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Radical Redesign for American Luxury

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Hi everyone! I was browsing this site many years ago for ideas for our first reno, and now that we're doing a second one I thought I might try to start a reno blog here.



Hubs and I are almost 40 years old. We bought a BTO a long time ago, which we sold when we moved to USA for work. About 1 year ago, we inherited my in-law's old 5I apartment, and we thought that since we would be shuttling between the two countries now, it made sense for us to have a place here we can call home.

Lifestyle-wise - I like to cook and bake, and we like to spend quality time at home. We don't have (and don't want) any kids, nor do we have any pets, so this will allow us even more creative use of space in the apartment.




Here's the floorplan. It's a very standard old 5rm flat. It's quite lived-in, and while the condition is not shabby, it definitely looks a little dated for our taste. No pictures of the current place, out of respect for hub's parents. Anyway we have grand plans for the apartment so the pictures will be irrelevant!



More to come in future posts!


Edited by lavendercupcakes

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50 minutes ago, lavendercupcakes said:

@snoozee, it's in the west but not quite near eunos!

Maybe a lot of apartments built in this era have the same floor plan? 

haha ok. your flat should be built around 1982 then. last time HDB design is internal "cookie cutter design" unlike now where they engage private architects to design the flats.

since you like to cook and bake, you would love the kitchen which is huge compared to flats built in the last 20 years.

the rooms are also very spacious as well to fit queen size beds and even a king size bed in the master. if you don't need the store room, can even hack down the wall to add in a walk in wardrobe. :P


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Before I talk about the design ideas, I need to add some background.

Hubs and I have been living in the US for almost 10 years now. We actually bought a house in the US. Houses are a lot cheaper in the US - unless you live in New York City or San Francisco, the amount of money you pay for a BTO here would get you a proper house in the US. Our house in the US cost about USD200k (about SGD260k), and it has 2 floors, one basement, space for 2 cars to park, and a little garden space. I'd rather not show our exact house, but it looks something like this:


Yes, SGD260k for more than 2000sqft of space, plus a small garden, plus it still belongs to us 100 years later, haha. 

Even though this blog is about our 5rm HDB here, I'm talking about our US house because it influences our reno. We've lived in that house for more than 5 years, and we're used to certain things that most HDBs here don't have - for example, space. Some of our relatives have asked us why we need a 5-room apartment for just 2 people, but frankly, after having lived in a big house for so long, we have become used to having space. Also, this apartment is quite old and is not worth as much as you might think a 5rm flat would be. Because we don't have to worry about saving up money to raise kids, or to leave as legacy, we realised that we could afford to keep this apartment for ourselves and turn it into a home that we retire in. By the time we grow old, this apartment can go under VERS, and maybe then we'll sell it and retire in the US.

Ok, enough about us.


We wanted our HDB to look a little bit like an American country home, but with more modern touches. We also had a list of things which we wanted to try to design into the house if possible:

  • Walk-in wardrobe.
  • Bigger bedroom. Probably knocking down some walls to achieve this. I know some people have told us it's a waste of money, but we spend a lot of time at home and we are willing to splurge to make it a place we are happy with.
  • Open concept. We don't cook anything particularly greasy (i like the oven for both cooking and baking), so we wanted an open kitchen with an island where possible.
  • A "study" or work area. Doesn't have to be big, just an office desk or something.
  • Space to entertain. We generally like to have people over if possible (instead of going out).


And most importantly...

  • Big, full bathrooms with 2 sinks and bathrub. HDB toilets are tiny compared to what we were used to. Most bathrooms in the US are the size of a bedroom here, and they come with a separate bathtub and shower. Many also come with double sinks, so that 2 people can get ready at the same time in the morning. Again, this is something very unusual for houses here, and it is gonna be challenging (and expensive) to build, but hubs and I like to spend quality time together in the shower, so this is important to us. As a reference, this is the kind of concept we are looking for (but probably not possible to make it as spacious as this):


Another example, less spacious and slightly more attainable:



Another idea is to use the "toilet" space for shower/bathtub, and use part of the bedroom space for the sinks:

Edited by lavendercupcakes

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I like the layout of your flat. It only has one pillar in the middle. Thus you can reconfigure the flat to suit your American dream very easily. I like your balcony too. Show us some AS-IS pictures.

I studied both my bachelor's and master's degrees from Ohio State U in the US. I know what you are talking about. Most likely, you will also need a dishwasher, garbage disposal, walk in closet, etc.

By the way, what is the floor area of your 5 room flat? 

Edited by KFC1189

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@snoozee , we do plan to have a large kitchen and walk in wardrobe! We are thinking of enlarging the kitchen into the living room a little bit by building a peninsula outwards. Will also be knocking down some walls!

@KFC1189, it's 121sqm, which is somewhere around the 1300sqft mark. We do plan to have a walk in closet and dishwasher. And yes the balcony makes it look so much better, since the sliding glass doors makes it look like we have floor-to-ceiling windows!


Meeting the designer this week so will share more afterwards!


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for my previous flat, immediately outside the main door is a flight of stairs. so when our block had to go through lift upgrading, the units (except top floor) had to have a lift landing built where the balcony area is. so end up the units all have another main door built at the balcony area.

so if your block has the exact same staircase layout at my previous flat and has not gone through lift upgrading, you may encounter the same situation where a new door is built at your balcony.


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We just had an initial meeting with a designer yesterday to figure out what's possible and what's not. The meeting took longer than i thought it would, simply because there are just so many restrictions on reno in a HDB...


This took up a lot of discussion time with the designer. We learnt the following:

1. It is not practical to expand the second bathroom in the kitchen into a full bathroom due to the layout. Even if we are willing to eat into the kitchen area , it will still affect ventilation and light in the kitchen. The other option is to put the sink right outside the toilet, and use the inside space for a small dry shower, but this looks ugly. We thought about it and realised that this bathroom is most likely only going to be used as a toilet by guests, so we decided to leave it in its current layout. We intend to leave it as a wet shower, in case we ever need a second shower.

2. For the master bathroom, the best way to get a full bathroom is to knock down the main bathroom wall and use the bedroom space to make a bigger bathroom. It is much harder to move the sinks out, because of the location of the water pipes.

3. It is not advisable to move the location of the toilet bowl because, again, the pipe is fixed. This is a very big restriction, and we will have to plan the bathroom around it.

After discussion, we realised there were two main options to get what we wanted:




The option on the left means that the bathroom is a little squeezy. The option on the right gives more space, but it also sacrifices window space in the rest of the apartment.

In the end, we decided on the right option. Our designer said that the left option would be much easier, but even if we get slim bathtub/sinks, we only have about 80cm width in the "aisle", which is very narrow. So we went with the right option. As a bonus, that gives us an extra window in the bathroom for ventilation, which is important for the walk in wardrobe (see next section).

The designer did warn us that this would require some way to seal off one window pane, which would need to check with HDB. The designer said that there were a few options, depending on HDB's approval, but told us mentally to prepare to accept alternatives if there was absolutely no way around it.


This was another tricky one. The walk in wardrobe and the bathroom layout together took up more than half the time we spent with the designer.

For the wardrobe, we initially struggled to find a good place. We did not want to end up with a weirdly shaped bedroom, and we also wanted to put the wardrobe in a location that would block off as few windows as possible.

I won't go through the painful process, but we eventually had a stroke of inspiration and remembered that we can actually walk through the walk-in closet to get to the bathroom.

I know this sounds very weird, but it's not a new idea. Some examples:





Our designer mentioned that he had never done this before, but would be open to doing it if we wanted. He said that his main concern was with humidity. Since the bathroom door opens into the walk in closet which has no window, there is a higher chance of mold growing. Luckily our shower position was all the way at the back of the bathroom, so he suggested two things:
1. Do a full-height glass shower partition to keep most of the moisture in the shower area
2. Install exhaust fans using the small, high windows in the bathroom (hubs and i both forgot about exhaust fans). This will normally reduce the amount of light in the bathroom, but because we expanded the bathroom, there will be other windows in the bathroom to compensate.

So the layout of the toilet and walk in wardrobe looks like this (exhaust fan in red):




This was much easier once we decided on the bathroom and walk in wardrobe layout. We would just knock down the wall between the two smaller bedrooms to create one big bedroom.

Trust me, we had some crazy layouts before we thought of the walk-through walk-in closet idea...


So first of all, the kitchen wall is coming down. We don't do much high heat greasy cooking (except when the hubs grills steaks, but steak is so much cheaper in the US so we agreed to not have steaks here, haha) so that was an easy decision.

We initially wanted to do an island but realised that it was not quite possible with our kitchen layout. We also wanted to incorporate a little bar area. So eventually we decided on a long peninsula with a tall shelf behind for the drinks.


This was actually a little tricky. The nice thing about the house is that it only has one structural pillar in the middle, but it was still quite troublesome to design around it.

Eventually we decided that we needed a storeroom, and that would hide part of the pillar. The rest would be hidden with built in carpentry. We also decided to do a hidden door for the storeroom for aesthetic purposes.

We also wanted a nice round table near the entrance, like in bigger homes. Good for decoration with a centerpiece, good to put down groceries or whatever when we come home, good to put food around when guests come by.


Here's my own diagram of what it should look like, along with some pictures as examples!



Edited by lavendercupcakes

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I can imagine that your master bedroom will be very luxurious!. Are you sure that you don't need a spare room for your guests who may want to stay overnight? 


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So our designer called us back after checking on the options to cover up one window pane with a wall. Basically, he said that with HDB restrictions, the only way to do it would be to do a proper wall all the way until near the window, then for the last 30cm or so do a box-up, and cover the window pane with a painted wooden board. So in the picture below, blue is actual wall, red is box up, brown is wooden board:


This has a few serious issues:

1. box-up in that area will not last, because sink area keeps getting wet. So it will create a lot of problems down the road.
2. Because we cannot touch the windows, the remaining open window in the bathroom will look ugly and not symmetrical.
3. Because this involves sealing up only half the window pane, the seal is not airtight. So if someone is doing their business inside, someone outside in the living room may potentially be able to smell or hear.

He proposed another idea for us: instead of extending the bathroom by a little bit, extend it even more so it covers both windows, like this:


This has a few pros and cons. 
- The bathroom will look much brighter, especially around the sink area (pro, and also a con since it sacrifices living room space). 
- The proposed walk in wardrobe is even bigger (pro and con)
- Less knocking down of wall so slightly cheaper (pro)
- We lose a storeroom (con)

We told him all of these points, and he suggested some changes. After discussion we came up with this revised plan for the whole house:



Basically, we now have an extra little "hallway" once you open the door to the master bedroom/suite. Initially we thought this was a waste of space, but he showed us how this area could look really nice and almost spa-like, and it would be a good transition between the living room and bedroom. It also means that there is no need to walk through the walk in closet to get to the toilet, so if we want to open it up for guests we don't have to worry about people dirtying our clothes.

There were initially two options for the new "bathroom" door (the green and red lines). We preferred the green line, otherwise the hallway looks very dark and cramped. But he said that this would lead to the same problem before (cannot properly seal up on one side). So he suggested that we do a door horizontally (red option), but instead of cutting off the space visually, he would use a transparent locking glass door. Because of the way the toilet is shaped, it is possible to use half walls/frosted glass dividers to provide privacy for the bathtub/toilet bowl/shower area without the need for a opaque door. This also lets natural lighting into the hallway, and if we place a few potted plants under the window it will look very resort-like. Visually, he said he could extend the design in the hallway all the way down into the bathroom, so it looks longer. (not sure if I'm making sense here - the brown lines on the diagram show how he will do the flooring all the way into the bathroom)

He also proposed a storeroom of sorts and a little study area in the bedroom to make up for the loss of the storeroom.

We were initially not very keen on having a storeroom inside the master bedroom and wanted to put the door facing outside, but realised that this has its advantages too. So we went with his idea.

Overall, I think this is an improvement over the old design. Slightly less living room space, but that space was quite awkward to use anyway. And we like the idea of the open concept bathroom!

Oh, and we shortened the kitchen peninsula and the bar shelf behind it. So overall the living room space is not too compromised.


Looking forward to the reno!



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This looks like a challenging project but with such a wonderful end goal!

I do agree that there are many limitations to what you can do for a HDB home but sometimes you may come up with ingenious and unique ideas specially for your home.

I can't wait to see your progress and I'm sure when it's completed, you will have so much fun decorating this lovely home.

Edited by pitterpat

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make sure they do proper waterproofing to the enlarged toilet! especially you are placing your bathtub at the original dry bedroom area. 


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