POPPY SKINNER is a freelance writer from the UK and owner of kids’ clothing company Cookie&Bert (cookieandbert.com). She tells us why her Alexandra Park black-and-white colonial house in the Redhill area is a place like no other.
What’s the name of your street? Russels Road.
What’s a common myth or misconception about your neighbourhood? Taxi drivers love to tell you that the Redhill area is haunted. I think given that the houses are so old and have seen so much history, there’s a thought that there must be spirits around.
I’m not normally a believer, at all, but after I had my first child, I am beyond sure that I saw a spirit several times, and so did my helper. Whenever I saw her I never felt scared, I felt totally at ease. I like to think that she was watching over the baby. Our house was built in 1901 so I’m sure it/the spirits could tell some stories!
Exact words you tell a taxi driver to get home? “Go towards IKEA near Redhill and I’ll direct you to Russels Road from there.”
Closest MRT station? Redhill (green East West Line), but it’s two and a half kilometres away.
How long have you lived here? For nearly five years. When I was pregnant with my son, our former landlord blindsided us with the fact that he had sold our house and we needed to move!
One of our friends in Alexandra Park was moving so we did think about taking over their house as we just love the park, but on a little walk around we found our house on Russels Road – it was empty and we fell in love instantly. Alexandra Park in Redhill has a vibe like no other. It’s such a special little pocket of Singapore and all the residents respect their houses – their little pieces of history – so much. We have a Facebook page and a WhatsApp group and there’s a great community spirit.
When you walk out of your place, what’s the first thing you see? Trees! We’ve got so much greenery around so it’s always nice being surrounded by nature. It’s either that or my car if I’ve been too lazy to put it in the garage the night before, which happens a lot.
What’s the closest store to your front door? To be honest, there’s not much! We’ve got Anchorpoint Shopping Centre about two kilometres away – Cold Storage opened there recently, which caused great excitement!
If your street, Russels Road, was chosen for a remake of a film, which would it be? This is a hard one! I’ve no idea so I’m going to say Weekend at Bernie’s because it’s one of my favourite films.
We’re sure your neighbours are great, but is there anything you wouldn’t mind a little less of? Nothing, they’re all perfect!
What’s the unofficial uniform of your street? Definitely activewear.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on Russels Road? A six-foot python with my poor kitten inside its stomach.
What are your three favourite places to eat or drink in the neighbourhood? My house because my husband is an awesome cook; COMO in Dempsey – their food is healthy and delicious – and Jimmy Monkeys, where they make some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.
Where are the best places to go shopping in your area? Well, if you’re looking for kids’ clothes, it’s got to be Cookie&Bert! I design quirky and unique pieces with a Korean streetwear influence for kids up to five. Apart from that, I get my homeware from Hankie Pankie Tables at What Women Want in Joo Chiat, and my fish and fruit and vegetables are from Sasha’s Fine Foods and Open Taste.
What are some fun or interesting things to do in the neighbourhood? Walks around the park are great and there are so many different routes to take. Hort Park is also super cute for kids as they’ve got learning stations and a lovely butterfly garden.
What’s one thing you’d never change? The community spirit.
How about one thing you would change? The traffic from the school up the road! Sorry to be a moaning Minnie moaner but sadly we have had some really scary moments with parents racing to get kids to school. Also, the litter at the top of the hill by Canterbury Road! People have wedding shoots and picnic there and just dump rubbish. It drives me mad!
If the city gave you a million dollars to soup up your street, how would you use it? I would install a guard to stop people littering on the hill by Canterbury Road. And then I would throw a massive street party for us all and give the rest to charity – to help the people of Ukraine.
Beyond the ’Hood
What are your favourite Singapore spots for taking out-of-town guests? The Swiss Club because it’s just so relaxing. Haji Lane is super cute and fun, and we always take visitors to a good hawker.
When you’re in need of a dose of culture, where do you go? The National Museum and then to Flutes for lunch.
If you’re missing home, what do you do? For me, home is Italy as that’s where my mum is from and where I grew up. I get homesick a lot, so we head to No Menu on Boon Tat Street for a taste of home. It’s the best Italian restaurant in Singapore and owned by Italians, so whenever I go it’s like being at home.
A short history of the black-and-white colonial house in Singapore
Gaining their name from their dark timbers and white-washed walls, Singapore’s black-and-white colonial houses were built between the late 19th century to around the 1930s. The houses were constructed by British colonial families, and their design combines traditional Victorian aesthetics with tropical and Art Deco elements. Typically, they have large verandahs and high ceilings and are open-plan, allowing the breeze to flow through.
In 1942, when the Japanese invaded Singapore, many of these homes were abandoned and became quarters for Japanese soldiers. Those in Adam Park were also used as prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. Around 500 colonial houses remain, including in Alexandra Park, Dempsey, Adam Park, Seletar and Sembawang. (Search expatliving.sg for “black and white houses” and you’ll find a huge guide to the different areas where they can be found.)
Interested in learning more about the history of this iconic style of architecture and fancy having a closer look at some fine specimens? Get in touch with Jane’s Singapore Tours at janestours.sg.
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This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
Still wondering which part of Singapore to call home? Here’s an overview of the best areas to live for expats.