We take a look at a South African family’s sprawling, open bungalow off Holland Road. We talk to them about leaving South Africa, moving to Singapore and their recommendations – from favourite burger places to rugs and accessories.
Who lives here: Claire, Brett, Matthew, Isla and Kyle Jones, their helper, Rita, Bumble the bull mastiff, Ninja the golden retriever, and two cats, Chino and Flo.
Time in Singapore: Four years.
Size and type of home: A five-bedroom, detached 843-square metre landed house sitting on 2,000 square metres of land.
Décor style: Tropical elegance.
After pushing the intercom to enter the Joneses’ home, I’m greeted by one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen and her faithful shaggy companion. The gates open and my attention is delightfully demanded by a series of nudges and licks as they accompany me down to the house. The front door is opened by the petite Isla (12). Her mum, Claire, is not far behind.
As we wander through their tropical, open home, I notice all the people photos adorning walls, shelves and tabletops – family, far and wide, is obviously very important to them. I follow Claire and Isla through the dining room up to the huge garden pavilion overlooking the pool. I feel like I’m in Ubud, complete with the sounds of cicadas in the surrounding trees! We settle in for a chat and are joined by the whole family: husband Brett, kids Matt (13) and Kyle (10), both dogs and two cats. I’m in furry heaven.
Brett begins by telling me about the start of their Singapore expat journey. “I was given the opportunity to move with my company to expand the business here. I actually had to think, ‘Where is Singapore?’! Coming from South Africa, and having lived in the UK for 10 years, we’d never really thought about living in Asia. That’s why we came over to see the island before we made a decision.”
Claire’s reaction to the move was more emotional. “It was such an unexpected call. We’d been living away from all our family in London and were now back in South Africa and I didn’t want to leave them again. We had grandparents on the doorstep and we were seeing cousins all the time – life was easy.”
Like many other expats, though, as soon as they saw what was available here, they realised it was an opportunity they couldn’t refuse. “I remember Claire saying to me, ‘It’s the whole family, animals included, or it’s none of us!’ So, here we all are – and going into our fourth year.”
The Perfect Place
The Joneses had very specific requirements when they began to search for their home on the island. Claire recalls, “We wanted to find a home here that simulated our lifestyle in South Africa – doors open all the time, kids in and out of the garden, and a thoroughfare of animals. Finding that in Singapore, with a garden big enough for us, was hard.”
After three months in a serviced apartment, they knew they didn’t want to live in a condo. “We’re an outdoor family and prefer a bit of space. We knew what we were looking for,” says Brett.
After an intensive two-day trawl around the island looking at all the properties they’d shortlisted, the last house, on the last day, felt right. “On day two, it was just me and the kids as Brett couldn’t join us. As you can imagine, the kids were fighting over bedrooms in houses we weren’t even going to live in; I was trying to send pictures to Brett. This house off Holland Road was the last house we saw at the end of that long day, after missing out on one the day before. I got home and told Brett, ‘You need to go and see this house’. The agent brought him back that night, and here we are.”
“We were so naive when it came to renting in Singapore,” Brett tells me, “we didn’t realise you had to have three months’ rent in advance – immediately. You also take a huge leap of faith, transferring this amount to someone’s bank account! Fortunately, Singapore is fairly honest in that way so it all works out.”
Filling and Furnishing
When they moved in, they had a lot of space to fill, having sold most of their furniture before leaving South Africa. Claire took the lead on the interiors. “It took a long time to furnish the house. We did come over with some pieces, but we’d gotten rid of a lot, thinking we wouldn’t have a house big enough. Then we moved in and I thought, ‘We could really have done with some of that furniture!’ It has taken over three years to build it up, shuffle things around and really figure out how we use the house properly. It’s a work in progress.”
Claire adds, “We have the loveliest landlords, too. We’re very lucky – they’re so accommodating. Anything we need done, our landlord always has a contact or a contractor and within 24 hours someone is on our doorstep to fix it.”
The house was designed by award-winning architect, Wo Mei Lan, famous for specially designed bungalow houses. Brett loves how understated it is from the road. “You don’t really even know there’s a house down here. Then you come in and it opens up into this amazing sanctuary. After a long day at work or coming home from travelling, we can pour a G&T, sit together, relax and watch the kids in the pool. We’re a big noisy family, which is why we like to be hidden away down here!”
At the mention of a gin and tonic, my eyes light up. These really are my kind of people! To my delight, one is soon placed in my hand (it was a Friday afternoon and happy hour, of course).
We carry on chatting and I ask about their favourite things in the house. “Mine is Sloppy Joe,” says Brett. “He’s a giraffe made out of recycled thongs (flipflops). Every South African house has to have a giraffe in it! We got it from a Tanglin School market. It was the display piece but I knew I wanted it so I made the lady sell it to me, even though it technically wasn’t for sale! And of course, I love my barbecue!” he laughs.
Claire loves that their big, busy family is comfortable in the home. “There’s no defining piece for me and I’m not big into interior design. Everything in the house needed to be easy – we can’t be precious about things. We have kids who spill things and cats and dogs that leave hair everywhere.”
She pauses, and her eyes sparkle; “Having said that, my carpets are very precious to me! They were the last things I bought and really helped pull the rooms together.” With the help of Visha from The Cinnamon Room, the rooms of the Joneses’ home. are filled with nine beautiful contemporary hide rugs from the Holland Village store; some are in delicate neutrals with metallic flecks; some, like the one in eldest son Matt’s bedroom, are bold and bright.
Our talk turns to their time in Singapore. Brett and Claire admit that going back to South Africa isn’t an option for them anymore. “Even though we all hold British passports, we still think of ourselves as South African. But there really is no ‘home’ as such for us, unlike our British and Australian friends. We’ll probably be going somewhere at some stage in the future but not to SA.”
Brett believes the opportunities for the family are greater outside South Africa. “The future for the kids is not there. There’s no tertiary education or jobs. We’re a very fortunate family to be able to provide our kids with an international cultural lens on life – learning Mandarin (in an Australian school!) and being part of something different.”
Claire loves that the children are making international friends. “We knew they’d never go to university in SA; we always knew they would go elsewhere. Living here, we get to start that journey for them a bit sooner and give them that extra step.”
And what’s next? More travel. “That’s why I work, so we can travel!” Brett jokes. Travel has been a big thing since they arrived. Claire explains that in the first six months, Brett went away for work a lot. She was trying to get the kids settled and everything organised. “When the first June-July school holiday came along, we realised most of our friends had deserted the island! And I said to Brett that I now understood why everyone goes away, as it becomes a very small place when there is no one around.”
They made it a goal to try and get away, even for a small trip close by, every school holiday. “Most years, our kids have been to four or five different countries in a year! We’re very lucky to be able to do this from Singapore.”
I also have to get away, so I (somewhat reluctantly!) leave the Jones family to enjoy their Friday evening drinks under their garden pavilion.
Wine & Dine
Burger Joint Singapore (“great made-to-order burgers and the kids love that you can draw on the walls”) 115 Amoy Street, #01-03 (enter via 22 Gemmill Lane)
Spago at Marina Bay Sands (“for out-of-town guests”) 10 Bayfront Avenue
Chin Huat (“you can take your own wine”) Block 105 Clementi Street 12, #01-30
Tiong Bahru Bakery at Holland Village (“Brett’s favourite coffee”) 43 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-74
Makansutra Gluttons Bay (“we take guests here for an authentic experience on the way back from MBS”) 8 Raffles Avenue, #01-15
Tanjong Beach (“for lazy Sundays”)
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