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Cloud Spotting at Tiong Bahru

April 27, 2008
I was conducting an open house for one of the unit I’m marketing this afternoon. After the crowd thinned out, I found some time to read the newspapers.

As there were no furniture in this flat, I had to find the best place to sit down.
The view I had when I was seated on the floor of the balcony
And the place I sat was at the floor of the balcony. It was very breezy and bright day and my portable radio was humming away in the background.

My Open House Kit

Periodically there was a gush of wind and it messed up the papers.

At some point, I looked up and noticed the big blue sky….and there were hardly any buildings to interrupt the view.


I was tempted to lie down on the floor to check out if the view was indeed that fabulous.

Eventually I did and while I was at it, I was thinking’ “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just laze around here in a comfortable couch and enjoy a book and occasionally peeping out to see if there are any interesting cloud formation to spot”.


The next owner of this flat will be able indulge in this simple pleasure at will.

My stolen pleasure did not last too long coz my wife called to remind me to go straight home after the viewing as she needed me to mop the floors. Sigh.

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Up for grabs!!! (TAKEN – SORRY)

April 27, 2008

One of the brand new Tiong Bahru Pre-War flat owner just gotten her keys to her place and she does not intend to keep these 1936s windows and DOOR!!!!!


As most of these doors are located in the balcony area, one would not be able to spot them at the street level. If you think the windows are rare, these doors are even rarer.


These relic may require some work to restore them to the former glory. The handles seemed broken too.


Too bad the green panes were replaced. Otherwise, it would have been a complete set.

The other things the owners will not keep is this:


I think there is only so much one would do when it comes to living in a conserved flat. The occupants needed to make it functional. The chimney system does get in the way as it has been placed in a rather awkward position in the kitchen.

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Tiong Bahru Post War Flats

April 26, 2008

The Straits Times
Life!
April 26, 2008

Industrial’s strength

The beauty of this apartment’s raw look is found in the exposed wiring and unfinished walls. CALL it a case of more of the same.


STARK APPEAL: The living room is lit using 3D energy-saving bulbs, which are divided into groups of five to ensure greater lighting control. It is separated from the kitchen by a mosaic-tiled bar counter. The raw look is balanced with a homely touch from items such as slippers and a birdcage from Egg3, and cushions from Pluck. PHOTOS: DARREN CHANG; ART DIRECTION: NONIE CHEN; TEXT: REBECKKA WONG

When media professional Fenfei moved from her first home, a private apartment in Tiong Bahru, to her second, her new place was just a stone’s throw away.

‘We are used to the area,’ she says of the pre-war three-room HDB flat she and her husband bought.

At 947 sq ft, it is smaller than their previous 1,300 sq ft apartment and, therefore, easier for the couple to finance it – the reason for their move.

It is, however, no less a platform for the couple’s favoured theme. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, this new place not only retains the similar raw look of their first home, but it has also improved on the couple’s earlier renovation decisions.


A REEL INSPIRATION: The custom-made iron grille divider replicates a pattern from a movie the home owner once saw. The design is also repeated on the grille at the flat’s main entrance. Folding doors close up space for privacy when needed.

Instead of using one of the bedrooms as a storeroom, which was what they did at their first home, the couple combined it with the living space to make the living room bigger.

SAME TILE STORY: The new, bigger bathroom is the result of combining the original two back-to-back bathrooms, and it features the same mosiac tiles used for the bar counter in the living room.

Ms Fenfei adds: ‘Before, we had things that weren’t practical, such as white mosaic floors that were difficult to maintain. Now, our entire living space is covered with dark homogenous tiles, which are a breeze to upkeep.’

It also helped that the couple got the same interior designer, Kelvin Giam of Intent, who did their first home. He not only enhanced the original raw, industrial theme, but also came up with new ideas, one of which involved a support beam in the dining area.

He says: ‘If we followed the line of the beam, the living space would be pretty small, so I used it as a support for the dining table instead.’

He also drew on the surrounds and architecture of Tiong Bahru, an area rich with heritage, for the home.

As a result, exposed wiring and bulbs on bare wires hang from the ceiling – recalling the austere times of the 1960s and 1970s – while cement walls have been deliberately left unfinished for a raw feel.

The three portholes in the newly built master bedroom wall also echo the motif along the stairwells of the apartment block’s structure.

That’s not all. A false ceiling clad with white aluminium strips – a look commonly seen in old shop fittings – hides the overhead beam above the bed while giving a retro feel to the master bedroom.
CEILING THE LOOK: White aluminium strips, reminiscent of old-school shop fittings, hide the overhead beam in the master bedroom and add texture to the space’s industrial feel.

Yet, despite the use of materials such as cement screed and metal, the home feels far from cold, thanks to the couple’s collection of posters, kitschy movie memorabilia and colourful accessories bought overseas.

Also adding character and warmth are some treasures they salvaged from the trash, such as a two-seater sofa, which has since been reupholstered, and an old television set from the 1980s.

ALL HOLED UP: Cubbyholes in the study display the couple’s vintage collection.

All of which goes to show, having more of the same can be a good thing after all.

This spread first appeared in April’s issue of Home & Decor, published by SPH Magazines.

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A Part of Tiong Bahru

April 23, 2008

Photo taken from my nokia E90
(I’m not impressed with the photo quality but that was the only image capturing device I have with me all the time)

This is a part of the Tiong Bahru Estate landscape which most people would have missed as it is located in some obscure corner in Tiong Bahru.

If you took the trouble to explore Eng Hoon Street and walked all the way to the entrance of St Matthew Church (1K Eng Hoon Street), you would have found this building.
This building is located beside the main gate of that church.
I wonder who the owner of this building is.
The place looks so abandoned and some contractors even had the audacity to use the entrance of that building to store their excess goods.
Why do some property owners just let their property die and rot?
This, I cannot comprehend.
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Insider News

April 22, 2008

“I’ve got insider news”. “Someone I know works inside”. “This place is gonna en-bloced in 6 years time”.

These words were uttered smugly by a bespectacled man with a cigarette in his hand.

I had to walk away upon hearing these words as the resentment welling up within me was too intense to handle.

Maybe I’m just too obsessed with this estate.

As a real estate agent, I had to be professional about such remarks and not let my emotions get the better of me. (By the way, that guy is not my customer. He just bought a place in the HDB section of Tiong Bahru and is currently renovating his place and I happen to overhear his conversation with a buyer who just viewed a unit I was selling.)

Perhaps this frustration stemmed from the seemingly indifferent attitude I witness and felt amongst some Tiong Bahru residents.

Maybe no one really cares if this place would be en-bloced or conserved. What seems to matters most would be how much the en-bloced compensation would be and would the allocated flats be near a MRT station.

Seriously, you do not need HDB to en-bloced your home to get a windfall! There are many other ways to make money.

My family has never benefitted from whatsoever handouts HDB has given out.

When I purchased my 1st flat*, it was a total disaster for my wife and me.

We bought our flat impulsively at $495,000 and plonked in another $80,000 to renovate and furnished it.

HDB gave us a $40,000 CPF grant but that did more harm than help.

We later sold the flat off at $425,000.

Our losses come up to about $125,000 (inclusive of accrued CPF interest). To me, that was a financial disaster.

To add insult to injury, if I ever buy a direct flat from HDB, I would have to pay a levy of $107,000. And that amount does not include the interest incurred from the time I sold my SUBSIDIZED flat till the time I purchase my next one. (I wonder who was subsidizing who)

My wife and I never whine about that. We took it in our stride and recovered from it.

We stayed focused in our plans to become financially educated.

I also put in effort to improve my knowledge in real estate so that I can be a better investor and at the same time provide better advice to my clients.

We are still learning as learning is a journey with no destination.

We kept reading relevant books and tried to put what we have read into action.

I am also fortunate enough to meet many people along the way who could offer good advice and directions.

We have developed some kind of AWARENESS and this is a good start.

We have since made back what we lost from our 1st HDB flat through our real estate investment. (By the way, my wife is not in the real estate business but she took the time to understand how it works…..actually she does not have a choice, I have verbal diarrhoea and I demanded total attention when I am exploring my theories or analysis with her)

I strongly agree with Robert Kiyosaki that all of us should stop having this ENTITLEMENT mentality and instead steer our own future.

As the saying goes, give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life.

But BEWARE of the person who does neither but wants to sell you the fish. (They have a SELFISH reason for doing so and real estate agents** are classified by Robert as a fish seller in his book, “Why we want you to be RICH!”)

I was sold a fish when I bought my 1st HDB flat. I am now learning how to fish.

So for whatever reasons you might have about buying into Tiong Bahru and one of them happens to be about some en-bloc windfall, I urge you to explore other options which has a more certain outcome.

Betting on some insider news is akin to gambling.

One of my wise clients recently said this to me: “Wiseman PLANs, Poor man HOPEs”. There is much wisdom in that statement.

But if you already living here in the Tiong Bahru Estate and you cannot really tolerate living in these walk-ups anymore, give me a call and I will help you explore possibilities on how you can be happily moved to a place where there are ELEVATORS and extra toilets to serve you.

That way, we can still keep Tiong Bahru low density.

Being collectively INDIFFERENT to the fate of this estate would be the greatest tragedy.

So the song goes, Coz we are living in a material world and I’m a material……..,

If everyone is consumed by that song, the GREED will eventually come and Tiong Bahru’s low density existence will be threatened.

*Note: I was not yet a real estate agent when I purchased my 1st HDB property.

** When real estate agents cajole you into buying a property, do not become too emotional and overstretch your budget. Remember, you are the one who is going to service that mortgage loan over a long period of time and that agent would not be around to help you service that loan after the sale. You need to know your own financial numbers so that no one can pull wool over your eyes.

*** Stumbled upon this site and I would like you to check it out too: http://www.saveclementipark.com/. I am glad there are some people at Clementi Park who cared enough to speak out.

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Steel Trunk

April 21, 2008

I had a meeting with my client in one of the flats within the Tiong Bahru Estate this afternoon.

It was supposed to be routine where I basically pop in and then pop out.

I was expecting to find an empty flat as the unit was recently sold and the owner had the obligation to move everything out of the premise for my client.

So I was surprised to be greeted by my client’s domestic helper at the door, struggling with a folded table.

When I walked in, my heart sank. The previous owner did not even bother to come and clear out the place before the legal completion.

To diffuse the situation, I jokingly told my client if there were any treasures he had found.

Right after I said that, something caught my eye. It was an old rusted casing hidden within a mountain of old clothing.


I immediately pulled the steel trunk out to have a good look. Next question to my client was….”DO YOU WANT THIS?”

Frankly, I never would have expected this to be lying around in this flat.

This flat has not been renovated for a very long time and as far as I know, it has always been rented out.

The last group were 6 Vietnamese students who chained smokes in the flat and probably did this low cost activity for leisure very often:

(I found this pasted onto one of the bedroom doors)


I will provide some more pictures just to let you see how messy the place was




In the evening, I showed the picture of the steel trunk to my mother in law and she said such steel trunks were often used to contain wedding dowries in the early days.

The clothing in the chest was all neatly folded and I’m very sure it belonged to the previous owner’s mum.

If he is reading this post, he may be kicking himself for not making the trip down to take a last look at the flat.

But then again, what may seem valuable and interesting to some people may look like trash to some others.

If I may digress, let me prove my point.

About nine years ago, my mum dumped this set of chairs in my uncle’s home.


Back then, I did not like it as well and I had no qualms about her throwing that away.

These pair of chairs sat in my uncle’s home for the past nine years.

Recently retired and with more time in his hands, he decided to do some spring cleaning.

This chair was one of things he had decided to rationalise.

By some stroke of good luck, he told my mum about his intention to discard that and I happened to talk to mum about my blog posting about the old stove. She immediately asked if I wanted a pair of armchairs.

Luckily my uncle thought the chairs were trash and he was elated to part with it.

Hurray for me.

But as for the steel chest, no such luck for me.

My client wants to keep it. In life, you win some and you lose some.

By the way, I will replace the “OBIANG” red seats to some nicer colours.

OK, back to the steel trunk…..

The interior of the chest is still in very good condition.

I tried to find out about the P.M. Sultan & Company from the Internet but yielded no results.




Anyone out there who might have any information on this?

The steel trunk looks like it was from the British administration era.

Besides the discovery of the steel trunk, I also spotted this baby sized “diamond brand” clock in the kitchen.


It looks very aged but is still faithfully ticking away. It was LUST at 1st sight.

So I asked my client if he was gonna keep that clock and I got the same response….”No, I’m gonna keep it”. Damn.

My wife thinks I am slowly evolving into a KARANG GUNI man.
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Unwanted child of S’pore conservation?

April 20, 2008

I hope the relevant authorities would come up with a more long term plan for Tiong Bahru Estate as well. Everyone is left wondering what’s next. Will they let the lease run out and turn this place into some commercial place or they will keep tossing this project around until it lands on someone’s lap. Shudders……

The Straits Times
April 20, 2008
SUNDAY WITH

By Warren Fernandez


Will recent reports of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre finally happen – after almost two decades? I’m not holding my breath…

For too long, the once-lovely Capitol Theatre has stood forlorn and forgotten, the unwanted child of Singapore conservation.

Newspaper reports once held out hope of it being transformed into a performing arts centre for musicals, plays and ballets.

That, alas, was in January 1996.

Even then, the report quoted government officials as saying that the plans were ‘still being studied’.

Never mind that the site had been earmarked for development in 1984, and acquired by the state in 1987, nearly a decade earlier.

More delays followed. In 1998, Capitol screened its last movie and the cinema was shut down amid much sadness and hopeful talk of plans to put it to better use.

The project was handed over to the Singapore Tourism Board to pursue in 2000. But in 2006, it decided not to proceed and handed it back to the Singapore Land Authority. Last year, it was finally declared a conservation area.

Sadly, over the years, nobody seemed either to own the project or to care all that much about it.

So, pardon me, but I could not help being more than a little sceptical when I read a report earlier this month which talked of fresh plans for the Capitol Theatre and the structures around it – Capitol Building, Capitol Centre and Stamford House.

The report raised as many questions as it answered: Just what do the authorities now envisage for the site, which they say will be sold as an ‘integrated one’ next year? So far, officials have said only that the area has not been ‘fully maximised to its development potential’ – indeed! – and the ‘timing and details’ of their plans ‘are being finalised’.

Why has it taken decades for any progress to be made on conserving this area? What is the cost of leaving Capitol idle all these years, allowing it to crumble away to a dusty death? And just who will ensure that the plans are realised this time?

These are legitimate questions, not least since the buildings concerned are very much part of Singapore’s architectural heritage.

Capitol Theatre turns 80 next year. The neo-classical style building was built in 1929 by M.A. Namazie, an early Singapore pioneer of Persian origin. The accompanying four-storey building, where the popular Magnolia Snack Bar once stood, was completed in 1933 and called the Namazie Mansions back then.

The cinema was Singapore’s very first, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks performed to promote their silent movies. In the 1960s, the Capitol hosted variety shows featuring performers like Sakura Teng and Rita Chao.

The adjacent Stamford House has an even longer history. It was designed for commercial use in 1904 by R.A.J. Bidwell, the man behind other outstanding buildings such as the Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park Hotel.

Few seem to recall the furious debate that broke out in 1991 over whether Stamford House should be saved instead of Eu Court, built in the 1930s, across the street.

Then National Development minister S. Dhanabalan declared that Stamford House would be preserved as it had a ‘more outstanding architectural style’.

I was prepared then to give the minister the benefit of the doubt, and wait to see if the ramshackle Stamford House of those days would indeed be transformed into the conservation gem he envisioned.

So, when the Victorian facade of the building was unveiled three years and $13 million later, I had to concede that it did look splendid, as the minister had said.

But sadly, it never quite lived up to his promise of becoming ‘an active and successful commercial centre’, given its motley collection of furniture shops, galleries and eateries, several of which came and went.

The wider issue here is this: Just how does Singapore go about conserving its architectural heritage, saving grand old buildings and giving new life to them?

Of course, given the space constraints on this tiny island, I have never believed in keeping buildings as museum pieces, or standing in the way of development.

But, in these days of globalisation and rapid change, a sense of place and continuity is needed if Singaporeans are to remain rooted to this country.

Indeed, at the moment, Singapore is undergoing another spurt of redevelopment. Just as in the 1980s and 1990s, when familiar sites like the modest C.K. Tang store or the huge open field where Ngee Ann City now stands gave way to skyscrapers, the Ion Orchard and Orchard Central are rising rapidly from the ground in Orchard Road. These, and the redevelopment of the Asia Hotel site in Scotts Road, as well as the new St Regis Hotel in Tanglin Road are transforming the face of the downtown area as we know it.

So how to ensure continuity in the face of such change?

Well, to be fair, there have been quite a few success stories in conservation over the years, such as the Fullerton Hotel, Raffles Hotel, the National Museum, the old Parliament House, and the old St Joseph’s Institution building.

In these cases, the buildings’ structures were painstakingly conserved, even as their interiors were retrofitted to allow for new uses, commercial or otherwise. Sure, the purists moaned, but the conservation purpose was served.

There have been some bad misses too. Orchard cinema and the National Library were both razed to the ground despite fervent public protests.

Or ponder this: Just what is the difference between the ghastly named Orchard Cineleisure and the supposedly conserved Cathay building?

Precious little, actually. The former was built after tearing the old cinema down completely, while the latter was simply erected around a sliver of the facade of what was Singapore’s first skyscraper, as a sop to the conservationist lobby.

Clearly, there are lessons to be learnt from these hits and misses over the decades to help ensure that the re-development of the Capitol area turns out right.

To do so, the authorities need to:
Spell out their Capitol conservation plans in much greater detail.

While they are at it, they should consider redeveloping the SMRT HQ building across the street. Why a public transport operator needs such a large prime site, all walled up and uninviting, has always been a mystery to me.

There is much potential to liven up the entire area on both sides of Stamford Road, with an array of streetwalk dining, retail and entertainment options.

Engage the public, both to get ideas and foster a sense of ownership of this historic district.

Surely, Singaporeans should not wait until plans are announced to demolish an old building before taking an interest? Nor should they be left to bemoan conservation efforts gone awry after the fact.

Announce a timeline to make clear how and when the authorities will ensure that the area’s ‘development potential is fully maximised’, at long last.

It would be a pity if Singaporeans have to wait another decade to read the next report on new plans ‘being studied’ for Capitol.


warren@sph.com.sg