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Gadgets & Home Improvement

The gift of visualisation

Despite having no training in interior design, veterinarian Jean Paul Ly designed most of his Zen, Oriental themed home himself.
The Business Times - July 14, 2012
By: Tay Suan Chiang
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The gift of visualisation WATER WORKSrnIncomplete water feature in the garden - YEN MENG JIIN

AT ANY given time during the day, the roar of traffic can be heard by residents living on Dunearn Road. But it is an oasis of peace and calm in Jean Paul Ly's home, along the same road. The director of Animal Recovery Centre lives in a two-storey house, which has several water features that help to drown out the noise.

In the front garden, water runs down the tiled walls. By the side of the house, there is another similar water feature that connects to an 18m-long saltwater lap pool.

"I switch the water pumps on when I come home, and the sound of the water running down the walls dilutes the din of traffic," says Dr Ly.

This is the second time that the veterinarian has designed his own home in Singapore. The first was a Balinese style bungalow off Bukit Timah. This time, he has picked a Zen, Oriental theme.

"It fits in with the culture and climate of where I live in," he says. "Some of the houses I see have an European influence, which is unsuitable for the tropics."

He bought the house slightly more than two years ago, and had to gut it when the house was found to be infested with termites. Although he had some help with an architect, Dr Ly designed most of the house himself.

Alterations to the home included doing away with the house's original curved staircase and replacing it with a straight one that leads to the second storey. "Making it straight saved space," says Dr Ly.

Large windows and glass sliding doors were put in, in place of walls, to allow for light and air to flow through, thereby cutting down on the need for artificial lighting and air-conditioning, while making the 4,500 sq ft home feel more spacious.

The windows were strategically placed to avoid direct sunlight, thereby keeping the house fairly cool.

He also put in an airwell between the living room and the kitchen. There is a two-storey high glass wall here, which tends to get warm during the afternoon. In the day, water runs down this glass wall, keeping it cool.

Just beside this airwell is the dining area, which is not the typical sort. It is sunken about a metre into the ground, similar to those seen in some Japanese restaurants. Dr Ly explains that if he had stuck to having a conventional dining room, with large dining table and chairs, the whole space would look overwhelming.

"The floor now becomes the seats and I can still hide storage spaces underneath it," he says.

His dining table is also his own design. He got a carpenter to build the table top. The base of the table are two shelves from Ikea placed back to back, which again, provide extra storage space.

Despite having no training in interior design, Dr Ly's ideas are clever and creative.

"You need to have the gift of visualisation - to be able to see how a project would look completed," he says, adding that it is the same as how he would view a surgery.

To maximise his budget of about $900,000, he chose to do some of the construction himself. "It saves costs and I get the exact results that I want," he says. He built his own walk-in wardrobe, the water features in his home, and the kitchen.

Despite his busy schedule at his clinic, he still found time to fly to China to source for materials, such as floor tiles and LED lights. The latter are not only energy efficient, but as they don't heat up, they are safe to install in display cabinets without ruining Dr Ly's collection of tea pots, cups and artworks.

The DIY culture of home building in Singapore isn't strong, so Dr Ly also had to fly back to his home country, Australia, to buy special tools and other materials.

"My suitcases would be filled with lights, wires, glues and tools," he says. He hasn't been questioned by customs for carrying these items on board, but to be on the safe side, he also carries with him drawings of his home.

He has garnered such a huge collection of tools that "contractors borrow them too".

Building his own home has been a "harrowing" experience, he says. He lost a finger during the construction of his old home, and this time round, he has had several close calls that could lost him more digits. One time, he ended up with cuts on his face when he walked into a wall. "Every time the family hears a crash, they come running to check on me," he says.

Most of the home is now complete, save for the water feature in the garden, which requires some final touch ups.

Dr Ly is only too happy to show visitors his home, but they have to do a little ritual before they can go up to the second storey.

Visitors make a wish, and throw a one-cent coin into his koi pond in the airwell. It seems like a novelty, until he gives the secret away. The copper in the coin helps to keep the water clean.

On the second floor are bedrooms for himself and three children. His bathroom looks out onto the canopy of trees, which help to block out noise from the road.

There is a roof terrace as well, which has an outdoor dining area, where the family have their dinners on most nights.

There is also a guest room on the terrace and a hot tub for relaxing.

The home-builder says: "At 63, I'm proud that I can still be hands-on, I still have the energy to plant trees and carry timber around the house."

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