Eunice and HP

“As a designer of living environments, I recognised how people’s quality of life is deeply affected by their living environment," says architect Hsia Pin, who together with his wife, Eunice, started Neighbours for Life, a pro bono renovation service for the needy. All photos courtesy of the Hsu family.

As architects working in Singapore for several years, Hsu Hsia Pin and his wife Eunice Khoo, were all too familiar with the potentially toxic aspects of the industry: Long working hours that stretched into the night or weekends, and demanding clients who trotted out unreasonable instructions.  

Burnt out and jaded, Khoo took a bold step of faith to set up her own architectural firm – Ehka Studio – in 2011, though she was expecting her first child at the time.  

After much prayer, Hsu decided to support his wife and also leave the security of his salaried job to join her in helming their own business.  

They started out with no contracts, no contractors and no clients on hand.  

The couple started Ehka Studio with no contracts, no contractors and no clients on hand, but with the intention to live out their Christian values through a healthy company culture.

However, they felt the word God was speaking to them that season was Deuteronomy 11:10-12, where God told his chosen people that the land they will enter would not be like the land in Egypt where they came from, but one where they “planted (their) seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden”.  

“Our experiences and struggles gave us a glimpse into how people in need felt and lived.”

Instead of having to rely on their own strength and ability, He would lead them into a land where He is the ultimate provider and caregiver: A land of “mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven” and “a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end”.     

So, the husband-and-wife team decided from the start that they would live out their Christian values at their firm. To cultivate a good work-life balance and ensure adequate family time, all of them, including their employees, usually knock off by 6pm. They also seek not to overly elevate the importance of their own design work over what their clients want.  

“Star architects may tend to idolise their own design or have a culture where they eat, sleep, breathe anything that revolves around architecture. That can be self-centred. We wanted to use the gifts God has given us to listen to what our clients want and serve them instead,” said Hsu. 

Things of worth

Despite laying such foundations, they were not spared from having a tough time in their business.  

There was a period when their ongoing projects were cancelled and new projects also stopped coming in. Expenses racked up and they began to bleed month after month. The pressure was on, as they not only had staff salaries to fret about, their family was also getting bigger and there were many bills to pay.  

During that year of financial lack, God revealed to the couple their dependance on self and on their own financial abilities. 

As their savings were eventually running out, they had to let staff go. The ultimate disappointment and embarrassment came when they needed to take a loan from their parents to stay afloat and ensure cashflow.  

“This was the first time in our lives we had to deal with the feeling of being poor as we had both come from middle-income backgrounds. We even considered selling some personal things of worth and started becoming very calculative even when we were doing grocery shopping,” said Hsu, now 43.  

“There was a lot of anxiety and it was hard to live life normally with this burden hanging over our heads. At this point, we began to understand how poverty can really break a person’s ability to live life fully,” he added.  

Feeling constantly poor and finding themselves having to track every dollar they spent, the Hsus begun to have a greater empathy for the needy who were around them.  

Upon knowing that the security guard in their estate was facing some personal and financial difficulties, they went over to talk to him and pray for him.  

“We were living in a different world but our experiences and struggles gave us a glimpse into how people in need felt and lived,” said Hsu.  

During that year of financial lack, God revealed to the couple their dependance on self and on their own financial abilities. 

“He was teaching us how to trust in Him fully, to re-align our mindsets about what the Bible teaches about money, as well as how to manage our finances and resources well.”     

The Stiletto House designed by Ekha Studio along Jalan Seaview. Photo courtesy of Studio Periphery.

God would go on to restore and release success and prosperity upon the work of their hands. Apart from interior design projects, they also began to get commissions for architectural projects. 

That year, they built “Stiletto House” at Jalan Seaview, which garnered attention when it was featured on local and international media such as World Architecture and ArchDaily.  

Heart for the poor 

In 2019, that seed of empathy towards the poor grew further.  

Hsu was, at the time, balancing work with studies for a theological course which he was taking part-time. In class, one of his readings was the Cape Town Commitment, a manifesto for the global church written by the Lausanne Movement, an organisation initiated by evangelist Billy Graham in the 1970s. 

“As a designer of living environments, I recognise how people’s quality of life is deeply affected by our living environment.”

A sentence in the manifesto resonated deeply with Hsu: God’s desire is both for systemic economic justice and for personal compassion, respect and generosity towards the poor and needy.  

Hsu was reminded of God’s special heart for those living in poverty, and he began asking himself how he could similarly care for the poor.    

“As a designer of living environments, I recognised how people’s quality of life is deeply affected by their living environment. The contrast in the living environment between the rich and poor are manifestly obvious to me, as designers tend to serve the wealthy,” reflected Hsu.  

Coming home to his wife, he talked to her about the stirring in his spirit to do something for the needy in society. But what exactly? He had no clue.  

As a starting point, Khoo recalled that there was a TV show called Renovaid and suggested that they watch it together as a family.  

Apart from helping to spruce up the homes of families who do not have the means to do so, TV host Belinda Lee also interviews the families during the show to understand more about their background and circumstances.  

There was nary a dry eye in the Hsu household after each show; their hearts broke as their eyes were opened to how disadvantaged some families were.  

“We never knew that, even in such as rich nation like Singapore, there are people who live in such broken homes. The Government has made great policies to ensure people have a roof over their heads, but sometimes the home is so cluttered or broken down that it is not functioning properly as a home,” said Hsu.  

The ‘right timing’ or God’s timing?

Hsu had an epiphany when he realised that he was in a position to do something, as he not only had the networks in the industry to tap on for home renovation solutions, he could also be connected to beneficiaries as his former clients were in social service organisations.  

There was just one major problem.  

The timing did not seem right as he already had too much on his plate: Running his own business, part-time theological studies and caring for his newborn third child.  

Hsia Pin, Eunice and their three children.

The question was: Should he wait?  

During church service one Sunday, he heard the preacher speak about how God had asked her to do something. It seemed to be the worst possible time as that was her child’s PSLE year. Yet she responded to God in obedience.  

Was that a word from the Lord for him?  

Hsu heard God telling him to “do it now” even though the timing was inconvenient. Convicted, he shared what he discerned from God with his church. 

Little did he expect that a church friend would later come up to him, remarking that the title of the devotional by Oswald Chambers that she was reading that day was also: Do it now.  

Knowing our neighbour

It was double confirmation for Hsu and Khoo, now 43 and 42, who then acted promptly on it. The very next day, they decided to name their new initiative Neighbours for Life.  

“If it is a God given idea, we cannot wait till the time is ‘right’. Or we would miss out on what God has in store for us and others,” said Khoo. 

The project name, Neighbours for Life, came about because, firstly, God himself had twinned the greatest commandment to love Him with the second: Love your neighbour as yourself.  (Matthew 22:36-40)

“If it is a God given idea, we cannot wait till the time is ‘right’. Or we would miss out on what God has in store for us and others.”

“We interpreted this as: We cannot truly love God without loving our neighbour,” said Hsu.  

And who is our neighbour?  

Hsu went into the Bible and realised that when Jesus was posed this question, he answered not by defining who a neighbour was, but by telling the story of the Good Samaritan, emphasising that all of us are to be good neighbours by showing mercy to others who are in need.  

Armed with a name, the next task was to decide on how they would actually help the poor with their houses.  

“Logically, I assumed that, since I have rich clients, I could be a conduit between those in the top 10% in income who can donate and sponsor the home renovation works of perhaps the poorest 10% in society. But those were my own ideas and God showed me a different way instead by sending people my way to help me understand how charities work,” said Hsu.  

Zero-dollar initiative

A friend who worked in the social service industry heard that Hsu and his wife were starting a project and came by for a chat.

He advised Hsu to keep the operations simple so that their energies were not expended on running an organisation but on helping the beneficiaries. This meant that if they hoped to avoid having to register as a charity or appoint a board of directors, then they would have to stay away from handling donations.  

Hsu found that this model worked as many of the contractors and suppliers they worked with were happy to provide services or materials pro bono for needy households.  

“They wanted to play their part and were waiting for an opportunity to do so. Some had extra tiles or paint anyway, and it would not take them long to do something that they were already competent in. We believe that the best way to give back to society is by tapping on our specific expertise,” said Hsu.  

Contractors and suppliers making plans to renovate a home.

To identify genuine households in need of a makeover, they would work with social service organisations for referral of cases. Then, they would do an initial site visit to understand the needs of the family before assessing how to design and renovate the house. They would also coordinate and manage the project once they had roped in corporate sponsors who would provide the materials and do the renovation work.  

Carpentry work in the kitchen.

Where the contractors and suppliers in his network where unable to supply what was needed, for instance furniture, Hsu took to social media to crowdsource for sponsorships.

For transparency and accountability, the needs of the family would be shared on social media, albeit without identifying them. Suggestions for each furniture item that Hsu selected for the family would be posted online and people could “adopt” a specific item and ship it directly to the house of the family.  

“The support was heartening. Within a few hours of our call for sponsors, the items were all taken care of,” said Hsu.  

So far, Neighbours for Life has completed four major home renovation projects and handled about four more minor ones. On average, each project took about two to four months, with Covid-19 inevitably causing some delays.  

Repairing the flooring of a home.

“On hindsight, we realised that God’s timing was the best. We were able to get this up and running before Covid-19 happened the following year,” said Hsu, who was glad to have found a need in society that he could plug using his networks and expertise. 

There are people who would help out to clean up the houses, or ad-hoc repairs here and there, but there is no help group that we know of that meets the home renovation needs of the poor holistically. Many beneficiaries don’t usually want to have their lives and homes made public,” said Hsu. 

Revival through love

Recently, Neighbours for Life completed a home renovation project for a pair of sisters living in a four-room flat. One of them met with a car accident years ago and was paralysed from the waist down. Her sister, being her main caregiver, was unable to keep up with cleaning the house regularly, so they had been living in a dusty and unsafe home.  

“Compassion is a gift to us, as we get to understand the heart of God more and know more about who He is.”

After talking to the sisters and understanding their needs, Hsu focused the renovation on making the surrounding appliances and furniture more accessible to the sister who is a wheelchair-user. He also catered for more storage space so as to minimise dust.  

After the floor plan was done up, various partners came in to do their part.   

Workers from Poh Sia Construction & Engineering repainted the walls and changed the height of the electrical sockets so that the sister in the wheelchair can reach them by herself.  

Posh Tree sponsored and replaced all the malfunctioning wardrobes with built-in wardrobes for all bedrooms. E&B Craftsmen also designed the built-in cabinets for the living room, ensuring that the drawers were at a height which the sister can view and reach for items. The cabinets were also covered by new grey laminates provided by EDL Laminates.  

Ganen Asia came on board to explain to the sister how its smart home technology could be incorporated into the home to compensate for her disability and allow her to operate appliances that she previously could not. With the sponsorship of the Ganen switches and Google Mini Nest, she can now operate almost all the appliances (air conditioner, fan, lights) by herself with just a click or voice command. 

What the sisters’ living room looked like before and after the home design and renovation works.

Vlux Lightings also came in to supply them with new lightings and ceiling fans. There were homes that did not have fixed lights so the children could not study or do their homework after dark.  

Donations from Vlux Lightings.

The rest of the loose furniture was bought from Ikea by volunteers who saw the call for sponsorship on the Neighbours for Life Facebook page.   

Items for the homes which were donated by members of the public.

“Such life-changing projects can never be done by just one person, but accomplished by collective effort,” said Hsu.  

The vision of Neighbours for Life is to elevate the quality of life of low-income families through thoughtfully designed spaces which are clean and functional, with an aesthetic touch.  

“Having beauty is equally important because if our mandate is to bring heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10), then the beauty of heaven is just as much something God wants to bring to His people. This is one specific way we feel enabled to help with,” said Khoo. 

She noted that the families whose homes have been transformed are no longer ashamed to invite their relatives or friends home.  

“When comparing how the flats looked like before and after the renovation, one can feel the difference on a deep, emotional level.

“The difference may be invisible, but when the beneficiaries live in a safe, clean and beautiful place, the stress lifts a little from their shoulders and they feel they are able to cope with the demands of the day once again.”

Before and after pictures of a kitchen after renovation.

The couple has also been greatly blessed by the project.  

“Our hope is to see revival in this land, and we can all start working towards that by loving our neighbours.” 

Khoo often finds herself crying after visiting and talking to the families. She noted how one past mistake or a set of circumstances beyond the families’ control resulted in their current state, limiting their prospects for the future.  

“Compassion is a gift to us, as we get to understand the heart of God more and know more about who He is,” said Khoo.  

Moving forward, they hope for more volunteers and resources so that more families can be helped.

“If the big companies in the industry, architects and interior designers step in with their immense resources, there is so much that can be achieved,” said Hsu.  

“Our hope is to see revival in this land, and we can all start working towards that by loving our neighbours.” 


Corporate sponsors and volunteers can get in touch with them at [email protected] or follow them at 


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About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer Janice is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.