As they say, sometimes you appreciate things more once they’re gone – or going. We talk to KRISTIN KEEN, who has spent a wonderful ten years living in Singapore and is now leaving. She shares thoughts and recommendations, and talks us through the homes shes’ had in Singapore and why she’ll be sad to say goodbye to this house.
Tell us a little about you and your family.
I’m American, born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. My husband Jason was an expat in Hong Kong until he was 15. His British father grew up in Shanghai and his mum is Australian. Our three children, George (6), Sophie (3) and Annabelle (11 months), are third-generation born in Asia. They were all born in Singapore, at Mount Elizabeth Hospital Orchard.
We moved here in 2010 from Chicago, though Jason had previously lived here for a few years prior to our move together.
Where did you first live when you came to Singapore and why?
We started out living in Robertson Quay as a couple with no kids. It’s a great place to get grounded and be right in the middle of things. We loved being on the river and all that it had to offer from a dining and entertainment perspective. We were there when Kith Café only had its one tiny location there!
We visited Singapore a few years before moving here – just for fun – and I remember walking past a massive construction site for a condo with hanging plants and the largest pool I’d ever seen. So, when my husband came out to find us a home, I remember telling him, “I want to live in that condo (Rivergate) on the river – the one that was being constructed when we were last there.” And we did!
Any other moves before you ended up here?
We’ve actually moved a lot. Once I found out I was pregnant with our first, I really wanted to move out of condo living and get our feet back on the ground. So, we headed to Bukit Timah and made two housing mistakes before landing where we are now. One was an old terraced house; once we moved in, we learnt very quickly that it had all sorts of problems. It was a nightmare and we ended up getting out of our lease – something you rarely hear of here, but it was that bad!
We loved the Greenwood/Hillcrest area for its lovely neighbourhood feel and the green, shady parks that are some of the best-kept secrets in Singapore. So, we signed up for a townhouse. You know the ones – they seem like they’ve got lots of space before you move in, and then you discover your life is now about walking up and down four floors of staircases all day long. I only wish someone had said, “Don’t do it!” (Also, we think it was haunted!)
What were the first home décor things you bought? Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
We bought nice outdoor furniture! With the Singapore price shock that comes when you first move here (I sometimes wonder if it ever goes away…), I remember thinking it was eye-wateringly expensive. But those pieces are still going strong 10 years on – and you quickly learn that a lot of stuff can’t stand up to the Singapore climate.
I’m not overly sentimental about home furniture – probably because I’m always thinking about the next thing to add or replace. But I do live by the Marie Kondo rule of making sure it brings me joy. And my whole home brings me joy!
I love my Malawi chairs from Originals as they remind me of our honeymoon in South Africa. Then there are our outdoor sofas from Affordable Style Files; we spend so many days lounging on them, drinking rosé, and I think the set is unique, which can be hard to find in Singapore. But the piece of furniture that will be the hardest to say goodbye to is the rose gold crib that my two daughters both used as babies! I’m a sucker for a beautiful nursery and I had this one shipped up from Australia because it was before the days of Deer Industries and being able to find a nice crib that wasn’t just plain old white.
Any advice for newcomers?
My biggest regret was not making my house a home as soon as we arrived. So many expats (myself included for a long time) have the mentality of it only being a temporary stay: it’s just a rental property, so let’s not hang the pictures, paint the walls, or buy a piece of furniture for that funny little spot that’s specific to that home. But so often that two-year temporary move turns into 10 years, and then you’ve lost all of that time when you could have felt like you had a home – a little safe haven that you love to come home to and spend time in. It took me a while to get over this thought process, but truly, once I embraced Singapore as my home for the now and made our house a home, it was the turning point in maximising the enjoyment of this beautiful island.
What do you think you’ll miss when you leave?
Almost everything! I’ll miss the people who have become lifelong friends, the food, the number of fun things to do with the whole family (and the ease of doing them), and the ability to go swimming all day, every day; also, the freedom I have as a mum to pop out with no children in tow for a quick errand or a civilised lunch! And I love never having to look to see what the weather will be like for the day. I’ll also miss our house, and all the parties and fun and laughs that we’ve had there!
Anything you won’t miss?
The never-ending humid summer weather, and the fact that the customer isn’t always right here!
How has the family work-life been?
We moved here for a new job opportunity for my husband, with an international insurance company. And, we’re headed to London to continue his career with them as he has accepted a new role.
Like many expat women, I don’t think I ever really found my stride from a career perspective. But I’ve had lots of fun working in various industries from Formula One, floral design and event planning for Fabulation, to working for Sassy Mama Singapore as its first official employee when it launched in 2013. For the last seven years, I’ve been busy with babies, and I’m now very excited to move on from that stage of life!
Tell us a few of your favourite regional holiday spots, and why they’re special.
Six Senses as a brand always makes me happy. I love the socially responsible approach to everything they do, such as bottling all of their own mineral water on site to eliminating plastic and installing water filtration systems in local communities. It’s hard to pick a favourite property, but for pure relaxation I would say Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam.
Villa JOJU in Canggu, Bali is great for large groups and it’s super family friendly. I love that the villa was inspired by a Singapore black-and-white house but with a Balinese twist!
Also in Indonesia, Bawah Reserve is pretty magical! It’s Maldives-like, but on Singapore’s doorstep.
Are there any things you regret not doing, or places you wanted to visit but didn’t?
I always thought we’d be able to make a bit of a bucket list for when the day came that we’d be leaving Singapore. But the reality is, once you know you’re leaving, things move too fast and it’s too crazy to make it happen – so, don’t wait!
I regret not going to some of those perfect long-weekend destinations that we will likely not prioritise when we’re no longer in the region. Two that come to mind right away are Yogyakarta and Chiang Mai. And one that needs a bit more time, Bhutan.
Furniture & Art
• Affordable Style Files
• Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture (“for custom-made rattan furniture”)
• PiersBourke.com (“an amazing London- and Singapore-based artist”)
• Dulwich College (Singapore) (“we’re so sad to be leaving!”)
• Blue House International School Hair & Fashion
• Blonde Boudoir
• Rosalie Pompon
• Sea Apple (“for kiddies”)
Wine, Dine & Social
• Baker & Cook (“especially the Hillcrest location for wandering over to the park around the corner”)
• The Cheese Artisans (“for amazing dinner party cheese platters”)
• Culina (“for the most consistently lovely meals”)
• The American Club (“the best investment we made in Singapore”)
• Sasha Fine Foods (“to fill your freezer”)
• Braci restaurant and rooftop bar (“for the best date night with Michelin-star Italian food without crazy Michelin pricing”)
• Our Village (“for the yummiest Indian and an amazing alfresco skyline view”)
Things to Do
• Bukit Batok Nature Park (“pram- and dog-friendly, and mostly shaded”)
• Concert evenings in the Botanic Gardens
• East Coast Park (“for recent additions like PS Cafe by the Sea, and the new play areas including the bike park”)
• Singapore Polo Club (“for watching polo practice midweek over a family-friendly dinner – it’s open to the public on weekdays; check the practice schedule, but it’s usually Tuesdays and Thursdays”)
Singapore Airlines (“we’re going to miss flying out of Changi – what a luxury!”)
This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!