Austrian expat STEFAN, and YEE HUI from Singapore, met through work colleagues back in 2004; they married two years later, and now have two gorgeous children, Lara and Lukas. They also have a lovely home: a condo apartment in Bukit Panjang, which they totally renovated.
Stefan Winkler arrived in Singapore 13 years ago for what he thought would be about three months – and he just never left. He was working in Switzerland previously, and the couple still go to Europe about twice a year. Yee Hui studied German for her O Levels, which is unusual in Singapore, so she must have had an inkling that she might need it in the future! Remarkably, she also manages to do at least one international marathon a year. It’s no mean feat for a working mum with two fairly young children, and she trains by waking at 5am and running before work. (Wish I had that discipline!)
The couple decided to buy a place a few years ago, and although it took them a while to find the right one and to do a complete renovation, they’re very happy with their modern and quite minimalist conversion. The apartment they ended up choosing, Cashew Heights Condo, was built in 1990, so it’s larger than the more recent builds; but they also knocked down walls and opened it up, making it feel even more spacious.
Prices were close to their peak in 2014 when they bought, but they had already waited two years for the market to cool down, and eventually they gave in, “just before prices started to come down”. Stefan points out one consolation: “I think the price here is still around $900 per square foot – the older condos have kept their value.” This is no doubt thanks to the generous size of the complex, and the fact that it’s one of those that still has great facilities, like tennis and squash, a supermarket, childcare and tuition, and even a restaurant!
They met with a lot of interior designers, many of whom were willing to do the design for free and then package it up with their own contractors; the prices ranged dramatically – from $30,000 to $200,000 for what basically seemed like quite similar jobs. In the end, a friend of a friend did the design and they chose various contractors for different areas of work. Each had their own work styles. “We kept changing our ideas,” says Yee Hui, “and the kitchen contractor charged us for every little change, while others were more flexible.”
The couple’s sources were far-reaching: some parts of the kitchen were found at the Miele warehouse sale here, but the oven hood was bought online and shipped from Germany, and the faucets purchased in Austria and brought over in suitcases; Stefan says it’s a lot cheaper there.
They used to bring a lot of foodstuffs over in their suitcases, too, but now with the new Huber’s space at Dempsey they can get most of what they need from there, so they don’t do that anymore. There’s also a Spin fan (“we love the fan, though we wouldn’t recommend the place we bought it from,” says Yee Hui), and the sofa is from Knocknock at Tan Boon Liat. “We had to have it custom-made because it needed to be three metres long to fill our wall,” says Yee Hui. “Even though it’s white and doesn’t seem that practical with kids, it just wipes clean, so it’s great.”
On one of the higher floors, which boasts a fantastic wide view of Singapore, they thought it was important to put up a grill on the balcony because of the little ones; it can be taken down at the appropriate time in the future.
They also converted the maid’s area into a study and laundry area that can be closed off. While it’s more expensive not to have a live-in maid, they’ve resisted, because of the privacy issue. Yee Hui’s parents take care of the kids after school. They also have a lot of help from Stefan’s mum, who comes over from Austria an impressive three times a year to help during the school holidays! “There’s a huge cultural difference in the parenting styles between the two grandmothers,” notes Yee Hui.
One idea was to buy closer to her parents to make things easier, but in the end they chose to be nearer the new campus of GESS (the German European School Singapore), which is opening in 2018. They can actually see the site from their balcony – and, off in the distance, they can even watch the laser shows from Marina Bay Sands.
They also use this outside area to sit and talk through the day once the children are in bed, and they feel that it’s very important to spend that time together. It seems that they have found just the right space – in many ways.
Raffles Marina (“for nice local or Western food”) 10 Tuas West Drive rafflesmarina.com.sg
Riders Café and Picotin (“because we all like looking at the horses!”) 51 and 60 Fairways Drive riderscafe.sg | picotin.com.sg
German Market Place (“for lovely bread”) 609 Bukit Timah Road germanmarketplace.sg
Huber’s Butchery (“for nice meats at the restaurant and in the shop”) 22 Dempsey Road hubers.com.sg
Interior designer: Meng Hwee Ng, 9477 1786
Contractor: JBF Pte Ltd (Ben Toh, 9238 7383)
Dining table and chairs: The Vivant Tree, 6468 5828
Sofa: Knocknock (Tan Boon Liat Building)
Bed: Wood Farm Lifestyle (Dempsey Hill)
Children’s beds: FLEXA (United Square)
Lukas’s desk: Kettler brand, bought at Jarrons & Co (City Square Mall)
Curtains and blinds: MGL Curtain & Furnishing (270 Balestier Road)
Yee Hui’s favourite marathon locations: Füssen, Bavaria (“quite a mountainous run, around castles”), and Nottingham, England (“the Robin Hood Marathon”)
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This article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!