Looking for somewhere to live in Singapore that has a community feel? This Dutch family of three explains why they like living in the creative hub of Chip Bee Gardens, and they show us their much-loved home, styled using only vintage and pre-loved items.
Who lives here: Petra, Dimitri and Benjamin Haddeman
Time in Singapore: Six years
Size and type of home: 115-square-metre, three-bedroom, two-storey landed home
Décor style: Vintage treasure trove
As she opens the door to her three-bedroom landed home in Chip Bee Gardens, it’s clear that PETRA HADDEMAN BULLEE’s reputation in the neighbourhood as “the lady with the red lipstick” is well founded. Sporting a gloriously perfect shade (one many of us spend a lifetime trying to find), Petra’s warmth and welcoming nature are immediately apparent.
After I’ve been introduced to her husband Dimitri and son Benjamin, we settle down to talk about life in this home in Holland Village.
The first point of conversation is how they ended up living in Singapore, and the answer echoes the experience of many expats. “Our move here six years ago was a bit of a surprise! We’d sold our house in Amsterdam and moved out of the city into the home we thought we would eventually retire to.”
After entirely renovating the property – “only the outside walls were still the same!” – Dimitri’s employer asked if they wanted to relocate. Assuming he meant to the Dell headquarters in Austin, Texas, they immediately said yes. But that wasn’t exactly the move the company had in mind. “They actually meant permanently to Singapore and not just a two year expat move, so it took a bit more getting used to. Still, we ended up selling the house in just six days, so it was obviously meant to be!” laughs Dimitri.
Full of history
Built in the 1950s, the Chip Bee Gardens estate originally housed British army personnel. It’s now one of the most sought-after areas in Singapore, due to its closeness to MRTs, schools and the delights of Holland Village.
“We’ve been here just over a year now,” says Petra. “Previously, we lived in Dairy Farm and a condo in Bukit Batok, but I missed having a home with a garden.”
Ben also loves living away from the condo now. “The pool and facilities were great when I was younger – I wanted to swim every day with my friends, as I hadn’t been able to do that in Holland; but it’s not so important to me now I’m older.”
The family loved the Chip Bee location, but it was very different to living in a modern, new, low maintenance condo. “When we found the house, I knew we needed to make a lot of improvements to make it more liveable for our family. So we changed it. I really didn’t like it when we first moved in and kept referring to it as a ‘shack’! So Dimitri made us nickname it ‘The Beach House’ as we have sand in the front and back, and he thought it would make me feel more positive about living here!”
Recruiting Petra’s handy father from Holland, they added an awning and decking in the backyard, as well as a deck in the front. “None of the doors closed properly, so my father fixed all of them too. I also had him help me hang curtains, plus all our pictures and paintings. And we have a lot of them!”
Looking around the Haddemans’ home, it’s clear they don’t shop at your average high-street store. Each piece is different and eclectic, but works to create a beautiful, hospitable space.
Petra has a passion for all things pre-loved. “Here, vintage pieces don’t seem to be admired that much, so you can pick up striking items at cheaper prices. In Holland, vintage is very popular so it’s very expensive and hard to get. People don’t know what they are throwing away sometimes!”
And where does Petra trawl for her treasures? “Carousell – I’m addicted! I love finding things online and going out to pick them up. You get to speak to really nice, interesting people from all over the world who have great stories to tell. Even the Lalamove drivers we use are fascinating.”
One of Petra’s favourite pieces in the house is the old wooden dining-room table that we are sitting at; it was one of the pieces they brought with them from Holland. “We had to bring it with us and we’ve always chosen our homes to fit the table and not the other way round.”
Dimitri even had to go to the storage facility to dismantle it himself to get it into the house as “the movers didn’t want anything to do with it.” Measuring over three metres, the impressive 200-year-old table was found in an old farmhouse shed in France. The table top has been left untouched and it certainly has some tales to tell.
At the end of the dining area is a tall, 100-year-old glass-fronted cabinet from a pharmacy in France, used to display products behind the counter. Today, Petra and Dimitri use it to house all their treasured memories and trinkets – a small insight into how important family is to them.
Having always worked in a creative field, Petra has been a hairdresser, a celebrity stylist, a promotional model for a TV station in the Netherlands and a window dresser. Unfortunately, she suffered with severe eczema, so Dimitri, concerned about her health, suggested graphic design. “I’ve never seen anyone get eczema from a computer mouse, so we thought Petra could do something like that and be creative,” he says. When Benjamin was just two, Petra retrained to be a graphic designer; “My computer is now an extension of who I am.”
Benjamin is clearly in awe of his mum. “She’s the most creative person I’ve ever met. I’m sad I didn’t inherit that side of her personality!”
Petra laughs gently in agreement; “I am creative with everything I do – in my home, with food, myself and style. Every evening when I cook, dinner is always a surprise to everyone!”
The family started eating predominantly vegan food at home two years ago, all prepared by Petra. “We followed a Dutch book, Your 50 Days of Green Happiness, which has 100 recipes that look and taste incredible. We lost weight, had more energy, and loved eating the food, plus I found it helped my sensitive stomach, so we’re still doing it 80 percent of the time now.”
Bookworm turned businesswoman
Petra has a passion for people. One of her biggest achievements, though, was actually Benjamin’s idea.
“Being an expat, I finally found the time to work on my dream; creating and publishing my own book. The My Edutainment Book is meant to lure kids away from their devices to be more active and inquisitive. It helps with family bonding, something that’s so important to make time for in our hectic lives.”
Now, Petra’s business has evolved from author to creating educational content for international schools and restaurants. “I made a map of Singapore that’s in classrooms across the island. This has led me to create placemats for restaurants, like Summerlong at Robertson Quay, to keep children entertained while eating.”
Petra wants to inspire people to use the time here to do something impactful and purposeful. “Learn a new skill, fill your mind and dedicate time to it,” she says.
And what does this creative soul and corporate professional want to do in the future? Petra smiles again: “Retire to a beach somewhere in Asia to run a bed-and-breakfast, of course! We don’t think we’d ever move back to the Netherlands.” Benjamin, at least, has slightly different ideas; “I might go back to Europe to university, as I’d like to train to be a pilot or even a politician.”
The Haddemans’ tips for newcomers
#1 “Make a soft landing for yourself when you first arrive” – for example, consider a furnished apartment for the first few months until you find your feet.
#2 “Live as close to an MRT as you can” – this is their top tip when picking a location.
#3 “Taxi drivers know everything – talk to them!” Seek out local advice and knowledge.
#4 “Integrate as soon as you can.” Petra went straight to the British Council to improve her English and that made a huge difference when they arrived. Petra also did the Holland Organisation Integration course, helping her to meet people and even get her first graphic design job in Singapore!
Dempsey Hill Carousell (“for vintage items”) sg.carousell.com
MS Deco & Furnishing (“we’ve bought a lot from them on Carousell”)
Mariska Meijers Amsterdam mariskameijers.com
My Edutainment Book myedutainmentbook.com
ByRos (“for tableware”)
Arty-shock (“the piece of art in Benjamin’s room”)
Hock Siong & Co 153 Kampong Ampat
Wine & Dine
Holland Village Hawker Centre (“for wonton noodles”)
Two Chefs (“a secret Chinese restaurant only known to locals; try the Milk Powder Chicken and Drunken Cockles”) 116 Commonwealth Crescent, #01-129
Old Habits (“a lot of vintage items, very nice food and lovely owners; try the Salted Caramel Chicken and Coconut Soufflé”) 38 Telok Blangah Rise, #01-315
Summerlong 60 Robertson Quay, #01-04
Tiong Bahru Bakery Chip Bee Gardens (“my second home”) 43 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-74
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!