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The late William Lim is famous for his design of landmarks such as the Singapore Conference Hall (1965), Tanglin Shopping Centre (1972), People’s Park Complex (1973) and Golden Mile Complex (1974). Before designing these large-scale developments that have put him in the annals of Singapore’s architectural history, Lim had designed a private home for forensic pathologist Dr Tan Kheng Khoo (or Dr KK Tan) and his wife, Gunn Chit Siew.

“William Lim ended up designing the house because he and my father were school friends,” says artist-photographer Tan Ngiap Heng, the youngest of three children. “It was the first private home in Singapore that he designed.”

The Good Class Bungalow (GCB) at C-1 Holland Park was completed in 1963. The Midcentury Modern architecture of the house can be seen in its distinctive butterfly V-shaped roof, hybrid brick masonry, reinforced concrete structure and timber-framed fenestration.

Read also: Versace-inspired Good Class Bungalow on Old Holland Road hits the market at $66.7 mil

Lim was greatly influenced by the Modernist movement when he was a student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Upon graduation, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Harvard University in 1955. When he returned to Singapore in 1957, he joined James Ferrie & Partners.

He left the firm to start Malayan Architects Co-Partnership (Map) in 1960 with fellow architects Lim Chong Keat and Chen Voon Fee, whom he met while studying in the UK. Lim designed the house at C-1 Holland Park when he was at Map.

“The funny thing is, I think of him as Uncle Willie, who used to throw nice parties on New Year’s Eve,” relates Tan. “He used to stay in a flat on top of Golden Mile Complex, and we used to go there to watch the fireworks during the New Year.”

The property has a built-up area of 4,650 sq ft and sits on a freehold site of 21,829 sq ft (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Aesthetic and practical appeal

The house at C-1 Holland Park has a built-up area of 4,650 sq ft and sits on a sprawling freehold site of 21,829 sq ft. It was initially part of an estate developed by Fraser & Neave, and therefore, the addresses given were A-1 and A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1, C-2 and D-1 and D-2.

“About 20 years ago, Fraser & Neave began to sell the houses,” relates Tan. “That was when the new owners were given addresses with just numerals. As the oldest property here, and the only one that hasn’t been sold, the original address of C-1 has been retained.”

According to Tan, most of the neighbouring houses had extensive gardens. However, over time, as some of them have been subdivided and sold, “ours is the only one left with a garden of this size”.

Read also: Former minister Mah Bow Tan sells Good Class Bungalow at Holland Rise for $50 mil

The Midcentury Modern architecture focuses not just on aesthetics, but on functionality too. For instance, the V-shaped butterfly roof served a practical function. “When it rains, the rainwater runs along a central channel and down the tubes on either side of the house, where the water could be collected and stored.”

The house has four bedrooms: Three bedrooms, including the master bedroom, are on the second level; and one bedroom, which has been turned into a library, is on the first level. All the bedrooms are en suite except for the middle one on the second level, which was Tan’s when he was growing up. However, there is a common bathroom directly across the bedroom.

The wall panelling and the timber flooring are of Balau, a dense hardwood. “The house is over 60 years old, and we have never had a termite problem,” says Tan.

Only minor renovations were done to the house over the years, such as updating the bathrooms and changing the kitchen cabinets. Aside from that, the entire house’s flooring and timber panelling are original.

Owner of C-1 Tan Ngiap Heng and his wife Quek Choo San in the living room of his family home (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Resident artist

The house was designed to maximise cross-ventilation and natural light. During the Eat Play Love art exhibition at the house in January, Tan did not even need to turn on the air-conditioning in the house, except for the library. “We just had the breeze going through,” he says.

As part of the exhibition, Docomomo Singapore, a non-profit organisation set up in 2021 to research and educate the public on Singapore’s built heritage, conducted house tours at C-1 Holland Park.

Read also: Neo-classical GCB on Swettenham Close going for more than $50 mil

Tan was surprised by the response and the turnout. “When I opened the house for the exhibition, so many people who came said, ‘Oh, thank you for opening up your house to us’,” he recollects.

According to Tan, his interest in art was sparked when he was studying in the UK. While he studied engineering, Tan spent a lot of time in museums. His elder brother, who is also keen on art, got him interested, first in the Impressionists and the Classics; and then Tan became interested in Modern Art. When he returned to Singapore, he made a name for himself as a dance photographer.

“I liked dance a lot, but shooting this for 20 years gets a bit boring,” he says. “That’s why I’m doing different types of art.”

For the past 13 years, Tan has looked after his ailing parents, married and become a father. His daughter is five years old, and his wife is expecting a son. Not surprisingly, Tan’s art now focuses on the family. “I held Eat Play Love because I wanted to do work about family in my family’s house,” he adds. “The architecture was a bonus.”

The living room with the original timber fenestration and flooring (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Letting go

Tan’s parents have since passed away, and he is now tasked with selling the property as his elder brother and sister both live in the UK.

Tan appointed Newsman Realty as the exclusive marketing agent for the house. According to KH Tan, managing director and founder of Newsman Realty, the asking price of the GCB is $2,600 psf. Based on the land area of 21,829 sq ft, the price amounts to $56.8 million.

The property will be available for sale by private treaty. Given the uniqueness of the architecture and its legacy, Newsman’s Tan sees keen interest primarily from those who wish to retain it. “It’s a charming house,” he says.

Newsman’s Tan has seen a spike in interest in the GCB market, with several off-market deals taking place over the past month. Given its location in Holland Park in prime District 10 and its proximity to the Botanic Gardens, the property attracts a wide range of potential buyers, he adds. The last recorded transaction in Holland Park was for a GCB just across the road. The property has a land area of 14,1416 sq ft and changed hands for $24.5 million ($1,699 psf) in May 2021. That was three years ago.

Many visitors who came for the art exhibition and house tour asked the owner of C-1 Holland Park if he was sad about selling the house. “I’m sad that my parents are gone,” Tan says. “But I’m happy they lived a good life.”

He adds: “I’m sad to let this place go. But I’m happy that we had a lot of happy memories. I enjoyed growing up in this house.”

Tan and his siblings hope that the future buyer of the home will keep it. Their father, Dr KK Tan, was a Buddhist meditator. “He always told us to let go, or ‘pang tio’ in Teochew,” says Tan.