From sake bars to yacht cabins, Singaporeans remodel no-frills public flats

M.I.C.E consultant Melvyn Yap poses for a portrait in his Japanese izakaya bar-inspired living room of his 35 year-old executive maisonette public housing home in Singapore February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su

December 14, 2021

By Edgar Su

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s public housing system is acclaimed for providing affordable homes in the land-scarce country where private apartments can cost upwards of S$1 million ($740,800).

    The Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, in which 80% of Singapore’s 5.5 million people live, are typically utilitarian with tight rules governing ownership and resales. 

    But inside the usually staid and uniform tower blocks, some homeowners have let their creative juices flow.

Melvyn Yap, a consultant, spent about S$226,000 renovating the ageing home he shares with his mother to create the vibe of a Japanese sake bar complete with a hydraulic table that opens up from a tatami mat-covered seating area where he can sip sake.

    “If you get a place, with nice neighbours, renovate it nicely, stay in it, make it a home rather than thinking about making money,” said Yap, who used to regularly travel to Japan before the COVID-19 pandemic.

    For decades, Singaporeans have used their HDB flats to make extra cash either by renting them out or re-selling them at a profit.

    Boating enthusiast Wan Ismail bin Wan Nussin was undeterred by the relatively small size of the 750 square foot (69.7 square metre) apartment, which he shares with his wife and four children.

    He transformed the flat to resemble a luxury yacht cabin with wood-panelled walls and ceilings resembling decking.  

    “With the confined space in a vessel, a small area needs to have multiple uses, and that’s how I applied the concept to a small shoebox apartment,” said Ismail, an interior designer, whose children sleep on double-decker “berth” bunk beds.

    Maheswari Balan has altered the HDB she shares with her husband into a post-apocalyptic doomsday bunker with concrete walls and floors and a weapons cabinet showcasing archery equipment.

    “You want to come home to a place where you can be yourself, so just go creative, be yourself and go crazy with the house (design) you want,” said Balan.

(Writing by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Ed Davies and Christian Schmollinger)

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