Home » An old shophouse gets an artsy makeover

An old shophouse gets an artsy makeover

​Built in 1859, this Niven Road shophouse was probably home to coolies or migrant workers who stayed there temporarily. Despite its decrepit state, Alvin Kwan the homeowner and interior designer saw potential in the space. The property was purchased in 2010 all thanks to an advertisement in a property website. “I think I was fated to have stumbled on it and lucky to have found a gem. There are less than 50 conservation properties along Niven Road and I’m fortunate to have snagged it was it was up for sale,” explains Alvin.

Ambitious Plans

Being in the trade of interior design, Alvin’s mind was fecund with ideas and he had a vision of a space replete with industrial elements complemented by modern contemporary fixtures and designer furniture. The homeowner quips: “I had about 1,600 sq ft of space to play with, inclusive of an outdoor terrace on the second floor that overlooks the kitchen through the skylight. Being an avid art collector, he also wanted it to be like an art gallery on the second floor. The renovation took six months to complete where a great part of it was being tireless in checking details to the nth and ensuring that deadlines were met.

The second level is decked up to look like an art gallery.

Setting Foot

Upon entering the space, a work desk crafted in concrete sits on the right and a Herman Miller office chairs goes with it. There is also a metal shelf stacked with macabre-looking toys from Coarse which are rare and very dear. A custom cabinet housing a collection of Delft blue vases designed by Marcel Wanders for Italian brand Moooi, sits pride of place. Under the staircase is a specially made shelving with mirrored surfaces allowing some crystal glasses to appear to “float” visually. There is also a dining table that sits facing a floor-to-ceiling shelf housing books, accoutrements, expensive collector’s toys and a full collection of vases designed by Jamie Hayon for BD Barcelona. “I like the cosiness of the space for me to entertain guests for a simple meal and it is close-by to the kitchen.” And interesting 360 deg chair designed by Konstantin Grcic for Magis takes the head of the dining table.

Paul Smith “Bunny” thought from London adds a whimsical touch to the dining table.


Click with Art

Art abounds in every corner of the homeowner’s abode. There is even art in the kitchen. The homeowner says he likes to be surrounded by art and hanging artworks in the kitchen provides some visual therapy, a little respite to get through the tediousness when cooking a big meal for his friends.

A beautifully wooden decked staircase with sleek metal railings ascends to the second floor where the two bedrooms are. As one climbs the stairs, it’s hard not to ignore the flower-power artworks hung on the wall done by famed Japanese artist Murakami. Their bright colours energise the space and elicit a mood of happiness, and peek closer into the details and you’ll see smiling faces in the flowers, characteristic of Murakami’s artistic finesse.

At the top of the stairs, one is greeted by an arresting artwork by Coplu where white cloud-like shapes form a bunny pattern set against a deep blue backdrop. It is surreal as it is mesmerising. “I was drawn by the bunny shape because it relates to my Chinese zodiac birth year – the rabbit. Hence, I bought it,” he chuckles.

The second floor is truly shaped to create an art gallery experience with dark walls and track lighting to focus on each artwork. Guests are immediately drawn to this space when they pop by and the homeowner usually ends a meal by showing them these artworks. For those uninitiated in art, names such as Fernando Botero, Auguste Rodin, Yue Minjue, Zhang Xiaogang, Chen Wenling, Liu Bolin, Romero Britto, Burton Morris, Takashi Murakami, Yang Xiao Bing, Ma Dong Min, Gong Dong, David Begbie, Rainer Lagemann, and Robert Indiana, may not seem like household names, they are revered in the modern contemporary art world. The homeowner adds he buys art from Ode to Art, Opera Gallery and Yang Gallery, and his wanderlust adventures have also led him to buy art from overseas.

Even a cosy nook accommodates artworks.

Man Cave

If you think for a homeowner who likes colourful, cheery modern contemporary art, one would think the bedroom underpins his philosophy? No, it is quite the opposite. The sleeping sanctuary is pared back with sombre colours of greys, taupe, black and white. There is a huge four-poster bed replete with fluffy, posh bed linen and a Louis Vuitton bed runner. Two tall trunk cases, one on each side of the bed, help to prop an Artemide table lamp each. Facing the bed is a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe housing all the homeowner’s sartorial must-haves. To the left side of the wardrobe is an en-suite toilet primed for a quick but luxurious shower.

This bedoom’s masculine look seduces one to sleep.

Work and Play

While the true intention of purchasing the property was to create an office and a showroom for the interior designer’s business, he decided to transform the second floor as his residential area instead. “I think I wanted to create a Soho-type home where you can work and live without having to commute much. District 9 is a laidback estate and I like that it is along a quiet street in Mount Sophia where it is tucked away from the buzz of downtown,” emphasises the homeowner. To keep him company, the bachelor has two female West Highland terriers which he adores. They live under a specially made kennel housed just under the staircase, in air-conditioned comfort.

Showroom, Showhouse

The premise of Alvin’s home is to engage his clients and to show them what he can achieve in terms of styles and ideas and the clever use of space. He adds that he constantly refreshes the space every three months and dares to try all sorts of design and colour combinations to flaunt his creativity. The only setback of this home is the lack of wall space but the homeowner is not deterred by it. While he stresses that collecting art is a very expensive hobby, he appreciates every piece he buys and the story behind each one.

So if you thought art, work and play couldn’t share the same space, think again. Alvin Kwan, an interior designer and avid art collector, has shown his creative prowess. He cites that he gets the satisfaction of living in a conservation property where there are only slightly over 2,000 units left in Singapore. The fact that he holds the house deed indicating that the property was built in 1859, makes him even more home proud. Here is a home where the homeowner has channelled his vision into a space that courts practicality, comfort and an ode to art.

This article was originally published in Home + Living issue 19.

About the author


Add Comment

Click here to post a comment