For property veterans Jerry Tan and Eckardt Caius, luxury living lies not in having the fanciest furniture, the newest knick-knacks or the most lavish lighting. Instead, it is all about creating a home that can stand the test of time, one that strikes a balance between classic aesthetics and modern comforts, all underpinned by a focus on the needs of its occupants.

The couple moved into their Springleaf Garden home last year, after about 20 months of working on the place. Designed by Caius, the four-storey semi-detached house has a built-up area of just over 8,000 sq ft. In addition to five bedrooms, a television room and a helpers’ room on the lower floors, the fourth floor was designed as an entertainment space, with a home cinema on one end and an open terrace on the other.

“This house was built with all the practicalities that govern our lives,” says Tan. “We didn’t want a house that doesn’t feel lived in.” He explains that the guest rooms on the second floor — all of which have an en suite bathroom — were designed to accommodate their family and friends, who frequently visit and stay over.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone is going to be comfortable here,” he continues; each room was customised not only for their needs, but for those of their guests and their two helpers. All this necessitated the expansion of their plans, from a three-storey house initially to the final four-storey configuration.

“Being on this perfect corner facing the park, we took the opportunity to maximise the ideas we talked about,” says Tan. “We had to make sure that everyone who was going to live here … has got all these conveniences.”

On the top floor, each section was tailored for Tan’s and Caius’ hobbies. “We always have movie rooms in our houses,” Caius says of the cinema, adding that this is where he spends a good amount of his time. “It’s the best place to chill when you don’t have anything to do,” he says with a chuckle. Stacked with plush seats that fully recline, blackout curtains and a state-of-the-art entertainment system, the space is certainly a cinephile’s dream.

Just outside the cinema is Tan’s mahjong area, where he regularly hosts games with friends. A circular window, reminiscent of those found in traditional Chinese and Japanese architecture, injects light throughout the space.

Moving to the other end of the fourth floor, Caius explains that he was inspired by homes in Australia. Here, the terrace boasts an uninterrupted view of the park around the corner, creating a sense of serenity that one can only dream of in bustling Singapore. “It’s fantastic,” he says, adding that he and Tan enjoy watching the sunset over gin and tonics.

Garden vista

Imbuing nature into the design of their home was another priority for Tan and Caius.

“We love greenery,” Caius explains. “I think a lot of Singaporeans don’t like the green; they sort of just tile up everything. We tried to maximise the greens.” Spaces for plants were thus created all around the house, including a garden on the first floor; potted plants were placed on the upper floors, and more foliage was even planted on the pavement outside.

“We had to write to the authorities to plant beyond our boundaries,” Tan recounts, adding that he and Caius had also done so for their previous homes. “Being in a corner house, we wanted to have enough privacy from pedestrians and traffic … With the plants having matured, if you approach the house, you’ll see we’re cosily nestled within — it’s not an exposed corner.”

All this greenery both inside and outside the house furthers its natural vibe; the plants also keep things cool without any electricity, by blocking sunlight from entering through the windows, so radiant heat is kept out during the day.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the bathrooms were another spot where the line between indoors and outdoors was blurred. For instance, instead of solid walls, the twin bathroom in the third-floor walk-in wardrobe is separated from the outdoors by a screen. This allows natural light to flow in, while the trees outside help maintain much-needed privacy.

The external facade of the house, meanwhile, was inspired by the idea of a garden lamp surrounded by lush greenery; that imagery comes alive at night, when the glow of warm yellow lights from within comes through the wooden slats that frame the building, softly illuminating the shrubs and blooms outside.

Those slats serve a dual purpose, not only adding visual interest to the exterior but also providing shade and privacy for the interiors. Each panel is moveable and can be opened or shut when needed. Even when the sun is shining at its brightest, simply turning the panels so they are flush against the house keeps the incoming light soft and muted.

Caius points out that the slats are made of sustainably sourced Balau wood used in other projects. “Our contractor took it from [a site in Malaysia] and cut it into pieces to fit these panels.”

Breaking away

The common party wall between semi-detached houses can be a limiting factor when it comes to designing a home. For Caius, however, this was an opportunity to turn out a unique creation. Instead of having the main part of the house flush against their neighbours’ house, he designed a 10m-tall feature wall with an airwell, creating a visual break between the two properties.

“The air well separates our house from the neighbour’s house with a 1.2m gap,” says Caius. While he and Tan initially wanted a green wall covered in plants, they were told that this would not be feasible to maintain. “So we came up with this idea of an art installation … I had this idea of birds flying off into the sky.”

The end result was a massive arrangement of different-sized metal birds, placed in a swooping arc towards the top of the wall. Though one might think such a large piece would overwhelm the space, its clean modernism actually keeps things well-balanced; a water feature at the base also adds movement and levity to the wall. Tan notes that it has even become something of a centrepiece in the house, as guests are immediately drawn to it upon entering.

The rest of the living area was decorated with artworks and antique pieces that Tan and Caius have amassed over the years. “Everything was sort of blended in,” says Tan. “We’ve collected quite a bit of Peranakan furniture ... which we’ve had for a very long time.” These, he adds, were combined with modern works by a number of renowned Singaporean artists.

Artworks in the house include Chinese ink paintings by Chua Ek Kay and charcoal drawings by Jimmy Ong, grounding the space in heritage alongside the Peranakan pieces. Meanwhile, sleek furniture curated by Caius imbues a new-age allure that doesn’t distract from the cultural charm. A mirrored sofa table in the living area, for instance, matches perfectly with the antique mirrors hanging on the walls.

Thoughtful style

That sense of harmony and visual cohesion is something Tan and Caius made sure to maintain in every part of the house’s design. Even as they sought to include all the trappings of modern living in their home — which would typically be a recipe for endless trunking and wire casings, not to mention unsightly devices at every corner — they kept everything as seamless as possible.

Tan highlights the air-conditioning compressors that typically pose a jarring counterpoint to the exteriors of many large homes. “Thank goodness,” he says with a sigh of relief, “when we were doing this house, we were given the option of just having two compressors, which we could tuck away somewhere no one would ever see them.” He adds that while this was the costlier option, as opposed to having more, smaller compressors, they were keen to proceed in order to preserve the house’s aesthetic appeal.

Over in the dry kitchen and dining area on the first floor, Tan and Caius focused on keeping things unified. As frequent hosts, they wanted an open-concept space where they could cook for and share a meal with family and friends. They kept most of their appliances —  including a steam oven, refrigerator, and wine cooler — integrated on one wall to create a seamless look.

In the centre of the space, an island provides space for an induction cooktop, as well as a bar seating area — Tan shares that they like to have breakfast and read the papers there in the morning, especially with the garden right nearby. Caius adds that having the dry kitchen set up this way, with the island next to the dining table, allows him to interact with guests while he cooks.

‘With a bang’

Looking back on their homebuilding journey, Tan and Caius boil it down to three things: experience, people, and attitude.

This being their third home, the couple had the opportunity to glean lessons from their past houses, improving and iterating along the way. They were therefore clearer about what they wanted out of the design, right off the bat.

“Our first house in Pasir Ris was designed to look like a Peranakan house, like a little museum — so it was very heavy,” Caius recalls. “Our second house in Jalan Mariam was more like a gallery; that was where we began to acquire all of our paintings … I think this house is the best of all; we have the artworks and the antiques living harmoniously together.”

Asked about what others could do to improve their own home designs, Caius offers a simple piece of advice: “Listen to your architect.” He explains that while it may be tempting for homeowners to try their hand at creating something on their own, an architect can provide an invaluable qualified eye and hand.

When it came to the actual construction and renovation of the house, Tan says it was “the luck of the draw” that things ran without a hitch. “I’ve been through a lot of screaming sessions,” he says with a chuckle. “But this house was perfect — I didn’t have to go through any of that.” Finding a good contractor who takes the work seriously and responsibly, he explains, was key. He adds that even though work on the house took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were no stop-work days throughout.

Of course, none of this would have been possible had Tan and Caius taken a more laissez-faire approach. “The day the option was secured, we … got to work on it,” says Tan. While Caius was putting the finishing touches on the design, they started approaching contractors, architects and interior designers.

And once the work began, they were on site daily to see how things were going. It also helped that they were living in a leased property just a stone’s throw away at the time. “I think that does make a difference because then the contractors know that you are really serious,” says Tan. While he acknowledges that not every homeowner might be able to do so, he points out that it’s ultimately a matter of attitude.

“You’ve already started the process; you’ve got to kickstart it with complete enthusiasm, and hopefully, end with a bang.”

Check out the latest stories on Style