By Verlaine Marquez, Houzz

When architects design and build their own homes, you expect them to pull out all the stops to turn their architectural visions into reality while ensuring the comfort of the dwellers. This four-level house — home to architects Gwen Tan and Berlin Lee, half of the partnership at Formwerkz Architects; their son; and their two mothers — is no exception.

They wanted lots of outdoor space, greenery and daylight (despite having no side gardens or conventional courtyards), as well as open spaces for their son to play in. And with three generations living under one roof, the home needed to be “a house for the whole family to have lots of together time, yet have plenty of personal space for each individual,” Tan says. With all these considerations, the couple’s design journey was long, and their labor of love continues to bear fruit.

Photos by Fabian Ong

Houzz at a Glance

Who lives here: Three generations of a family — husband and wife (and business partners) Berlin Lee and Gwen Tan, their 5-year-old son and their mothers

Location: Siglap area, Singapore

Size: 4,800 square feet (446 square meters) on 2,249 square feet (209 square meters) of land

Designers: Formwerkz Architects and Studio IF

The front door, designed like a series of movable walls, reveals an entrance courtyard. This space sets the tone for the interior, which has a contemporary, tropical vibe.

Daylight spills from above and into a mostly black and gray setting, where plants take center stage and perk up the somber palette. The floor transitions from wood-look tiles in the courtyard to concrete flooring in the foyer.


Tree House


To make full use of the elongated floor plan, a powder room, storeroom and walk-in shoe closet were added to the area around the courtyard.

The green tones of the large artwork in the foyer, at right, echo the quiet and calm of the courtyard.


Tree House


The family’s love of trees and plants prompted them to bring in this towering pink mempat tree (Cratoxylum formosum). “Since we weren’t able to plant a tree at the driveway, we decided to plant it within the house to give us a much desired green view and privacy from the neighbor across. It also shields the porous and windowless west-facing facade from some sun,” Tan says.

It took many trips to the nursery to find the right tree, and Tan finally found the perfect one — only the roof and front facade were already up. “It was a challenge bringing it in through the front door, but we managed,” Tan says. “The tree is thriving well in its current location.”


Tree House


The kitchen is immediately visible from the foyer. Much thought was given toward implementing an open-plan kitchen that can be occasionally enclosed when the need for air-conditioning arises. “The final solution was two sets of pocketed glass doors. [They] are so well-hidden that no one can tell they exist,” Tan says.

The stylish kitchen is well-equipped for heavy cooking. The kitchen island, which also serves as an extended dining table, has a long countertop in black marble and gray-tinted mirror for the base. Strategically located within the cooking area is a heavy-duty range hood that keeps cooking fumes at bay. Cabinet fronts are finished in black glass, while the backsplash is decked out in wood-look tiles laid in a diagonal pattern. A walk-in pantry hides behind black glass doors.

Stovetop and hood: Gaggenau; bar stools: Stellar Works; faucets: Steinberg


Tree House


The open layout continues into the dining and living area. An overall raw, earthy character is evident, courtesy of the board-formed concrete walls with unfilled tie rod holes and the epoxy terrazzo flooring. Meanwhile, the double-volume ceiling, glass enclosures and low furniture make this shared space an airy expanse.

Large potted plants in the living area also create a visual link to the outdoor terrace, where more plants and a pond enhance the refreshing view.

Tufty-Too sofa: B&B Italia via Space Furniture; Counterbalance lamp: Luceplan


Tree House


One of the striking features of this house is the pool, which is directly above the kitchen and can be glimpsed from the living room via a circular window. Appearing weightless and in stark contrast against the dark hues of the stairs and furniture, this feature is a surefire conversation starter.


Tree House


The second story is an oasis of calm, with an inviting lap pool and a cozy pool deck. Natural light streams in through the glass roof, while the wood-and-steel screen and motorized blinds insulate the area from the afternoon sun.

“The house feels very connected to the neighborhood as the surrounding sounds, light and smells permeate through the porous screen,” Tan says.


Tree House


Toward the rear of the second level is the master bedroom with en suite bathroom, which overlooks the pool. The walls of the master bedroom are covered in oak-veneered wood strips, which add warmth to the space.

“The master bedroom underwent two rounds of major changes during the course of construction. Not easy when the client is your husband,” Tan says.

The third story, which houses a bedroom, balcony and bathroom, is dedicated to one of the couple’s mothers and the young child. The space contains a family-TV room, which also doubles as a playspace for the active little boy. As an added safety measure, a grill gate was installed. By camouflaging it with the steel railings, it serves its purpose well while adhering to the house’s streamlined concept.


Tree House


The staircase that runs the height of the house is clearly a standout feature. Long steel rods act as railings and support the open-tread stairs made from strips of ash wood, making the landing appear to float. This configuration also helps light to permeate through the steps and air to circulate freely in the upper levels.

The attic level is where the study is located. Occupying the front part of the attic, it receives plenty of daylight. The rest of the space on this level serves as a rooftop penthouse for the couple’s other mother. Apart from the bedroom, there is a separate kitchen-cum-dining area, living lounge and outdoor terrace.

Even though the architecture and main interior features are almost completed, the design continues to evolve. More pieces of artwork are waiting to be unwrapped and hung, and the garden still requires attention. But that is the beauty of this home — it is a work in progress that will continue to grow and mature with time.