By: Katie Roberts; photography by Ken Tan and Michael Gronow
South Africans Christine and Tobie Van Heerden, their three-year-old daughter Ariella and two wire fox terriers live in one of Alexandra Park’s black-and-white 1930s bungalows. It’s a dream come true for Christine who, since her first visit to the island 15 years ago, has coveted the prospect of living in one of these spacious, historical homes.See gallery above for all the photos from Christine’s stunning home, plus her commentary
It’s a far cry, too, from the views of Table Mountain which both Christine and Tobie grew up with in Cape Town; and a change of pace from their previous residence in the New Territories in Hong Kong. Christine says their 12 months in Hong Kong was “far too short”, but she wasn’t disappointed when Tobie was asked to relocate to Singapore and open a new office for his employer, an asset management company. In that one short year, Christine got a handle on shopping in China, and established a network of drivers, suppliers and shipping agents in Shenzen and Zhuhai. Indeed, these trusty sources have helped her furnish her new home, which they moved into in July 2012.
Settled into a comfortable, white sofa with a cup of rooibos tea in hand, Christine explains how she actually landed one of these highly sought-after homes. “Tobie was not fussed. He insisted we look into all housing options, which we did. But I was determined. I knew a friend of a friend living in a black-and-white in this area, so I paid her a visit. This house happened to be standing empty when we drove past, so I followed it up with the management agency.”
Christine explains it had already been put up for tender twice but had not reached the asking price, so it had remained vacant for over 12 months. “We paid the price without hesitation and, for good or bad, it was ours,” she said.
That’s when the hard work began.
“All the windows and some external doors and vents were shuttered, and essentially open to animals and the elements, so I had glass panels installed. There were no showers and the bathrooms were woeful, so I updated them also. We had to get permission, but the changes enhance the value of the property, albeit at our expense. We also put in air-conditioning and a pool.”
Christine used a contractor, recommended by a friend, who made the whole project reasonably straightforward, and all the work was done before the family moved in.
Knowing the style and scale of home she was moving into, Christine made two trips to China to purchase the numerous light fittings, lamps and other accessories that enhance the large home. “I decided to source everything personally; it’s such good value for money and there is a great variety in China. I understand why furniture is expensive in Singapore, with high rents and duties, but aside from a bargain, I also love the hunt,” she says.
While the lifestyle is clearly fabulous, and the dogs especially love the large garden, on the day of my visit Christine is dealing with the negatives of living in an old home. A thunderstorm last night played havoc with the electricity and knocked out their third Wi-Fi router, the electric gate and television. She also bemoans the occasional bat, snake and lizard, but says it’s better than Mount Pleasant where residents have monkeys to deal with too. “There are lots of stories about some of the black-and-whites around here being haunted, apparently from WWII, but we haven’t noticed anything strange in this house,” she says.
“We’re very happy living here. I like the location of Alexandra Park, being close to HortPark, Mount Faber and Kent Ridge, and it’s only seven minutes to the office for Tobie.” It’s also not too far from the Singapore Polo Club, where Christine rides several times a week; Ariella can start riding when she is five.
“The area is quiet, and there are a number of South African families who live here. It’s a lovely community – we walk to one another’s houses in the evening, and have a glass of wine while the children play.”
How to rent a black-and-white
It’s actually a straightforward process, and yes, there are some $25,000 stunners, but for those with a smaller budget there are bargains as low as $3,000. To get started, check what properties are currently available on the State Property Information Online site, noting the bid closing date.
Go along to an open house. If you are interested, download and complete the tender form with your bid, and submit a deposit. After closing date, all bids are considered. The applicants’ financial health and track record are taken into consideration, while some may be called for an interview.
The winning bidder is notified and results are posted online. Tenants are responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the property according to government guidelines.
Singapore Polo Club (“for horse-riding”)
Upper Thomson Road
Gillman Barracks (“for a range of art galleries”)
Forty Hands (“for the best coffee in town”)
78 Yong Siak Street, #01-12 Tiong Bahru , 6225 8545
Flourish Bake Shop (“for excellent cupcakes – and they deliver”)
The Barbie Girls (“for grass-fed meat and organic fish”)
Black and White Interiors (“for sourcing furniture and accessories and small interior design projects”)
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!