Business Times - 27 Jun 2009
Drawn to nature
The Laus took three years to build their dream home, and the result is a two-storey house which is in tune with the tropics - open, airy and comfortable, yet modern and practical. By Geoffrey Eu
WHEN C C Lau was building a dream house for himself in the mid-1990s, he was adamant about getting it right so he took his time with the details, working closely with the project architect on almost every aspect of the design. Because he has a strong affinity for Mother Nature, he was particularly attentive to factors such as wind direction, the way certain rooms faced and how the house would interact with its surroundings.
It took almost three years, including more than a year when he lived at the site - in a quiet residential district off Holland Road - before he could finally demolish the existing one-storey bungalow and begin construction. His chosen design was inspired by black-and-white bungalows from the colonial past as well as his love of the outdoors. The result was a two-storey house that is in tune with the tropics - open, airy and comfortable, yet also modern and practical. Lau, an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist in private practice, was so involved with the construction that he discussed starting a design business with the architect who worked on the house, and even considered using one section of the house as an office for that purpose.
Just as the house was being completed however, he met and married his wife Cynthia, whose Australian upbringing and gregarious personality was perfectly suited to his lifestyle as well as the house. She arrived in time to introduce him to the benefits of a saltwater swimming pool, and the pool has been a focus of family life ever since. The Laus, including daughters Ysien, 11 and Ywen, 9, spend much of their leisure time at poolside.
Naturally, the garden, which is almost entirely shielded from neighbours and was landscaped in part by workers from Bali, plays a significant role in the Laus' lifestyle. Thanks to the layout of the living areas - the entrance foyer, and living and dining rooms are all open to the garden - there is an almost total sense of integration between the indoors and outdoors.
Additional features include a large pavilion on one end of the property as well as a more informal structure - essentially an open-sided hut - at the bottom of the garden, beside the swimming pool. This is Lau's favourite spot, where he loves to lounge, read and watch his children play. 'I also like to do my thinking there, with a glass of wine,' he says. Cynthia, meanwhile, prefers to read or relax from an upstairs corner of the master bedroom, which has a view over the whole garden.
The main house includes four bedrooms, a family room, a library and a music room, plus indoor and outdoor dining areas and two patios. There is an extensive kitchen area as Lau is also a serious amateur cook, and the wet kitchen is equipped with an industrial strength gas burner for Chinese cooking. He has also installed a pizza oven, imported from Italy, in one corner of the garden. An antique island counter in the main kitchen is actually a wooden reception counter from a railway station, while the round dining table is a family relic that once belonged in a seaside house in Katong. It was later given by a friend to Lau's mother.
The family is also actively doing its bit to preserve the environment by minimising energy use. 'Many houses are not built correctly and do not take energy conservation into account,' says Lau, who is a strong advocate for alternative sources of energy.
He adds, 'We shouldn't be killing the Earth and should build more houses with this in mind. We try not to use air-conditioning, and we have stopped using hot water for bathing unless it is a cold and rainy day - it saves a lot of energy. If everybody in Singapore would stop using hot water to bathe on hot days, think of the amount of energy we could save.'
Lau says that since the family became more energy conscious, the electricity bill for the house has gone down by almost a third. A new house he is building will employ the use of solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity. 'Hopefully we will have more power than we need and can sell the excess electricity,' says Lau, only partially in jest. There is an appealingly lived-in and comfortable feel to the house, which by no coincidence is called Aman Domba to reflect the mood of its residents (both Lau and Cynthia were born in the Year of the Sheep, or domba in Bahasa Indonesia, while Aman is the Sanskrit word for peace).
The interiors are filled with furniture, antiques and decorative items that add to the well-lived, well-loved sense of home. 'It's quiet and nice - we enjoy the peace here and we have a lot of privacy,' says Lau. 'The house was intentionally built in the front of the plot so that the garden is virtually screened off from everyone.' After 15 years, the Balinese-style garden is beautifully mature and the sound of nature is also everywhere - supplemented by calls from the family's pet birds, including a white cockatoo that greets visitors with a jovial 'Hello!'
Says Cynthia, 'Of course, one of the reasons the house is so nice is because of the kids' influence - they really enjoy it here. This is not a show house, it's really lived in and we make use of every corner.' Aman Domba is bright, breezy, and captures the essence of a relaxed tropical lifestyle. It is also full of energy in more ways than one - which makes this house a proper home.