From a cluttered workers’ dormitory to a chic abode for a young couple, this walk-up shophouse apartment underwent a 360-degree transformation.

The resulting home has plenty of space not just for the couple, but also their cat, Suzy. They reckon that Suzy loves her new home very much, especially watching the world go by from the front window.

Who Lives Here A couple in their 30s and their cat
Home A three-bedroom walk-up shophouse in Serangoon Gardens
Size 1,600 sq ft
Interior Designer Prozfile Pte Ltd

Serangoon Gardens Shophouse Walk-Up Apartment

A walk-up apartment above a row of old, nondescript shophouses that was built in the 1950s and which was used as a workers’ dormitory would have deterred most house-hunters, but not this couple. The pilot and public servant were looking for a property in the Serangoon Gardens enclave. They really like the area, but found the options limited.

They viewed a couple of condominium units. However, the prices, sizes and locations were not ideal. So they were thrilled when they finally found this walk-up shophouse that not only fits the bill, but not having to pay any maintenance fees was a bonus.

The couple appreciates the aesthetics of Australian homes as they find them pleasing and homely. While they were not deliberately going for that look per se, their home does share the same spatial flow typical of Australian homes.

Renovation Cost: $350,000

The $350,000 renovation project went to Prozfile. Principal designer, Cadine Lim, has experience with similar walk-up units and came highly recommended by a friend of the couple’s, whose home she designed. The couple is full of praise for her drive and can-do spirit.

Due to the age of the building, the as-built plans that were available were sketchy. Cadine took the initiative to take measurements of the unit herself, even before the couple officially engaged Prozfile.

An interesting decal representing the couple and their cat can be found on the glass door leading to the rear terrace.

Homeowner prefers natural materials

The couple admits to having “a lot of requirements”. They were especially clear as to what they did not want in their new home – no gold, bronze or shiny things, and no vinyl. They have an affinity for natural materials and were adamant that no matter how tight their budget was, they will not compromise on having parquet floors.

Entire interior hacked and reconfigured

The entire interior was gutted and the layout reconfigured. Even the roof was replaced, but following the same profile and pitch as the old one.

The Building and Construction Authority carries out periodic structural inspections of buildings to ensure that any structural defects can be detected and rectified early to prevent further deterioration in order to keep our buildings structurally sound for continued occupation. As such, the unit is structurally safe, but endorsements were still required for the loft.

Due to its age, piping and plumbing works were also fairly extensive. As it is not gazetted as a conservation property, they did not have to contend with conservation guidelines.

House Tour: Former worker's dormitory transformed into a stunning Serangoon walk-up shophouse with $350,000 renovation
Every inch of real estate is not to be wasted, including this triangulated walk-in wardrobe space within the master bedroom at the top of the shophouse.

Former workers’ dormitory with lots of partitions

Ascending a straight flight of stairs located in between two shops on the ground level, you arrive at the main level of the home.

As a workers’ dormitory, there were a lot of partitions that made the interior cramped, convoluted and dark. With these gone, light from the windows on the front and rear facades make the spaces feel bright and welcoming.

Cat-Friendly Wood & Fabric Furniture

The living area is filled with earthy tones as the couple prefers muted and matte colours. Their furniture of choice is wood with fabric upholstery. Their rationale for this is knowing that the furniture will be subject to wear and tear, not to mention scratches by their cat, Suzy. And they are absolutely fine with that.

To one side of the living room is a pair of his and hers study rooms located side-by- side. The couple feels that it is important to have their own space to do their own thing although they live together. Each room is designed to accommodate their individuality, with plenty of built-in storage since they do not have a household shelter or store room.

House Tour: Former worker's dormitory transformed into a stunning Serangoon walk-up shophouse

Exposed Brick Wall

The double volume space, exposed brick party wall, pitched roof with exposed rafters and a beam running across overhead add to the spatial complexity of the dining room.

The wishbone legs make for an interesting detail in this 12-seater dining table fabricated using wood upcycled from a railway track.

Even though the apartment is home to just the two of them, a 12-seater dining table fabricated using wood upcycled from a railway track is perfect for when they have friends over. And they are not the sort to fuss over stains on the untreated wood surface because these marks remind them of the wonderful moments shared with friends over food and drinks.

The kitchen is a favourite hangout for both humans and feline.

A Home Chef’s Kitchen Setup

As an avid cook, he had very specific requirements for the kitchen, such as separating hot and cold elements like the oven and the refrigerator. Even the dimensions for the overhead shelves were very precise, so that they can accommodate his set of knives and a knife rack that he handmade himself.

Everything has its place in the kitchen, including the husband’s knife collection and a knife rack that he crafted himself.
The home is a treasure trove of things that the couple likes.

A long island counter runs almost the entire length of the kitchen. The couple agree unanimously that the kitchen counter is their favourite place to hang out as it is cosy enough for the two of them to enjoy dinner and drinks, and also sufficiently sizeable for entertaining small groups.

Even Suzy enjoys sitting on the high chair and watching them go about their chores in the kitchen.

House Tour: Former worker's dormitory transformed into a stunning Serangoon walk-up shophouse with $350,000 renovation
This hidden spiral staircase at the rear terrace leads to a backdoor at street level.

Hidden Spiral Staircase

The ubiquitous spiral staircase that can be found at the rear of most shophouses gets an interesting twist. It is concealed underneath a timber deck that allows access to the rear terrace. With the panels lifted out of the way, the spiral staircase leads down to the backdoor that opens out to a back alley.

Loft-Style Master Bedroom

Perched above the rest of the shophouse apartment is a loft that houses the master bedroom. The exposed brick wall, pitched roof and exposed roof rafters convey an almost chapel-like quality with a tranquility befitting a room for rest and relaxation.

The couple shares that a lot of the things that they have in the house, as well as the materials and finishes that they chose, all came about organically, based on how they felt about them.
The master bedroom is housed in the loft level.

The skylight windows above the walk-in wardrobe and attached master bathroom totally transform the spaces. There is something about light illuminating from above that makes a space feel calm and almost sacred.

Nicknamed the “Juliet” window after Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the solid teak louvered window in
the master bathroom overlooks the living and dining areas below.

Renovation Took 5 Months

The couple moved into their new home in February 2022 after a five-month renovation. It reflects both their preferences and tastes, and it evokes a relaxed and chill vibe that complements the quaint neighbourhood.

Text: Lynn Tan/Home & Decor