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Showcase: Beautiful Cairnhill Shophouse

Denise Robicheaux seems to have a bit of a thing for shophouses. When she and husband Mark (who is with BP) first came to Singapore, they moved into a shophouse in Emerald Hill, off Orchard Road, and very close to their current location in Cairnhill. But when two buildings were torn down and noisy construction began, it was time to look elsewhere.

“I started looking farther afield at areas like Holland Village, thinking we could get a house with more outdoor space if we moved away from the centre of town,” she says. Marvelling at their wonderful location, I wonder if they could have borne losing the convenience of living barely a block away from Orchard. Apparently, Denise felt the same. “It’s so easy; I can just run across the street to the taxi stand.”

She admits it was difficult at the time, a year ago, as properties were scarcer and prices were high. “But I really wanted to stay in this neighbourhood. Luckily, I knew the girl who was living here, so when she was about to move I got the drop on the place. As it happened, Mark’s employer’s agent found it at about the same time.” Clearly, they were meant to have it.

Despite being so central, the house is remarkably free of traffic noise, and the area is good for walks. The Robicheaux love the restaurants and bars along the recently revamped Cuppage Terrace, and the kind people at the Starbucks next to OG allow them to bring along their friendly, ten-year-old Labrador-cross Mojeaux. (What a great name!) “We go for walks every day, sometimes two or even three times.”



The Way Here

Having met and married each other in New Orleans, Denise and Mark worked in Texas for a while. They first came to Singapore for just a few months during 2004, and then spent a year in Korea before moving back here in May 2006, three years ago.

“We came to Asia with only a few pieces of furniture and little else – we have not a dish. In Korea we lived in a serviced apartment, so we didn’t need to buy furniture.” But a shophouse has a lot of space to fill. If you’ve been into a shophouse, you’ll know that the relatively narrow street frontage generally belies the generous size of the interior, which stretches way, way back, sometimes as far as the back street. How did they do it?

You could furnish your shophouse entirely at Ikea, but that might be seen as akin to sacrilege. Few homes really do justice to the bigger, grander items of Chinese furniture, and a shophouse is the ideal and most authentic setting for these pieces. Fortunately for the Robicheaux, they soon discovered Just Anthony, which specialises in mostly antique Chinese furniture that it has been importing here for the past thirty years

“Our most recent purchase from them is this chicken-wing wood dining table and chairs, which were delivered a couple of months ago,” says Denise. The runner on it is from Ambient Interiors, which also provided the big mirror. Four panels of a carved screen make an effective wall decoration. Two side tables, also from Just Anthony, have been transformed into an attractive wall console by topping them with a length of nicely bevelled glass – again courtesy of Ambient Interiors’ Susan Goh. The bar and a Chinese cabinet were picked up during their year in Korea – “Seoul has a lot of nice antique shops,” says Denise.

In the living room, she shows me one of her favourite pieces: a rustic kitchen cupboard with plenty of space for storing glasses and crockery, and lots of drawers for odds and ends. It has charming little brass handles shaped like fish. “I’m Pisces,” she smiles, adding, “You could take this anywhere.” (Sure, I think: anywhere that’s big enough!} It’s from Just Anthony, as are two Mongolian cabinets, the coffee table, and the twin shoe-cabinets below the two front windows facing the street. In fact, during our tour it rapidly becomes apparent that much of the furniture and décor is from either Just Anthony or Ambient, who also covered the sofas and provided the scatter cushions.

The two wicker-and-leather living-room chairs are from Wicker Barn in Dempsey, however. Denise loves the fairs, too; the interesting fabric neatly tucked around the sofa cushion was one of her fair finds. She also likes to pick up fabric from the Arab Street shops.

Most of the carpets are from Achak-Zai, located in Binjai Park (where Double Luck used to be, for those who remember). I’m a little alarmed to hear that the two in the living room are around 100 years old – should I be walking on them? Should the dog? “Oh yes – they’re carpets!” Denise reminds me in matter-of-fact tones.


Up the Wooden Hill

A tall birdcage punctuates the stairs to the second level, artistically housing a trio of silver candle-holders from Double Luck’s closing sale.  “These have to go,” according to Denise, waving at a pair of luckless sofas – but the attractively battered Art Deco desk will no doubt be allowed to stay.  And having searched in vain for a three-drawer filing cabinet in solid wood some time ago, I’m glad to see exactly what I was looking for; why didn’t I think of asking Just Anthony to custom-make one for me? “They did it so reasonably, too,” she says.

Here’s another of her favourite pieces: a varnished library cabinet with removable peg-and-hole-hinged doors. She isn’t sure whether it was originally designed to hold books, but it does the job admirably.  (Just Anthony, again.) On the adjacent wall is a framed black-and-white photograph of Bruce Springsteen, frozen in mid-leap. “I’m a huge fan,” says Denise.

On to the master bedroom. At foot of the bed is an enormous chest, from –no prizes for guessing – Just Anthony. “It was the first thing we bought, needing somewhere to store all our bulky winter stuff from Korea.” The gorgeous bedspread was picked up at a Fancy Faire at the Orchard Hotel, the lamps are from Gallery 278, and, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the two beautiful Art Deco cabinets came from Just Anthony.

Up on the third level is a guest bedroom that doubles as a sewing-room. Its exquisite bed-linen was bought in Korea.

While the entire ground floor, including the kitchen, is open-plan and free of modern fittings, the same cannot be said for the upstairs rooms. The study, master bedroom and guest room all have exposed frosted glass doors concealing shower cubicles and toilets, and open-plan wash-basins. The guest room, however, also glories in a ball-and-claw bath. “It’s amazing how different the houses in this terrace are from one another,” says Denise. “This one is owned by a company, and I believe it was once the office of a travel agency.”

Though she must have been shopping fairly solidly for three years, Denise feels the furnishing of this enormous space is incomplete – the walls, especially, could do with more artwork, she says, and shows me her stash of interesting pictures waiting their turn. But, she notes, framing is not inexpensive. “It’s time I learnt to do it myself!”


Achak-Zai Carpets
5 Binjai Park
(+65) 9836 3900

Fairs and bazaars for expats

Ambient Interiors
140 Bukit Timah Road
(+65) 6734 2452

Gallery 278
278 River Valley Road
(+65) 6737 2322

Just Anthony
379 Upper Paya Lebar Road
(+65) 6283 4782

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