Asia has a way of seeping into your bones, with many expats coming for a two-year stint and staying indefinitely. This is certainly the story for Aussie NICOLE BERTRAM. She’s back in Singapore after many years in Hong Kong, and this time round went for a spacious older condo near Tanglin Mall on Chatsworth Road. I sat on her huge balcony with a G&T to hear how she’s settling in…
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey here.
Originally from Sydney, I left Australia in 2013 after some huge life changes and haven’t looked back! During that time, we’ve lived in Singapore, Hong Kong and now back to Singapore for a second stint. We moved back here primarily for work; I’m in Project Management for a US-based commercial real estate services and investments firm. The appeal to continue working in this part of the world is as strong as ever.
How has the transition been moving back to Singapore – what do you miss most about Hong Kong?
We love living in Asia. The ease of travel, weekends away to some of the most incredible culturally rich destinations, and the fact that my kids gain worldly perspectives are all big ticket items keeping me here.
Hong Kong will always have my heart. My daughter Adelaide was born there and I really started to push my career during this time. What I miss most is my friends. There is something incredibly special about the friends you make as an expat. Giving birth in Hong Kong helped in forging some lifelong friends as we all journeyed through motherhood, some of us for the second time and many for their first. So many of those incredible women have now left Hong Kong, and some are now here in Singapore with me, and I’m forever aware of the rich tapestry of friendships this brings.
We’ve only been in Singapore just on one year, so understandably new friends won’t yet be the same as my five-year-plus friendships from Hong Kong. In moving to Singapore I had to come in with an open mind. We’ve met some close family friends already and we’re building on our forever growing Asia family. Some of these families are long-stayers in Singapore, which is really helping us to adapt back in.
Singapore versus Hong Kong? This is a tough one. As the saying goes, “same same but different”. I truly love both and they will each hold forever memories for myself and my family.
What were your top three must-haves when house hunting?
I really craved space. We were in a beautiful apartment in Hong Kong with stunning Victoria Harbour views, but in moving to Singapore my big non-negotiable was size. Our son William is in boarding school back in Australia and I wanted to be able to give him his own room to come home to. During lockdown in Hong Kong, his room became our full-time home office, so this was important for the Singapore move. He needed for Singapore to still feel like a place of family and home.
We also have family visiting more frequently now, as well as many of our friends from Hong Kong. Some of my nearest and dearest have already visited three or four times in the year we’ve been here. It’s nice for them to know that the door is always open and there is plenty of space!
How did you decide to send your son to boarding school and what’s the experience been like?
Sending William to boarding at 13 was such a personal choice. We knew he’d benefit from the community environment and excellent access to sport. William was included in the selection process and he took a mature approach to what he wanted in a school. He has access to high-quality education, specialised programmes for his interests and a diverse peer group that fosters personal growth.
One of the challenges for many kids is homesickness, and we are incredibly fortunate that he’s thriving with his friendships and achieving personal success. William’s school limits their technology access and that is both wonderful and difficult. We have set phone access times so sometimes we can go a few days without contact. In those moments, I take solace he is clearly not missing home.
William now travels back to Singapore solo, and is meeting me in Japan for a mother-and-son trip this school break. The independence the boarding environment cultivates is beyond amazing. My advice to other expats choosing a boarding school is to do thorough research, consider your child’s needs, and maintain open communication. Boarding is definitely not for every child or family, but I know I’m setting him up for success with this opportunity.
Tell us more about your pad on Chatsworth Road; how did you know it was your new home?
The layout sealed the deal. We each have our own space to breathe, and after Hong Kong living I think we all needed it. I have a gorgeous office setup as I work from home full time, and it’s my happy place. The biggest thing I love about the home is that we have entertainment space. I wanted the ability to host easily and the double dining room idea has this working beautifully. Almost everyone who walks into our home comments on the green aspect, as we’re on the second floor and look out onto trees. I didn’t realise quite how much I adored it until I was away from it all on my first business trip.
Your house is gorgeous! How would you define your interiors style?
Relaxed. I love the mix of modern contemporary with the classic elegance of the Hamptons style. My safety colours are white, navy and grey, and I tend to stick with them. I wanted a space that’s both casual and functional, and needed it to meet our needs of versatility. Growing up, my house was the drop-in for all the kids in our street and I love that this condo provides an opportunity for that.
What’s your favourite corner in the house and why?
I’m torn between my office and our lounge area. I love being able to open up the back doors and sit peacefully in the greenery from the outdoors. It never fails to help me unwind after a long day.
Where do you source your furniture and décor from?
It’s an eclectic mix. We needed a huge increase in furniture moving into our new home. I headed to Island Living, Lims, and Castlery for many of the extra pieces. I am insanely impulsive, so if I wake up and I’m changing a corner of the house, I generally want it done that day. That’s how I sourced our coffee table and outdoor furniture.
What three items would you save in a fire (god forbid!)?
My Hermès framed scarf – although no clue as to how I’m doing that (it’s rather heavy)! I’d also grab my memory box filled with irreplaceable childhood keepsakes and my favourite photo of the kids together.
Favourite thing about Singapore and the region?
I am loving being outside in Singapore. Yes, there is the heat, but I’m trying to adapt. My daughter is doing a number of family fun runs, and that’s helping us all train with her. My other favourite is the airport – I will never tire of the convenience and efficiency of Changi.
What do you do for fun?
Travel! I enjoy travelling more than I can put words to. I struggle sitting still so I like having the project of planning a trip. Whether it’s a girls’ weekend away, a family visit back to Hong Kong to see friends, or a sneaky beach for 24 hours with my daughter; any and all of it works in my head.
Restaurants & cafés
Claudine | claudinerestaurant.com
The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar | comodempsey.sg
Margarita’s | margaritasrestaurante.com
Super Loco Robertson Quay | super-loco.com
Pano Kato (“for a relaxed ladies’ lunch”) | houseofanli.com
Homeware & furniture
Interior design & styling
Havana Interiors | havana-interiors.com
The American Club (“the co-working space is great, and I enjoy socialising with friends and family there on the weekends”)
Stella Seaside Lounge | stella.com.sg
Spotlight | spotlightstores.com/sg
Loved Nicole’s Chatsworth Road condo near Tanglin Mall ? Check out more gorgeous homes here!
This article first appeared in the October 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe so you never miss a copy!
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