Immediately after you swing left from hectic Thomson Road into leafy, meandering Mount Pleasant, a cool haven of mature saga trees interspersed with cinnamon, palm and fig, you involuntarily relax, slow down and just breathe. It’s so green, so shady, so, well… pleasant. Who would not want to live in such a rarefied colonial ambience, surrounded by nature and steeped in Singapore history? ANNE-JEAN LIÉTAER showed Verne Maree around her lovely retreat.
Who lives in the house: Belgian expat Anne-Jean Liétaer, her Belgian-born Greek husband Panagiotis and their four children, Constantin (12), Marguerite (11), Alexandre (7) and Leonard (3), well guarded by Cookie the SPCA rescue dog.
Time in Singapore: Initially from 1997 to 2002, followed by nine months in Shanghai. Returned to Belgium in 2003, and came back to Singapore in 2007 “with two children and four suitcases”.
Historical note: Mount Pleasant’s elegant pre-war black-and-white houses were built for the families of colonial British police officers. Apart from being the name of a hill, Mount Pleasant was also the name of the 1860s mansion of early resident G. H. Brown, who owned the estate at that time – explaining the name of the neighbouring Bukit Brown Cemetery (bukit meaning “hill”).
What brought you to Singapore?
Back in 1997, I came here to join my then boyfriend and now husband, Panagiotis; we had met at university. He was here on a Belgian government scholarship created to encourage SMEs all over the world. I came out on a similar scholarship, doing business development for a Belgian chocolate company.
How did you secure this prize property five years ago?
Panagiotis found it on Property Guru. The Mount Pleasant estate doesn’t come under SLA’s bidding system; instead, the properties are privately rented by Ascott Residences, the master tenant.
We’d enjoyed the black-and-white experience for one amazing year, in a small double-storey house on the Oval at Seletar Camp. Expat Living’s editor-in-chief Rebecca was our neighbour there, and it was lovely – a real community, until everyone was given notice because of the development of the aeronautical hub. We moved to the East Coast for a couple of years.
This Mount Pleasant house was my dream Singapore property: a place where I could be creative and raise my children well. Having grown up in the Belgian countryside with chickens, horses and open doors, that’s what I wanted for my children – to run around barefoot and get dirty in the garden, to be surrounded by nature.
So, when we took the plunge to move in here five years ago from our little semi-detached off East Coast Road, I vowed that I’d make it work through my new interior business!
What did you have to do to the place?
Ascott provides quite good bathrooms and kitchens, and it leaves the pools and air-conditioning installed by previous tenants, unlike some other landlords. We had to renovate the pool deck, though, and all the aircons. We also extended the terrace by a metre and sealed up the verandah ceilings to get rid of the bats that liked to hang there all night, pooing on the outdoor furniture.
What’s it like to live here?
It’s a great experience! For me, these black-and-white houses are beautifully adapted to this tropical climate – though you still sweat, of course! Thick walls keep the interior several degrees cooler, and we hardly use the air-cons downstairs.
The first thing I fell in love with was the garden and the view – I think we have the best view, though not necessarily the biggest or the best house. And it’s just 3km to Orchard Road as the crow flies, so it’s very conveniently located. The kids can walk to the Polo Club, which is amazing; they can cycle around the neighbourhood and they like to go fishing in the drains in the neighbouring Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Only once did we have a snake in the house; we’ve seen a few in the garden, though, and our dog, Cookie, is very good at chasing the monkeys off. The odd monitor lizard swings by, and we have plenty of squirrels and birds, from huge eagles flying overhead to Indian cuckoos, kingfishers and so on. These houses are a beautiful heritage for Singapore, and I hope they will be preserved.
How did you start your business, House of AnLi?
My family background is in textiles. My grandfather had a swimwear and lingerie business, and even as a child I would design my own swimsuits – five or six at a time – and have them made up for me in the factory.
So, after a couple of years of employment in Singapore, in 1999 I felt it was time to be my own boss. I took a year’s sabbatical to explore the market, and finally came across a local importer of straw bags from Indonesia that I believed in. I took a sample collection back to Europe, bought a car so as to visit fashion and accessories companies all over Europe, and came back with a whole book-full of orders. Before long I was buying hats and bags from my own Indonesian sources, and gradually evolved from buyer into designer.
Head to our neighbourhood guides for more information on what it’s like living in Singapore.