We meet a family keen to embrace their role as custodians of an historic Singapore home. Charlie Cameron, her husband Jim and their two children Finn and Pippa moved three years ago into a stunning black-and-white house in Ridley Park. The homes in this cluster were where the British officers lived who commanded the men in the barracks that are now Dempsey Hill. When the British handed Singapore back, the government let the British maintain a property in the area on permanent lease. Now, half of Ridley Park is occupied by British consulate staff, the other half is not. Charlie’s home is one of the latter.
“I feel like I’m just the next custodian of this beautiful art deco style home,” says Charlie. “For me, it’s a joy to make a home for us to live in. But I also want to respect everything that’s gone before and respect what this house means to Singapore’s heritage. I feel there’s a responsibility for anybody who lives in a black-and-white.”
An Art Deco twist
This black-and-white is a bit different to many of the colonial homes built in the area in the 1920s. Most were originally one-storey homes on stilts that have now had the stilts enclosed to make the structure a two-storey building. Charlie’s home, however, was built a few years later – in 1935 – and was a two-storey home from the start. Unlike the colonial style, this one is Art Deco in design. The doorways are squared, not rounded; the roof is flat and there are other Art Deco touches throughout that define the house. It’s a very special home to all who have lived here.
“Twice, we’ve had families come by with elderly grandparents from overseas,” explains Charlie. “They just rang the doorbell wanting to see the home because they had lived here as children. Both were children of British officers and were intrigued to see where they grew up. I tried to leave them be to enjoy the trip down memory lane for themselves.”
The four-bedroom, four-bathroom home would be very similar to how those families remember it, though there have been some changes made over the years. When the house was first built, there would have been a large portico that wrapped around the front. At some point, one side of the portico was enclosed – it now makes up the very large living area downstairs. There is a second large living area directly above, too.
Changes and upkeep
Charlie and her family added a covered area outside for a dining table, using the existing covered area as an outdoor living room. Otherwise, they haven’t done much to the home. They were lucky that somebody moved out of the house just six months before they moved in, so the pool was still in place. They did, however, rejig the fans, add air-conditioning and change a lot of the lighting. Unlike some people who live in a black-and-white, they don’t often leave the doors and windows open, nor do they live with the air-con on constantly. They do, however, run it when the air inside the house gets too moist – that’s to protect their beautiful artwork, which gives the home a real personality.
“I think the kind of people that suit living in black-and-whites are people who really want to create a home and feel dedicated to creating a home,” Charlie says. “I don’t feel like it’s right to live in a black-and-white with a temporary mindset. You have to feel somewhat committed to Singapore and to the life here, and to creating a family environment. And you have to be prepared to spend money towards the home’s upkeep; you can’t scrimp and save, or else you’re doing a disservice to the building. It’s a form of dedication to live here and make a life here.”
Items from the past
Charlie is originally from Melbourne and her husband from London. Prior to living in Singapore, they lived in Hong Kong and were in a modern, landed home in Holland Village before ending up in this piece of Singapore’s history. Much of their furniture has been with them for their journey together – it’s part of Charlie’s design philosophy.
“I really feel like if you define your style and stick with it, no matter where you live in the world, then you’ll be fine. Most of our things have also lived in our modern house in Singapore, and they also came from our tiny Hong Kong condo. I feel very clear around my style and just because I now live in a black-and-white, I’m not going to get rid of all my Australian contemporary art. You don’t have to buy colonial things to go in a colonial home – there’s a lovely juxtaposition of living in an old home with modern interiors. And you shouldn’t feel you need to stuff every nook and cranny with items of furniture.”
Embracing a new place
In fact, Charlie is so clear about her style that she started a lifestyle blog called “Lottie Lifestyle”, which includes all sorts of things from interior design to recipes, fashion, walking tours and more. The concept has grown so much now that she’s designing and selling her own furniture and other interior pieces.
“My philosophy is that original design matters – and there’s a lot of replication happening now. I also feel like quality matters. I work with producers around the world who are very hands-on and create small batches with real craftsmanship. All their materials must be ethically sourced.”
Part of her philosophy is also not to skimp, but rather to buy quality items that will last. That way, you can take them with you from home to home. Charlie also thinks it’s important to put down roots, wherever you are, even if you’re only here for a short stay.
“If you create a temporary home, you’ll always be temporary and potentially miss the best opportunity of living away, being an expat and settling in a new place. I do feel that your interiors reflect that. My advice is to put roots down when you arrive and to go about life as an expat wholeheartedly and fully.”
Special meal out: Cloudstreet, 84 Amoy Street | cloudstreet.com.sg
Fresh flowers: Far East Flora, 565 Thompson Road | fareastflora.com
Orchids: Candy, 567 Thompson Road | candy.com.sg
Girls’ lunch: COMO Cuisine, 18A Dempsey Road | comodempsey.sg
Homeware: Lottie Lifestyle | lottieisloving.com/shop-now
Dinner with kids: La Forketta, 9 Dempsey Road | laforketta.com.sg
Current favourite cookbook: Community by Hetty McKinnon
Favourite online store delivering in Singapore: Finnish Design Shop | finnishdesignshop.com
This article first appeared in the May 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!