Singapore life is urban, but we think living in a black and white house at Seletar Camp is “almost country life”! We talk to a couple of Australian expats who moved in to one of these gorgeous colonial homes.
“Living in a black and white house is a bit like having a boat,” says MATTHEW LOGAN. “It’s a lifestyle. You’ve always got to be fixing things. Something always needs to be looked after and you have to be innovative and a bit creative about how you handle things, too. But it’s all worth it because it’s a way of life you just can’t get in a condo.”
Why a black and white house at Seletar?
Matthew, his wife Jenni, and their two daughters Bella and Jesse moved to their three-bedroom home in Seletar four years ago from a condo near the Botanic Gardens. They hadn’t really planned to move to a black-and-white, even though their condo lease was up. But seeing was believing!
“Friends of ours we knew through our kids’ football club kept telling us about Seletar. So we came up for a dinner party and, within a half an hour, we were walking around with a glass of champagne looking at all the empty places. It was love at first sight.”
Seletar Camp was the first British Royal Air Force (RAF) base east of India and it also served as a civilian airport until 1937, when Kallang Airport was opened to the public. Many of the surrounding black-and-whites were a part of that early beginning, a history Matthew is fascinated in.
Matthew and Jenni put in a high bid to make sure they got the place they wanted. Even so, the rent is still less than what they were paying for the condo, but the place did take quite a bit of fixing up to make it the way they wanted it.
Doing the Refurbs
Inside, they installed aircons and redid all the bathrooms, and they added a sliding door to one of the downstairs rooms to create a guest room. The bedrooms are quite large, and each has a smaller space within it, which makes the rooms really versatile. The kitchen has a passthrough to the back patio, but it’s small and hasn’t been updated (though one neighbour apparently just redid theirs using IKEA and it looks fabulous). The family’s helper also has a large area.
But the real transformation to this black and white house took place outside. They added a pool and a Balinese-style alang alang thatched shelter that covers the entire back area. They loved their neighbours’ so much that they had one built just like it. It’s beautiful and it never leaks, but it will have to be replaced every five years or so as they don’t wear well.
They also added a portable bar they bought at Woody’s Antique House in Dempsey, some furniture from neighbourhood garage sales, and pieces they brought with them from Sydney. They now spend a lot of their time at home outside, admiring their lovely, large yard, which has also undergone quite the makeover.
“I’ve designed a lot of the garden myself,” says Matthew. “We planted all around the perimeter to make the space more private and we cleared away a lot of the brush and bamboo, too, to keep snakes away. We found this great gardener who really looks out for us. I bought about 50 plants for $10 each, and the jasmine hedges were $2.50 a plant, plus transportation. Everything grows so fast here that it takes no time for the yard to look completely different. That makes gardening here fun!”
Matthew grew up in a bushland area bordering one of Sydney’s national parks, and Jenni grew up overlooking a Sydney Harbour reserve. They love the openness of the black-and-white houses at Seletar and that kids can have a childhood like theirs, roaming around the neighbourhood, riding skateboards or their bikes without worry. Both Matthew and Jenni work in demanding roles but they feel the stress of work disappear as soon as they drive through the old RAF gates into their neighbourhood.
They also love the beautiful birdlife in the area, such as colourful kingfishers and orioles, and even the occasional bird of prey. A few hornbills nest in their front garden trees and divebomb their neighbour’s fishpond (and are remarkably noisy!). And yes, they have seen a couple of snakes in the garden; critters seem to come with black-and-white houses. There are also wild boars in the neighbourhood, but Matthew and Jenni purposefully chose plants that don’t attract boars. And, because the yard is now so open, they can see any snakes that come by, and they haven’t really had any problems.
One of the best parts of Seletar living is the community. Years ago, there was a big playgroup in the neighbourhood that has kept going, even though the kids are all grown up. Now, it’s expanded to include pretty much everybody. People take turns hosting Friday night parties which can involve outdoor movie nights, baseball matches or even local kids’ talent shows. They even have a resident band that jams at some of the parties, with Matthew on blues harmonica. The families, including the children and the helpers, all get together for big meals that everyone contributes to, making Seletar feel like a big family home. So, while it might seem far (in Singapore terms) from the “happening” part of the country, it turns out there is a lot to do on the weekends here.
In fact, if there’s a downside to Seletar living from Matthew’s point of view, it’s the loud amplified music that’s played some evenings at The Oval, a nearby renovated area filled with restaurants and bars. But that’s only a small trade-off for the country-living feel. “We thought about living on Sentosa when we first got here, but we have beaches back in Australia. The black-and-white life is something uniquely Singaporean and the lifestyle really does suit us. We can’t imagine living anywhere else in Singapore now.”
“The myriad of furniture shops in the Tan Boon Liat Building on Outram Road – Emperor’s Attic, Journey East, Singapore Trading Post, The Shophouse and so on. Also, Woody’s Antique House in Dempsey.”
Neighbourhood garage sales
“These can be a great furnishing source as expats can have an entire house of items to sell when they relocate.” (Matthew and Jenni even did an old-school letter-drop in black-and-white neighbourhoods asking about upcoming sales.)
To Be Calm candles
“They have beautiful fragrances to reflect Singapore living, so we burn them in nearly every room of our house.” tobecalm.com
The Art Faculty
“This platform showcases beautiful Singaporean artwork and products by people with autism and related challenges, and provides royalties to the artists for each sale.” theartfaculty.sg
Urban Garden Landscaping, Matthew Quek. 9226 2268
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!