Published May 17, 2008


Where life's a breeze

Tan Eng Sim's home on a hill is bright and airy with panoramic views of treetops and Nature at the doorstep, writes GEOFFREY EU

THERE are many things to admire about Tan Eng Sim's spacious modern home near the top of a small, secluded hill in a prime residential district in central Singapore. Among them are the sense of being in a private sanctuary, with verdant surroundings and unobstructed views over the treetops to the Botanical Gardens and beyond. Nature is not only at your doorstep but also a welcoming presence indoors.

Most precious of all, perhaps, are the gentle breezes that drift lazily through the many well-placed openings - both large and small - in the house, which was designed to harness the wind and make the most of even the most oppressive days when the tropical sun scorches everything beneath it. Not for no reason is this home known as the Wind House.

According to Mr Tan, the primary brief he gave to the architect of the house - Richard Hassell of WoHa Architects - was that he wanted a bright and airy home, with plenty of natural ventilation and no particular need for air-conditioning during the day. The architectural team conducted extensive research on local wind patterns, also noting the arc of the sun through the sky at various times of the day. It took about 11 months of design work before a tender for contractors was called - an unusually long period that Mr Tan says was time well spent in order to get everything just right.

The result is something that Hassell has termed a 'wind machine' - a comfortable and contemporary five-bedroom house on four levels with additional specific-purpose rooms, strategically placed glass roofs and panels, fish ponds and reflection pools, outdoor terraces, suspended walkways and rooms with high ceilings and full-height doors. Given the various cross-ventilation features throughout the house and the fact that it sits on a generous 29,000 sq ft plot of land, there is a strong sense of space and not much chance of feeling that the walls are closing in on you.

Mr. Tan's retirement in 2006 - he was managing director of Jurong Cement - after more than 40 years in the cement business coincided roughly with the completion of the house, which replaced a 1970s building he purchased more than 20 years ago. He now spends much of his time visiting his daughter in San Francisco, and friends and relatives in other parts of the world while also indulging in a passion for premium wines. He enjoys going to wine regions on a frequent basis.

If the size of the allocated storage space is any indication of his interest in wine, then Mr Tan is a very serious collector indeed. In the basement level of the house, there is an impressive showcase cellar built to accommodate about 10,000 bottles, and an adjoining wine-tasting room where the floor, walls and ceiling are made entirely of cork. A series of wine-related paintings, including a tell-tale one depicting a bottle of 1943 Bordeaux, lines one wall. Just for good measure, there is also an unfinished cellar in an adjacent space, capable of storing another 20,000 bottles.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Mr Tan says the cellar, with the abundant liquid joy it holds, is his favourite space in the house. He spends a considerable amount of quality time in there, either alone or with friends from his regular wine group - but it isn't the only place in the house where it's possible to unwind.

A quick visit to the attic floor - via a glass-backed elevator, naturally - leads to the gym, with glass panels along one wall and art-storage cupboards on the opposite side (his wife is an enthusiastic collector of Southeast Asian art). Outside, there is a roof terrace to take advantage of the views, and also a jacuzzi is heated to a constant 36 degrees C. A small herb garden anchors the opposite end of the attic floor.

The panoramic views from this top floor are certainly tremendous, but there is an additional feature - a narrow steel walkway that juts out from the main house and looks out over the 30-metre long, black-tiled swimming pool below. Its purpose is to serve as an outdoor link between the pool and the jacuzzi.

The house is designed so there is a central atrium between two main blocks where a series of internal staircases links the various levels of the building together. Some sections of the roof are finished in glass, so even the basement is bathed in natural light.

Most of the bedrooms are on the second floor, while the main living area on the ground level holds a large study and adjoining rooms for Western and Chinese dining, which have views out to the garden and pool. There is also a wet kitchen and a dry kitchen, equipped with restaurant quality appliances. At the far corner of the garden there is a casual covered area where the residents can relax or have breakfast by the pool.

By day, barring inclement weather, all the ground-floor doors to the house are open, extending the boundaries of the living and dining rooms to the outdoors. 'The old house we used to live in was air-conditioned all the time,' says Mr. Tan. 'I'm a lot happier with this house, and I seldom use the air-conditioning, even when it's warm outside. The individual rooms are not big, but they can all be opened up to give that sense of space.'

The Wind House is Mr Tan's fourth go at building a bungalow in recent years, and all of them were designed by well-known Singapore-based architects. He has turned his interest in developing individual properties into a lucrative hobby, and he says he is not done yet - can Earth and Water houses be too far behind?

A private sanctuary: (above) Mr Tan's contemporary house has four levels. The top floor has a roof terrace to take advantage of the sweeping views. The grounds outside boast a 30-metre long black-tiled swimming pool, fish ponds and reflection pools.

The house is designed so that there is a central atrium between two main blocks where a series of internal staircases links the various levels of the building together

A wine cellar in the basement can hold about 10,000 bottles and an adjoining wine-tasting room has the walls, floor and ceiling made entirely of cork

Spacious: Adjoining rooms for Western and Chinese dining