Furnishing your home in Singapore doesn’t have to be expensive. You can create a unique home while saving yourself some money – and a corner of the planet at the same time.
“I wouldn’t call myself an eco-warrior, but I do wear an eco-hat!” explains HARRIET JENKINS. “I don’t like to just dispose of things, to toss them away. Things that can be bought second-hand or as antiques deserve a second chance; I even buy my handbags second-hand.”
Harriet’s upcycling philosophy is exactly why living in one of Holland Village’s historic Chip Bee Gardens houses makes perfect sense for her. The area was a military estate established in the mid-1950s, made up of six blocks of apartments, semi-detached houses and two rows of shophouses. British army personnel based in Pasir Panjang, Tanglin and Alexandra lived in the homes, so each one has a history – just the way Harriet likes it.
“I moved to Singapore five years ago from the UK, but my grandfather was in the Navy and based at Loyang Naval Base; so, I always had a little bit of Singapore in me. At first, I lived in a high-rise condo, but this house makes much more sense for me. I don’t like new. I realise that’s quite alien in an era of consumerism, but I find old things have a lot more character. My home is not a flat-pack!”
Harriet lives with Victoria Hogg, a school mate from senior school in the UK. “The house is a real mishmash of both of us and almost everything apart from the very large pieces is second-hand.”
Many of those larger key pieces came from Victoria’s dear friend Elizabeth Hay, a celebrated Singapore-based interior designer. Victoria’s entire bedroom is done with Elizabeth Hay designs and the common space has a couple of Elizabeth’s pieces, too: the sofa, a beautiful lamp and a wonderfully embroidered ottoman.
Sourcing second-hand items
Harriet’s own rattan headboard was a find at Junkie’s Corner near Turf City. It’s one of the few things she’ll probably take back to the UK with her when she eventually returns. “My art will definitely come with me too, and there are a few other key things that will transition back home.”
This is another reason why buying second-hand items is attractive to Harriet. Used things are also less expensive and good for “right now” living.
Carousell is one of Harriet’s favourites for buying second-hand. She’s picked up all sorts of things on the site, from cowhide that she turned into chair cushions to a TV stand for just $40, to some chairs she uses on her front porch. She bought the chairs in lots of two and three and then found material on fabric.com to make cushions. “The site is great. You can go online and pick swatches, which generally arrive within two to four days. Then you can order by the yard and the fabric arrives from the US fairly quickly. So, for the princely sum of $200, I had a unique set of patio furniture.”
Harriet used other fabric from the site along with kits she found on etsy.com for $14 to make her own lampshades, too. That’s a far cheaper option than having lampshades made by a local maker – and much more satisfying.
One of Harriet’s favourite Carousell finds is a bright yellow, antique camphor-wood blanket box. “It would have been used for storing wool or other items attacked by moths. Camphor wood is a natural moth repellent. I bought it because of the colour, but I also love it because it’s narrow and slots into my home easily.”
Keeping it colourful
Harriet does love her colour. It took her three days to paint a feature wall in the main living area a dark navy as it takes several coats to paint a white wall a very dark colour. “I got a feeling of real satisfaction when I finished it!” And what lies against this very dark navy wall? A flamingo-coloured chest!
“A friend was relocating to the UK so I bought the chest, but it needed changing up. I found some online inspiration – it was on Pinterest or Instagram – and decided I wanted it pink. Then I found a Singapore-based lady who runs a business called Totally Chalked. She hand-mixes all the chalk paints and colour matches anything you want.”
Harriet works hard to make sure her Chip Bee house can accommodate a variety of occasions, maximising the small space. The dining table can hold up to twelve people and then chairs can be turned around to expand the living area. Good thing, too, as Chip Bee Gardens has become home for many of her friends. “I’ve got a good friend who lives across the street, two sets of friends down the road, and more living behind me. So, we have eight or nine of our really good friends in the area who can just drop around for a glass of wine.”
There are also lots of cute shops and a few restaurants around the corner. The two rows of shophouses originally served as the mess hall for the British soldiers to socialise, play billiards and conduct meetings.
One thing Harriet does spend money on is art. One piece she bought to remember her time in Singapore is a work by Piers Bourke, a rework of the famous Chinese stamp commemorating the Sino-Society Treaty of Friendship in 1950 between Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Bourke’s work instead features the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un that took place last year in Singapore.
Harriet has purchased art at Singapore’s Affordable Art Fair as well as from artfinder.com. One of her most meaningful pieces is of a ship. “My grandfather was in the Navy and I work in recruitment specialising in insurance, particularly the marine space. I saw this piece of art online and I needed a photo for a LinkedIn post I was doing, so I used the art. Then I panicked because I’d used the piece without permission and I was worried about copyright. I wondered how I could get around the problem, so I bought the painting!” she says with a laugh.
The largest work of art is a centrepiece in the main room, painted by Jai Vasicek. “I love that it’s inspired by Africa as well as by Greek icons, and it has Balinese flowers. It’s a real mix of different things. It’s a print, not an original, but it still cost quite a lot – and getting it framed was almost as expensive. But I love it and I’ll have it forever.”
The painting has a layer of real rose gold, and in the evening, as the sun begins to set through the window, the rose gold catches the light. It’s Harriet’s favourite time of day. “I think this house is best at twilight. The whole place kind of glows and feels like a real hug. It’s a wonderful place to come home to at the end of the day. I truly love it here.
Interior design and larger pieces: elizabethhaydesign.com
For custom-mixed chalk paint: perfectly-painted.com
Inexpensive fabric: fabric.com
Lampshade kit: etsy.com
Second-hand items: Junkie’s Corner, 2 Turf Club Road
Second-hand items: sg.carousell.com and Carousell app
Good art: Affordable Art Fair and artfinder.com
Want more inspiration for your interiors? See our home décor section!
Rugs and carpets: Who bought what?
This article first appeared in the December 2019 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!