look’ is similar to the black and white style, the layout and configuration had to fit into this particular site. This house is a tribute to the traditional black and white houses of Singapore.
He adds, “There are no real concerns if function and practicality are handled well by design.”
Photos: Sanjay Kewlani