The black-and-white houses in Singapore range in size from two bed room apartments to large grand homes that are more like country estates. They all offer larger rooms than modern builds, they usually have more space and always have a sense of heritage. They do require a lot maintenance and some in initial set-up costs especially if you want a pool, air-conditioners or a more modern kitchen. We meet a Belgian family who have made this beautiful and huge house in Alexandra Park their home.
Who lives here: Charlotte, Tom, Anton (16), Juliet (14), Pippa (11), Ileen (their helper of six years) and Jackson the Golden Retriever
Time in Singapore: Three years
Size and type of home: A ten room colonial black-and-white home
Décor style: European tropical
The Van Gyseghem-Peters family home is impressive. It’s located in the low-key residential pocket of Alexandra Park, and if you didn’t purposely go for a drive around its leafy streets, you wouldn’t even know there were houses here.
I meander down the driveway, taking in the vastness of the house and property, then knock on the open door. Nothing. I knock again. Nothing. Again, I knock and shout “hello” as loud as my British-Australian politeness will let me. I can hear people inside. I wait a little while and try again.
After what seems like an eternity (in reality, a few minutes), a tall and elegant-looking lady click-clacks down the stairs in a fabulous pair of green heels.
Charlotte Peters doesn’t look like a mother of three teenage children who runs an international recruitment company. She’s immaculate, open and friendly, and we’re soon laughing that her house is just too big to hear anyone at the front door.
After water, tea and alcoholic drinks are offered (I choose the water option this time, as it’s a Thursday!), we settle into the family room. Jackson the Golden Retriever makes his presence known, and I am temporarily distracted by scratching the ears attached to his fluffy, 10-kilogram head that’s resting on my lap.
The furniture in the home is diverse and I also notice there is no television. “I think a TV is the ugliest object. And it takes away communication, so we don’t have one in this room,” Charlotte tells me.
We start talking about some of her favourite pieces in the room. “This is a Vitra couch that we’re sitting on. Tom and I got it on sale in Belgium. We queued up outside the store on their annual sale day.” She explains how they’ve come to have such eclectic items: “We like to collect things that we will keep for a long time. And I love that we have a huge house now to put them all in.”
The family were originally looking at a smaller place down the street but the rest of the family said no. “They told me it didn’t have enough rooms for all our guests – I’m always inviting people to stay!” The family is currently hosting a Belgian student who is working for a Belgian chocolate company in Singapore.
Around the House
Charlotte and I take a walk around the house. I knew I should have worn my step-counter today. Although there are 10 rooms that could work as bedrooms, only seven are being used by the family for sleeping. The others are work and relaxation spaces, or just display areas for Charlotte’s collection of chairs and other paraphernalia. “Tom says I have too many chairs, but you always need an extra seat or two when you have people over!”
We tour the bedrooms and office spaces upstairs and, again, I’m amazed by the space. I could literally fit my whole condo into the guest room.
We tiptoe into their master suite, where I can hear Tom on what seems like an intense conference call in his office, just off their bedroom. I sneak a peek into the walk-in wardrobe (which is actually a whole separate room, crowded with clothes racks and shoes); “One of the things about this house is we have no storage space,” Charlotte whispers to me as we creep out.
Working in Two Continents
Charlotte is the founder and owner of HR One Group, a global executive search for the Life Sciences industry, with the main office still located in Belgium. “I work between Belgium and Singapore, so I travel every six weeks, which has become a lifestyle now. It makes life so more exciting – living and working in two continents. And in two totally different climates!”
Her team in Belgium is located in an old loft where soap was originally manufactured. She thinks it’s a great place to work, and it helps them interview candidates in a totally different way to other head-hunters. Charlotte loves having a job. “If I didn’t work, I’d become too focused on other things. I love that on a Friday I really feel like I’m ready for the weekend! I find sense in it. Very Belgian, I know!”
A Global View
As a second-time expat (the family lived in Malaysia for three years before returning to Belgium for a year), Charlotte is a fraction reticent about living in Singapore. “I loved living in Malaysia – though the community was smaller. We lived in an amazing house in the jungle. It was very modern and had monkeys everywhere; it felt so adventurous. I love having the Alexandra Park jungle on our doorstep now. I’ve been able to make lifelong friends here though my charity work with the Tabitha Foundation. We are sisters forever and often meet for dinner then go and dance on tables!”
And the future? “We may move back to Europe at some stage. I love Brussels and our apartment there, even though it’s crazy, unsafe and the weather isn’t good! I do miss jumping in my car, driving to see my clients and getting stuff done. But we could also end up living in Italy as we have a place at Lake Como.”
The family obviously still has a deep love for their home country, which, unlike some of us, will make it easier if they ever decide to leave Singapore.
Making a Home
The house is full of joviality, with banter and teasing all round from everyone. “Hey Dad,” asks Juliet when the family joins us, “where’s your favourite place in Singapore? I know: Changi airport!”
“No,” Tom responds laughing, “that’s just where I spend most of my time!” Tom works for a Belgian international building company and travels extensively. (In fact, we specifically arranged our meeting for a rare time when he was in town.)Tom tells me how they found the house. “I remember really liking this neighbourhood the first time I came to Singapore; in my second week, I found people who played tennis at the club up the road. I drove up and called Charlotte and said, ‘What a neighbourhood this is!’ It didn’t even feel like Singapore. And now we live here.”
After I am passed an armful of chocolate (Belgian, of course), I start to make my moves to leave. But Charlotte and I end up chatting and laughing for another half an hour, leaning easily on her kitchen bench. I really feel at home with this gorgeous, friendly family, and wish I could fit Jackson and all his fluffiness in my bag.
Vitra #14-08 Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road vitra.com
Wonki Ware (“organic and recycled clay crockery from South Africa that I collect”) wonkiwareonline.com
Wine & Dine
No Menu (“it’s like being back in Italy”) 23 Boon Tat Street
Clifford Pier (“my favourite brunch place”) Fullerton Bay Hotel
Merci Marcel 56 Eng Hoon St, #01-68
Smoke & Mirrors (“great for sundowners”) #06-01 National Gallery Singapore 1 St. Andrew’s Road
Dempsey Cookhouse (“lunch here is great”) 17D Dempsey Road
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