If you’re thinking of moving to Singapore then the old black-and-white houses are worth looking at. The large ones nearer town such as Alexandra Park, Mt Pleasant, Goodwood Park, Malcolm Road and Ridley Park are at the top end of rental prices, and the upkeep costs are high. There are, however, some smaller ones – for about the same as you’d pay for a cramped condo. Or you can go further out to Woodleigh, Seletar and Sembawang.
This is the expat journey of a family from Edinburgh, who after stints in Tokyo and Hong Kong, ended up living in a colonial heritage home in Singapore.
Who lives here: Scots Andrea and Kevin Gibson, children Fraser (15), Kirsty (13) and Tara (12), helper Mayar, two rescue cats, and rescue dog Harry.
Size of house: Two-storey, five bedroom black and-white house in Alexandra Park.
Style of home: Andrea’s love for relaxed family living is reflected in her home, where natural materials such as timber and rattan are mixed with Oriental influences and the tropical greenery outside.
Each international move for Andrea and Kevin Gibson has seen their family, and in turn their living arrangements, grow. They first relocated from Edinburgh to Tokyo in 2002, where they lived for two years, and where their son Fraser was born. Then came Hong Kong, in 2004, where both Kirsty and Tara were born. The move to Singapore came in 2008, the family of five arriving here in June of that year. Rescue cats Skye and Lewis joined the family five years later, and then rescue dog Harry two years ago.
“We’d been to Singapore to visit friends before, but you don’t really get to know a place until you live here,” says Andrea. One thing she was sure of was that she wanted to live in a house rather than an apartment. “We did condo living in Hong Kong, in the same apartment. We arrived there with one child and left with three, so we definitely wanted, and needed, more space.”
First, they chose a cluster house in Bukit Timah, which afforded them the best of both worlds: a house and shared facilities, including a pool. After living there for around six years, they then moved to another property in the same area, but, with problems increasingly cropping up with the house, Andrea was keen to look around again once their lease was up.
“When we first arrived in Singapore, we did put an offer in for a black-and-white house in Medway Park but weren’t successful, and we’ve had friends living in heritage homes in the Kheam Hock area and Woodleigh Park; I’ve always had a hankering to live in one,” she says.
Finding out there were a few black-and-white houses available in Alexandra Park, Andrea put an offer in for this property through managing agent Knight Frank. “I know there’s often a lot of confusion about how to rent a black-and-white, but for us it was quite straightforward. As the house had been empty for around nine months, there was no bidding. We were told what the guide price was, so we put in our offer and, after some negotiation, it was accepted.”
For Andrea, the community of Alexandra Park is a big draw. “It’s like being in a little village, and that’s what we’ve really missed while living in our previous houses. We do a lot with our friends in the area, such as going to parties, having dinners and walking on Kent Ridge. There’s a Facebook page for the park, and there’s always something going on.”
Fittings & Furnishings
Before moving in, the kitchen did get a makeover, including adding new cupboards and a doing a repaint. “We felt that it was one room we could give our stamp to, and make the house our own. Now we have a kitchen the way we would want it in our own home.”
Moving around so much, the family haven’t kept a huge amount of furniture. “We’ve accumulated a few things, but our places in Tokyo and Hong Kong were much smaller than here.” With a property in North Berwick, Scotland, Andrea is always mindful of where everything will go. “More Asian-style pieces look great here, but they may not look so fitting in Scotland! I’m not an antiques collector by any stretch, but I do like to create a comfortable family home. Although this is a large house, it doesn’t feel overly big; it has a nice flow to it.”
One common theme around the house is the C+S Art prints, pieces of personalised typographic canvas wall art that take their inspiration from vintage tram and bus scrolls. Ready to return to work around three years ago, Andrea heard the previous owner was selling the business, and, with a background in graphic design, she felt it was the perfect fit. “The canvases are really the mainstay of the business and still prove popular, but I do have a few ideas as to how to develop the business further.”
Weekends are chock-a-block in the Gibson house, with all three children focused on their favoured activities. “Kirsty rides at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club five times a week, Tara is a gymnast with the school team and practises four times a week, and Fraser plays guitar and enjoys tennis and golf. Our weekends are jam-packed.” When Andrea isn’t taxiing children to and fro, she and Kevin enjoy walking along the Southern Ridges to VivoCity for a weekend lunch. She’s qualified as a yoga instructor, too, and often practices with a couple of friends in the grounds of the house. They’re also members of the British Club and still go occasionally, albeit not as much as they used to, since the children have gotten older. “We do still enjoy going there occasionally for a curry!”
More often than not, though, Andrea likes to sit in one of the outdoor areas and enjoy her surroundings. “Sometimes I sit here and look at the rolling greenery and feel like I’m in Downton Abbey,” she says. Looking out across the gardens, you can see why.
C+S Art Prints firstname.lastname@example.org | csartprints.com
Singapore Trading Post (“their look perfectly matches the style I like to create in our black-and-white home”)
WINE & DINE
Master Prata (“the kids love to walk down here on the weekend”) #01-02 Alexandra Central 321 Alexandra Road 8268 8210
Plank Pizza (“for Sunday’s movie and pizza at home”) plankpizza.biz
Rider’s Café 51 Fairways Drive 6466 9819 | riderscafe.sg
Bukit Timah Saddle Club (“for riding and for a different side to the Singapore countryside”) 51 Fairways Drive 6466 2264 | btsc.org.sg
Burnside Organic Farm (“we love to holiday in Margaret River, Western Australia, and this is where we stay every time; there are four bungalows on the farm, and Lara and Jamie are great hosts”) burnsideorganicfarm.com.au
Champions Golf (“my husband and son have weekly golf lessons here”) 60 Fairways Drive 6463 0332 | championsgolf.co
Kent Ridge Park and the Southern Ridges (“for great walks with fabulous views”)
See more of the home and others in Alexandra Park
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This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!