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Homes showcase: Cairnhill Colonial

When Neha and Anshuman Singh first got married, they both agreed that the colonial-style décor of their childhood had no place in their home, yet their elegant Cavanagh Road residence has a distinctly colonial feel

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Neha and Anshuman Singh with their nine month-old daughter Kaavya

Who lives here:

Neha and Anshuman Singh, their nine month-old daughter Kaavya and their helper Babli.

Time in Singapore:
Four-and-a-half years

Type of home:
1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom lowrise in Cairnhill

Style of home:
Indian-colonial with retro touches and an undertone of minimalism

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An eclectic mix of genuine and reproduction prints and objects, this wall houses a host of fascinating anecdotes

Walking into Neha and Anshuman’s Cairnhill apartment, I was immediately struck by how warm and inviting it was. On meeting my hosts, I soon realised why. A Canadian-Australian couple of Indian descent, they exude an easy-going, intelligent charm, tempered by a humble attitude and big smiles. We took a seat on their black leather sofas to eat delicious homemade pakoras and sip coffee while they told me their story.

Shared history
Despite hailing from opposite sides of the world, Neha and Anshuman have very similar backgrounds. Both were born in India into military families who later emigrated – Neha’s to Canada, Anshuman’s to New Zealand and later to Australia. “We’re also from the same community,” explains Neha. “We’re both Rajput, a warrior clan from central and northern India. It’s a part of our heritage we’re extremely proud of.” Their shared history can be seen throughout the apartment, where British colonial style sits alongside Indian flourishes and more contemporary accents. “A lot of the houses we knew growing up, for example where our grandparents lived, were very colonial with military-issue furniture. It was all very brown. In the beginning we thought we hated it, but now, funnily, we are both drawn to that kind of stuff.”

Neha continues: “We went through a phase when we were attracted to all things vintage, British, Indian mythology and Indian culture, and that’s when we realised we really were a product of our childhoods and our culture. We enjoy that so much now, and we want to surround our kids with it too.”

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From a vintage collection of Rudyard Kipling books to a hefty tome of old Sunday magazine stories, the Singhs’ bookshelves are filled with fascinating reads

Journey of discovery

So, who is in charge of the decorating? “It’s really 50-50,” says Neha. She explains that some things are individual. The sofas, for example, are Anshuman’s from before they even met, and the black egg chair was something she just had to have.

For the large part, however, it’s a collection built up together over seven years of marriage. In many ways, it’s also a reflection of their relationship; theirs was an arranged marriage and creating a home together was a way for them to discover themselves as a couple. “One of the key things we agreed on,” says Neha, “was how important home, aesthetics and travel were. It was really these areas of common ground that got us together.” Of course, like in any marriage, they don’t agree on absolutely everything. “He doesn’t like flowers, candles or cushions,” says Neha.

Anshuman chimes in: “Actually, I don’t mind cushions, I just don’t like too many of them!” Anshuman, as it turns out, has a more minimalist bent than Neha, and as much as he enjoys aesthetic décor, he absolutely hates clutter.

As we move around the house, they share the stories behind various knick-knacks, pictures and ornaments, all artfully placed on walls or shelves. There are statuettes from Taiwan, and a vintage illustration picked up in Portobello Market that shows a polo match in the Indian state of Manipur (the least likely place you could imagine polo being played, they both explain). There’s an hourglass from Paris, a set of Russian dolls that were a birthday gift for Neha, and an original hand-painted Bollywood film poster. “There is a spelling mistake in one of the star’s names,” says Anshuman, “so we got it for a great price.”

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The unusual setup in the bedroom has the bed as an island, unanchored and free

From Bollywood to Mad Men

But it’s not all Indian mythology and colonial influence. That poster hangs in a corner they call the library. A cosy nook with a retro feel, this is where they spend their weekend mornings, Kaavya playing on the floor while Neha and Anshuman sit in the Mad Men-style easy chairs, reading the news or flicking through one of their many antique books.

Kaavya’s room also has a more contemporary, Scandinavian feel, most of the furniture being from Cuckoo in Dempsey. A bright yellow Chinese cabinet in the corner adds a colourful hint of Asia. Above the bed is a set of posters they found in Vietnam while Neha was pregnant, each showing an artist’s interpretation of a different children’s film. In fact, the whole nursery was planned out on that trip, scribbled on the back of an old menu that they still keep.

One of Neha’s favourite parts of the house is the buffet. “It’s an old, grungy table and will go eventually, but it holds photos of our parents when they were young.” She points out a small, circular photo of a young, laughing couple. “This one was almost destroyed by mice, but we saved it. It really shows how they were back then.”

Family is clearly an important part of their lives, and they know their time here will come to an end. Despite regular visits and trips home, they would like to be closer to their parents, especially with a young daughter now in the picture. But whether they go to Australia, Canada or somewhere in between, you can be sure their Singapore story will find a special place in their new home.

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When they need a change of scene, they simply step out of the colonial era and into 1950s chic in the “library”


Mountain Teak (“for bookshelves and chairs”)
#07-02 Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road
6224 7176 | mountainteak.com

Make Room (“for all things Nordic and quirky – the egg chair is from there”)
#11-09B Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road
6222 3042 | make-room.net

Cuckoo (“for kids’ furniture and accessories”)
6B Dempsey Road
9111 3598 | cuckoolittlelifestyle.com

Deer Industries
#07-05 Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road
9485 4430 | deerindustries.com

Good Earth (“for beautiful, Indian-inspired crockery, décor and linen”)

Bode (“for custom-made cushions and fabrics; Jenny the owner and I can spend hours mixing and matching crazy patterns!”)
#05-10 Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road
9040 3996 | bode.com.sg

FairPrice Antique (“for great investment pieces like dining tables, crockery cupboards and so on”)
#01-10 Tan Boon Liat Building 315 Outram Road
6270 2544 | fairpriceantique.com

Skyve Wine Bistro 10 Winstedt Road
6225 6690 | skyve.sg

Tangra Chinese (“for Indian-Chinese cuisine”)
28 Race Course Road
6293 4842 | fifthseason.com.sg

Osteria Mozza
#B1-42-46 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands 2 Bayfront Avenue
6688 8868 | singapore.osteriamozza.com

Shopping Streets
• Haji Lane
• Telok Ayer
• Keong Saik Street

This article first appeared in the June 2016 edition of Expat Living. Find more like this in our Homes section.
Don’t forget, you can order the mag direct to your doorstep!