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
Who lives here:
Neha and Anshuman Singh, their nine month-old daughter Kaavya and their helper Babli.
Time in Singapore:
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Good Earth (“for beautiful, Indian-inspired crockery, décor and linen”)
• Haji Lane
• Telok Ayer
• Keong Saik Street