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Reader’s home: Tour this huge black and white house in Singapore’s historic Swiss Cottage Estate

By: Amy Greenburg; photography by Karen Lucas

Nestled in a quiet cluster of heritage homes behind Dunearn Road, British expat Rebecca Byrne’s Swiss Cottage Estate black-and-white perfectly captures everything she and her family love – animals, travel and s ome good old-fashioned fun. She invited me in for a tour of her home and a little playtime with her pups.

As I approach the Byrne family’s sprawling black-and-white home, I’m greeted by a cheerful gaggle of dogs ranging in size, colour and breed. Rebecca introduces me to her lovable, motley crew – Shadow, Blue, Louie, Conker, Raleigh and Sally – as we make our way toward the house that she shares with her husband, Simon, and their three children, Tyler (15), Cerys (12) and Aidan (9). From the driveway, I can already see that the Byrne home has all the traditional features of a colonial-era black-and-white – bamboo chick blinds, tall archways and a long driveway that ends under a porte-cochère – but has been personalised with unique flair.

It starts with a vast collection of treasures leading from the front door – flanked by red and yellow umbrellas – to the colour-soaked verandah. An antique Indian door, a vintage Chinese temple sign, a stone Buddha statue and an inlaid mother-of-pearl mirror are among the many gems that line the outside corridor.

Rebecca, a writer, describes her style as “eclectic-contemporary with Indian influences”, which makes sense considering her background: she grew up in Dubai, Bahrain and Pakistan, and later split time between her parents in India and boarding school in Surrey, England. It’s clear that her décor choices are a strong reflection of her life experiences and travels.

“I was an expat kid myself, so a lot of my inspiration comes from where I’ve lived,” she says, pointing to colourful, handmade Indian elephants as we pass through the foyer.

As we enter the “telly” room – followed by our furry entourage – the sofa’s UK flag-print throw pillows immediately catch my eye, as do two zebra print ottomans juxtaposed by antique Chinese furnishings. “This house was like an empty shell when we moved in – painted all white with no one else’s design. I had the opportunity to be as colourful as I wanted, and create my own imprint on the house,” Rebecca says.

Simon’s influence can be seen throughout the house as well, particularly in the “snooker room”, once a dining room but now accommodating his billiards table, along with a library of books arranged to perfection. “Having moved around all my life, I don’t unpack right away,” Rebecca laughs as she gestures to the books. “My husband, on the other hand, had everything unpacked and organised within two weeks of moving in.”

Fourth time’s a charm
As we take tea on the airy verandah, Louie, a spunky dachshund, rests comfortably on Rebecca’s lap while the other pups play on the floor beside us. Rebecca tells me this is where her family spends most of their time. And why wouldn’t they? The verandah is spacious and welcoming, and equipped with plenty of patio furniture, a ping-pong table and trampoline. It’s perfect for barbecues, pool parties and other opportunities to entertain and relax. “The house was designed for this climate, so we rarely have to use our air-con, and we live outside most of the time anyway, which we love.”

Seeing how comfortably at home she and her dogs are, you’d never know that the Byrne family only moved in this past December. In fact, they have lived in three black-and-white homes in the past four years, after moving here from London in 2010.

Rebecca and Simon did a one-year stint in Singapore back in 1997, when they lived in a Medway Park black-and-white, before spending 13 years in London. When they eventually returned to Singapore with their children, they lived in a privately owned black-and-white located in Chatsworth Park and, later, in a bungalow on Mount Rosie. However, it’s this home, their fourth black-and-white, that has instantly become their favourite. Rebecca says the location, between Bukit Timah and Newton, is perfect, since her family spends time between Turf City for Tyler and Aidan’s football leagues, and Cerys’s swim club in Ang Mo Kio.

Although the facilities in old black-and-whites tend to break down more easily, Rebecca believes the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and that it’s worth swapping modern luxuries (centralised air-con and newer pipes, for example) for heaps of space, sizeable gardens and that special, old-fashioned charm.

“Once you’ve lived in a black-and-white, you will always want to live in one,” Rebecca confides. “The house is largely un-modernised, but the space works really well for family life. With children and dogs, we wanted a place with a good-sized garden and a home where we aren’t always worried about scratching marble floors or ruining expensive fittings.”

Puppy love
As we continue our tour of the six-bedroom house, the pitter-patter of paws can be heard throughout. “It’s a good thing the wooden floors are old and scratched because we have so many paws walking on them,” Rebecca laughs. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dedicated dog-lovers, Rebecca and Simon began fostering dogs back in London and adopted Shadow before moving back to Singapore. Once here, they rescued Blue and Louie, and are currently fostering Conker, Raleigh and Sally until they find permanent homes.

In the past couple of years, Rebecca has become involved with Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD), a charity organisation and humane society focused on achieving better welfare for dogs through rescue, rehabilitation and education outreach. She hopes to help stray dogs find lasting and loving homes, and believes that the expat community can provide the very homes that these dogs so desperately need.

“For many reasons, expats are perfect candidates for fostering and adopting dogs. Many are not working for the first time in their lives, and have the time to give toward nurturing and training a puppy,” she says. “Many of us have experience of living with dogs as pets, in the UK or US, for example, where dogs are an integral part of family life.” She adds, “Many expats also live in landed properties and condos, and can adopt those puppies that aren’t HDB-approved.”

Rebecca also points out that puppy training and dog walking are great ways to keep fit and meet likeminded people. She enjoys taking all her pups on long daily walks – trips to Bukit Brown Cemetery are her favourite – and to dog parks and outdoor eateries where she can meet fellow dog-lovers for coffee or lunch.

How You Can Help SOSD
Donations and funding support
Contributions are used to fund medical expenses, food and shelter facilities.

Fostering and adopting
Opening your home to a dog in need, whether it’s for the short or the long term, can help save innocent lives. Even if you can’t commit to adopting, fostering can create extra space in the crowded kennel for other rescue dogs.

Extra hands are always needed at the kennel and adoption drives. Opportunities to help with the website are always open, too.

Sponsoring a dog
This new programme lets dog-lovers “adopt” dogs living at SOSD until the pups find permanent homes. Sponsors can visit on a weekly basis and take the dogs on walks.

Rebecca’s recommendations

Furniture and Homeware
China Collection
6235 1905

The Shophouse
6323 7190

Galanga Living
6475 2633

Expat Auctions
6278 0511

Pup-friendly restaurants
Head here for all of Rebecca’s fab recommendations and heaps more dog-friendly cafes and dining spots

Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!