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Portal To Japan

The lengths that Japanophile Melvyn Yap went to to make the best of his modest-sized living quarters, are hardly modest at all.

Melvyn’s elaborately decorated sake den.

Melvyn Yap is rather bashful whenever people compliment him on his breathtaking Japanese style home. What kind of Japanese theme, one might ask? “Sake-themed,” the connoisseur of Japanese fare and philosophy jocularly replies.

The avid bonsai grower adds that he never expected his home to be featured in a luxury publication, because his is no executive condominium or landed property, but just a government housing apartment. “There is a stigma that government housing cannot be luxurious. I had to approach many government agencies with my renovation requests, which in turn pushed the responsibility to other governing bodies.” However, what sweeps his guests off of their feet is the distance he went to achieve its unassailable aesthetics.

The stairs ascending to Melvyn’s sleeping quarters, which the Housing Development Board allowed him to alter but not demolish.

Sometime in the middle of 2016, his mother whom he lives with was entertaining ideas of selling this picturesque maisonette in Singapore’s serene east side. This prompted Yap to revamp his home, which he had been living in for 17 years, rather than forsake it. However, convincing her to keep the family home was the easiest of his endeavours.

Visitors to his home are immediately compelled by its sheer details – tatami mats, soji paper walls, old-world windows (which surprise with in-glass adjustable blinds) as well as traditional Japanese dolls like Hina Ningyo and Daruma adorn his house in an unbroken, harmonious flow. “I had to engage a carpenter to customise these soji paper sliding doors,” Yap shares of one of his abode’s many side projects, who just returned to Singapore from experiencing the Boys’ Festival, which drapes Tokyo in fish, samurai and sword-themed decorations once a year. “I also had to tailor-make the tatami mats, so that they fit the proportions of the dining room and bedrooms.”

Melvyn curated traditional-style sleeping quarters for his mother and him. Fortunately, his mom enjoys hard sleeping surfaces.

When he embarked on this undertaking, which he describes in hindsight as a learning curve, in August 2016, his friend Eric Chua had just left a big design firm to set up his own entity, Sync Interior. Yap engaged Chua as his interior designer as he wished to support his start-up endeavour and help the up-and-coming creative expand his portfolio.

The house’s dining and guest reception area unquestionably steals the spotlight. Embellished by a wall of recesses that hold objects of interest – a display style that the Japanese call tokonoma – the beautiful space in which Yap entertains his guests offers both chair seating and floor seating options. A frequent jetsetter, Yap had to personally bring many pieces of his would-be home from Japan, including the floor seats’ atypical chairs. “Furniture in Japan can take around three months to make, and because many craftsmen do no ship out of Japan, I had to have the chair delivered to my friend’s house first, then retrieve them the next time my work brought me back to Japan.”

The tranquil and very private dining area.

His dining table shares a similar story. “The Japanese like their furniture to make sense,” he shares about the Japanese’s eccentric penchant for living philosophies. “Its surface is 70cm tall instead of tables from other countries that are 85cm tall. This is so that occupants do not experience a reactionary force when propping their arms up on a table higher than their elbows,” he describes of his simple but sleek table, which is made of the same black walnut wood used in Japan to build temples. “It is also narrow, so that no one needs to raise their voice in conversation or reach awkwardly for a distant dish. The Japanese also leave their wooden tables uncovered, which are meant to mature and gain character with each pigmentation.”

His house a cavalcade of one-off sake cups and handmade chopsticks, Yap divulges that his goal was to bring the izakaya and ryokan experience back home with him to Singapore. “In Japan, I was also particularly impressed by omotenashi,” he shares of the Japanese philosophy of giving to a guest wholeheartedly, with nothing held back, with the highest esteem and with no expectation of the returning of this favour. Having hosted many content friends since the reopening of his charming guest house, he brims with satisfaction over this success that he painstakingly laboured to achieve.

Melvyn Yap and his very own Japan away from Japan.

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