Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't Write Off Old Bungalows

Source : The Business Times, August 06 2009

You can always ask an architect to see how rooms and spaces can be transformed with simple changes.

WHEN one buys a landed property, it is more than likely that it will come with a house attached.

Quite often, however, new owners will demolish the existing house and build a new one from scratch, adding to the money invested in the property. And at an average of $500 psf for construction cost, this can add up to quite a hefty sum. So it may pay to consider the potential of the existing old bungalow instead.

Anyone with a good eye for architecture should be able to see how rooms and spaces can be transformed with simple changes. But for those without, the best person to ask is an architect.

Transforming old buildings is something architect Mink Tan has had experience with, having won the URA Heritage Award for the Waterboat House on Fullerton Road in 2004.

By reconfiguring the spaces and adding some new ones, he converted the formerly dark and airless Waterboat House into a light and airy lifestyle F&B destination.

Similarly, when Mr Tan was shown around a 14 year old colonial style bungalow that a client was interested in, he could see that it was a building that had potential.

The large house has a built-up area of about 7,500 sq ft house and sits on nearly 16,000 sq ft of prime land. But with a house of this size and design, the rooms tend to be dark.

To address this, Mr Tan simply replaced many of the windows with French windows which are just glass-panel doors that can be opened to let more light in.

'The spaces also didn't feel right,' says Mr Tan. So he created an 'enfilade effect' by opening up the rooms and establishing view corridors that did not exist before.

By simply knocking down some of the bedroom walls to give access to existing ledges, the architect also converted 'dead space' into balconies. Even the roof of the car porch was converted into a terrace simply by introducing new doors.

In other areas of the house, like the kitchen, all it took was some space-planning to turn what was previously a small kitchen into a bigger, wet and dry kitchen.

Not all houses will be as easy to transform, especially if the house happens to be gazetted for conservation, as many of Singapore's grandest bungalows are.

Old bungalows that have been gazetted for conservation can be transformed and remodelled but strict guidelines set by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) must be adhered to.

Many of the conserved bungalows are within the Good Class Bungalow Areas of Chatsworth Park, Holland Park/Ridout Road and Nassim Road/Whitehouse Park and Mountbatten Road.

Bungalows usually consist of the main building and an outhouse for the kitchen, toilets and servants' quarters. For conserved bungalows, only the main house needs to be retained. The outhouse can be demolished to make way for new extensions to the main house.

New extensions may be permitted for additional floor area but this will be subject to Development Control guidelines, the allowable building height of the area, and the requirements of relevant technical departments.

The potential of some of these conservation bungalows also lies in the land on which it is built. Often, the land area can be large enough to be subdivided into smaller plots.

According to the conservation guidelines, in the Good Class Bungalow Areas, a concession to facilitate the subdivision of land allows for one sub-standard plot size of not less than 1,000 sq m to be considered provided the total land area together with the conservation bungalow plot is not less than 2,800 sq m.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of owning a conservation bungalow is restoring it.

Architect Chan Soo Khian of SCDA Architects has restored several conservation homes and he advises that potential conservation home owners should be happy with the overall spatial quality of the building before buying it because quite often, the buildings are too old to undergo extensive construction work. 'Quite a few of the colonial bungalows have load bearing brick walls on footings that have constrains from guidelines and a structural point of view,' he explains.

The guidelines on conservation are extensive. Apart from restoring design features in the facade, it could also include having to restore original windows, doors, balustrades and even roof tiles.

Even the existing structural system has to be retained and restored.

However, as Mr Chan points out, many are prepared to pay a premium for these old bungalows. 'The clients that buy the conservation properties do so because they love aspects of the heritage properties such as the mature landscape that usually surround the properties,' he adds.

Indeed, such bungalows fall into a niche market that is popular with discerning home buyers. It is a niche that some developers have begun to take notice of.

Boutique developer Satinder Garcha's company Elevation focuses on unique properties in very prime locations. One such property it has recently restored is at Swettenham Road.

The old bungalow was designed by Frank Brewer and built in Late Arts and Crafts style during the colonial era. Frank Brewer incidentally also built the late president Ong Teng Cheong's house in Dalvey Estate.

Mr Garcha added that these old bungalows do certainly have investment potential, more so than regular Good Class Bungalows, 'because of the rarity value and the desirability of these bungalows, especially by foreigners and now increasingly Singaporeans'.

He added that the most coveted are those which are conserved with historic value but restored and modernised with modern conveniences - offering the best of old and new.

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