New Zealand native Mandy Riggir tells a story familiar to many of us. She and her husband John originally planned to be here for one year, and yet 21 years later they’re still on Singapore soil. She talks to Expat Living about what they love about living in a black-and-white house, and why they haven’t strayed too far since they first arrived.
Who lives here?
John and Mandy Riggir, daughter Alessandra, son Jake (when he’s home from university), helper Nora who’s been with the family for 16 years, dogs Tana, Tina and Pippi, and Lulu the cat
Where do they come from?
John and Mandy are from New Zealand
How long have they lived in Singapore?
21 years in total – they spent 16 years at Seletar Camp, and this is their seventh year in this house
How big is this house?
It’s a four-bedroom, single-level bungalow with a large garden and pool
Eclectic, with furniture being rearranged fairly frequently
Mandy loves the outside areas because of the many special times they’ve had there with family and friends
Mandy got the Burmese teak chairs and console from Myanmar, where she met the carpenter and witnessed how beautifully he made his pieces
With a little extra time before I’m due to meet with Mandy, I decide to take a slow drive around Seletar Camp to get a feel for the area. Some of the colonial buildings are clearly lived in and well-loved, but some look sadly ramshackle and abandoned. It’s a peaceful area, with plenty of tropical green spaces interspersed with around 200 black-and-white buildings, harking back to British colonial times.
Mandy’s bungalow sits on a large plot of land, and its fairly unassuming frontage belies the exquisitely-styled interior. This is unsurprising considering Mandy’s past experience as a decorator and redesigner. “My focus has been on helping people realise the potential of their existing home items,” explains Mandy. She admits that her own home gets a “refresh” every few months, reasoning that even just moving a piece to a different location in the home can have a huge impact.
It is, as usual, a hot day, and the house is opened up from front to back to make the most out of the minimal breeze. The Riggirs have been in this current home for seven years, and love living in Seletar Camp. “John works near here and our daughter is at the Australian International School, so it’s a real no-brainer for us. I just jump on to the CTE motorway and I’m in town in ten minutes; I don’t find it inconvenient at all,” says Mandy. She admits that the area has changed since they first moved here. “It was very different back then; it had a stronger community, and I didn’t find it at all isolated. Our doors were always open, there was a golf course here and you could go for fabulous walks around the area.”
Mandy’s home style is always changing. “I get bored really quickly, and I have to love where I am,” she admits. “I was like that when I was younger, too, always changing my room around.”
When she and John first arrived in Singapore they lived in an apartment. “So, when we moved out here, having this space made a big difference to me. Even though I’ve moved three times within the area, the houses have been very similar. You can’t look too closely at these places, because they really are just a shell, but that gives you a chance to put your own stamp on them.”
When they first moved into this bungalow, there was no garden as such, so Mandy planted an enormous number of plants. She also pushed out the back to create a decked area as well as a bar, which has been the focal point for many an entertaining evening.
Key to Mandy’s styling is the fact that she mixes up different furniture, and is a big believer in reworking objects. “When I change things, it’s not so much that I get rid of furniture; instead, I repaint, reupholster, and work in pieces from IKEA with higher-end items; you don’t have to spend a fortune in one shop.”
With that, we take a walk through her home to see just how she’s worked her magic on it this time around.
Currently undergoing redevelopment into an aerospace hub, Seletar Camp (otherwise known as Seletar Airbase or Seletar Aerospace Park) was the RAF’s biggest airbase in the Far East when it opened in 1928, and included nearly 200 colonial bungalows. Road names on the base refer to different areas in England – Piccadilly and Park Lane, for example. This was an attempt to alleviate homesickness in the English servicemen who lived and worked at the airbase.
After the British withdrawal from Singapore in the early 1970s, the eastern part of the camp was taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces. Bungalows in the western part were leased out for residential purposes, and the area has largely escaped high-rise development, making it a popular long-term choice for many looking to live in a “sleepy village” environment.
MacRitchie Treetop Walk (“a regular walking spot for us”)
Access from Reservoir Road or Venus Road car parks
Yahava KoffeeWorks (“the best coffee in Singapore”)
4 Jalan Gelenggang | 6554 7080
Chopsuey (“for great fusion food”)
#01-23 Block 10 Dempsey Road | 9224 6611
Taylor B Fine Design Group (“for its vast selection of furniture and accessories at reasonable prices”)
43 Keppel Road, Levels 1, 2, and 4 | 9420 4000
Asiatique (“stunning pieces to blow the budget”)
14a Dempsey Road | 6471 3146
Foodie Market Place(“for good deals on quality meat and other imported products”)
225 Outram Road | 6224 3290
Ronnie the painter (“for top quality work and excellent service”)
Bode (“because owner Jenny stocks stunning fabrics from all over the world”)
315 Outram Road
#05-10 Tan Boon Liat Building | 9040 3996
Villa on the Bay, New Zealand (“our holiday home on the beach in Golden Bay, our favourite place to be in the world – also available for holiday rentals”)
This story first appeared in Expat Living’s July 2015 issue.