Mr Cheah Wei Chun (above)

For Mr Cheah Wei Chun, shophouses bring back fond memories of Chinese New Year celebrations with his extended family at his grandmother’s shophouse in his hometown of Penang. Since relocating to Singapore more than a decade ago, Mr Cheah has lived in various such houses. When the lease of a Little India shophouse he was living in ended, he set out to find a shophouse of his own.

“I wanted one with character. Airwells are what I love the most about shophouses,” says Mr Cheah, a fashion and design creative consultant in his 40s.

When he saw this second-storey shophouse in Joo Chiat Road with an unusual airwell, he knew it was the one for him. The mid-1970s shophouse was in its original condition, but his decision to look beyond the ageing facade and dilapidated interior paid off. After an overhaul, he now has what he considers the perfect shophouse that is both home and design studio. The original walls of the three bedrooms were removed to create an open plan that makes the 1,200 sq ft shophouse feel like a downtown Manhattan loft. The space freed up from two bedrooms has been transformed into a living room and work area. An existing column could not be removed, but now acts as a divider of sorts, reinforced by furniture.

A wall, adorned with pictures of the celebrities, artists and models he has worked with, adds an interesting touch to the predominantly white and grey palette (above).
A wall (above), adorned with pictures of the celebrities, artists and models he has worked with, adds an interesting touch to the predominantly white and grey palette.

The room next to one side of the airwell has been retained as Mr Cheah’s bedroom. The light filtering in from the airwell gives the space a meditative and tranquil quality. As the configuration of the three original rooms was L-shaped, it helps the bedroom maintain its privacy. The space is closed off further with a set of sliding-folding doors between the bedroom and living room. The airwell is the heart of the home, thanks to its central position and the way the rest of the spaces wraps around it. The original wall and windows enclosing the airwell have been replaced with sliding-folding doors that strengthen the engagement between the internal spaces and the outdoor space.

The dining area facing the airwell is where Mr Cheah spends most of his time. “The light coming through the airwell is lovely and this is usually where guests gravitate towards,” he says.


Concrete ledges double as seating (above) in the shophouse home of Mr Cheah Wei Chun.

Low suspended concrete ledges around the periphery of the airwell, executed in the same finish as the cement floor, provide bench seating.

Even the space underneath the benches has been put to good use, housing Mr Cheah’s extensive collection of magazines. “The best part is that these benches are completely unobtrusive. When unoccupied, they simply become part of the space,” he says.

Instead of a fancy feature wall purely for aesthetic purposes, he opted for a practical pin-up wall that runs the length of his workspace along with a suspended work desk. The pin-up wall is where he tacks photos, postcards and other knick-knacks, creating a visually stimulating collage that also personalises the space. Concealed lighting behind the pin-up wall illuminates the desk below, creating a minimalist yet functional design.

Photos SPH Magazines Art Direction Nonie Chen

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