Hubert Burda Media

A View to Die For

Designed to dramatise the panorama of the Singapore Strait, this Oriental-inspired Sentosa Cove apartment by AkiHaus is a jaw-dropper.

Should this ever-photo-ready Sentosa Cove condo turn young design outfit AkiHaus into a household name, a quick mention should go out to Richard Ho — the architect recently named Designer of the Year at the President’s Design Award 2013 — for it was him who recommended AkiHaus for the job.
Helmed by Lawrence Puah and Leong Kok Fye (Ho’s left- and right-hand men until they stepped out on their own 3.5 years ago), AkiHaus belongs to the new breed of design studios that approach architecture, product and interior design as a symbiotic whole.
Not only do they build, remodel and quote the likes of seminal American architect Louis Kahn (revered by the duo), they also design everyday objects from toilet roll holders to kitchen stools and even relish in picking out dinnerware. All of which, as Leong explains, goes towards instilling an appropriate “quality of space” in their projects.
Hired by a globetrotting Beijing client on the recommendation of their mentor, the pair went to town with the remodelling of this 10th-storey, four-room condo apartment. Its biggest asset is its vista of the Singapore Strait to one side and to the other, the gleaming pleasure crafts anchored at the ONE°15 Marina Club. But though it boasts views that are unparalleled, the apartment itself lacked the detailing worthy of its spectacle.
“The problem was the finishes that were used. They didn’t lead your eyes out to the view,” Leong tells us. To address this, he and Puah not only re-laid the floors with long strips of teak, but wrapped walls and ceilings in the same gorgeous hardwood, creating picture frames that draw the eyes out of the apartment and over the water.
Lose yourself in the moment and you can almost envision the design intervention as homage to Pritzker-winning Peter Zumthor, the architect behind Switzerland’s Therme Vals, who is known for beautifully framing vistas.
“We first had to understand the owner. He travels a fair bit. So when he is here, he wants to feel relaxed. He wanted a very Japanese Zen-like space. What’s important is that we deliver on an experience that he’s looking for,” says Leong, of the Chinese homeowner who is in his mid-40s.
“He has homes all over the world, including in Canada where he engaged an interior designer to do everything for him. But he felt that it was very impersonal. So this time round, he got very hands-on. This is the kind of dialogue which we like, because the end result will be very personal to the client,” says Puah.
One of the client’s design-defining inputs was on the palette of materials used. Married to a geologist, he was adamant that for health and well-being, none of the building materials were to be chemically infused or contain radioactive elements (although minute amounts do occur naturally in certain stones). Even adhesives used (for tiles, for example) had to be checked and double-checked for toxicity. “He’s Chinese. But the irony was that he requested that nothing comes from China,” reveals Puah with a laugh.
Chosen for its low iron content, marble was eventually picked to sheath the dining and living room walls as the home’s stand-out feature element. Juxtaposed against the natural warmth of the teak floors, the marble is austere and serene, bringing about a welcomed balance that is equal parts yin and yang. Likewise, hardwood sonokeling (Indian rosewood) and suar (rain tree) furniture, chosen for the beauty of their grains, are paired with cushion-laden, tufted Italian seating, creating an environ that is as elegant as it is inviting.
Designed to play up the concept of the cove (this being Sentosa Cove after all), all three bedrooms have also been given variations of the wrap-around, wood-panelling treatment to, as Puah says, “claim the view outside”. Inordinately cosy, all also feature Japanese design elements.
In the daughter’s bedroom, for instance, a mattress lies directly on an oak-lined platform. In the master suite’s walk-in wardrobe, sliding doors are lined with rice paper. And in the guest bedroom, visitors sleep directly on tatami mats that can be removed to reveal a hidden, twist-up table. Of the slew of custom furnishings, Puah says “nothing is off the rack”.
Applying their creative juices to product and interior design, the AkiHaus duo also carved bathroom vanities out of solid timber, designed carpets accented with Chinese calligraphy, chose artworks for framing and even reinterpreted the ubiquitous toilet paper holder. “Architects don’t usually deal with interiors, but once we came out on our own, we thought: Let’s have some fun. Who is to say architects can’t do things like [interior design] as well?” adds Puah.
But the element that well and truly embodies the nautical heritage of this oceanfront location is the Mast, a load-bearing column out in the bow-shaped balcony that AkiHaus has niftily transformed into a beacon with LED lights and hidden storage space. “That’s our philosophy in design: It cannot just be decorative,” sums up Puah.
Photographer / Edward Hendricks from CI&A Photography