“Light and air” was the main directive that these home-owners gave to their architect. He did them proud: the 1920s terraced house in Joo Chiat is a beautifully open home, naturally cooled with fans and breezes. It retains its period charm – and then some – while providing all the contemporary comforts. Sue Day and Nick Hawkins showed me around.
Sue and Nick had fallen in love with the Blair Road shophouse where they used to live. So when the time came to buy a place of their own, they were delighted to find one that had the same footprint as the house they were living in.
When the couple finally agreed on the architect’s latest depiction of what their new home would look like – Version 23, Nick estimates – the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) put a large spanner in the works. Just as their plans were going in for approval, the URA began a study to decide whether their row of houses should be given conservation status.
“Our plans kept almost all of the original house, so it was not a total rebuild; but in order to add an attic floor we had to raise the roof-line at the back. You can’t do that to a conservation house; the entire original structure has to remain intact.”
Sue and Nick could have decided to alter their plans to conform with possible conservation orders. Instead, they decided to wait for the outcome of the study. Luckily for them, conservation status was not awarded, and they were able to go ahead with building their dream house.
“The house stood empty for a year, and the building work took seven months. We demolished the back part, put in new foundations and created a third floor. We finally moved in a full two years after completion of the purchase. But it was worth waiting for the chance to achieve what we really wanted.”
A pretty garden separates the house from the quiet cul-de-sac. “Do you like dogs?” enquires Sue a bit anxiously from behind the front door, but who could not love these gorgeous creatures? Aptly named Orla (meaning “golden lady”) and Ailchu (gentle hound), the two Irish setters have the run of the house – all three floors of it – and like to sleep on the cool tiles of the fourth-level roof terrace.
White is the canvas that Sue has chosen for the entire house – pale marble floors downstairs, white walls throughout, against which glows the natural warmth of solid timber roof trusses and cherished antiques – some brought from England, the rest purchased here.
“I’m a white person,” she explains. “Although my good friend, the brilliant designer Wendy Smith, has tried to introduce me to colour over the years, I always come back to white.” Nevertheless, she says that Wendy – who lives just a five-minute walk away – has been a huge inspiration to her over the years.
Sue likes her big, comfortable sofas and has had them covered several times over the years at Danovel, which also covered the cushions on the kitchen and dining-table chairs. The big mirror behind us is from Xtra and was bought in 2000, which shows how long they’ve been doing this style. A big, colourful screen from Chinatown stands behind a wedding cabinet from what was Art Trend and is now Kinara Art & Antiques in Binjai Park.
An Indian brass coffee-table from Skybaba is one of the first things Sue bought when she came to Singapore in 1998. But she admits there was a time she hated it – for a short period when she didn’t have help in the home! Half a dozen antique clocks, given to Sue by her grandparents, add personal history and charm. She managed to find a wonderful clock repairman here (see the Recommendations list at the end) to restore and maintain them for her.
Kitchen and Dining
The second downstairs room has been kept intact, down to an attractive, decorative air-vent. It’s also functional: air-conditioning is restricted to the bedrooms. This is nominally the dining room, which features an 1850s Victorian mahogany table (also from Sue’s grandparents), but Nick says it’s almost never used. “We just move the dining table into the kitchen to extend the table that’s already there. People always hang out in the kitchen at dinner parties, so we decided to work that into the design.”
In contrast to the old-world furniture is a glossy, all-white open-plan kitchen, designed with plenty of working space for two cooks. Nick was used to being “boss of the kitchen”, I’m told, but he has had to get used to a more democratic arrangement, as Sue is also a keen cook.
A splendid Liebherr fridge presides over the space – and as Roy and I bought exactly the same model just yesterday, I feel a rush of consumer kinship with Sue and Nick. For a minute, we bond over the virtues of this royalty of refrigeration. I know, I’m deeply shallow.
On the base of the first step leading to the second level is a row of pretty pink-and-green Peranakan tiles with a raised floral design. They are probably a legacy of the previous owner, who, says Sue, did a lot of good work on the house, including adding the delicate traditional green porcelain air vents.
The former master bedroom is now the main guest-room. John Erdos provided the four-poster bed, and the wardrobe came from a little junk-shop in Craig Road owned by a Mr Kang. Interestingly, it can be disassembled; even more interestingly, it belonged to a nun at the convent that is now the Chijmes complex.
Next to that is their helper’s room, and after that a library, dramatically furnished with massive shelving from Xtra and a single wing-backed chair, custom-made by Danovel and upholstered in red brocade. Screen doors slide back to reveal another space, resplendent with a Chinese daybed; both doors and daybed are from Just Anthony. Sue is having a carpenter build an extension that will enable its conversion into a comfortable double bed on the odd occasion that a second guest-room is required.
Sue finds Singapore too hot for a bathtub, so instead there are two identical shower-rooms, one on the guest level, the other directly above it. Sue designed them herself, and admits to having had “a crisis of confidence” at one stage.
There was no need for concern. White porcelain basins sit on Chinese-style cabinets, custom-made for the space by Just Anthony. Black-and-white shower floor-tiles in a pleasing Victorian design add the finishing touch.
As you walk upstairs to the third level, the first thing you see is a row of startlingly beautiful stained-glass screen-panels to your right. From Just Anthony, they are individually hinged to be opened for more airflow and closed for more privacy for the master bedroom. This was Sue’s brilliant idea.
An efficient ceiling fan whirrs above their solid four-poster bed with intricately carved headboard. It weighs a ton, admits Sue, who found it at a River Valley Shop that has since closed down. The huge mirror with painted frame is from Double Luck; so is the one in the dining room.
Between their bedroom and their study is an open courtyard, “where the dogs can play while we work”. Both Nick and Sue are employed by Polycom, an American telepresence and video-conferencing company, which means they often work from home and at odd hours. Like the kitchen, the big desk and its matching Chinese chairs (from Renaissance in Dempsey) are planned to accommodate two. Nick, whom Sue describes as a “techy geek”, ensured good connectivity, with digitised music, network cabling and wifi throughout the house.
A year after moving into their beautiful home, are Nick and Sue happy? “We love it. The area is lovely; it’s like a little village with a great local feel and it has tons of eateries. Also, our neighbours are great. We consider Singapore home.”
Cheong Ann Watch Maker (clock repairs)
4 Lim Tua Tow Road
David Lim – +65 6286 3826
Danovel (soft furnishings)
19 Tanglin Road, #02-54/55 Tanglin Shopping Centre
Christina – +65 6235 5020
75E Loewen Road, Tanglin Village
Wendy Smith – +65 6506 0920
Elvani Cucine (kitchens)
200 Changi Road, #01-01 Great Eastern @ Changi
Alderene Wong – +65 6344 8484
Hup Kiong Pte Ltd (flooring)
11 Defu Lane
Ferdinand (Ferdie) F San Juan – +65 6382 2626
Just Anthony (Chinese furniture and panels)
379 Upper Paya Lebar Road
Danielle or Mr Lim – +65 6283 4782
Kinari Arts & Antiques (Chinese furniture)
9 Binjai Park
Joanne Tan – +65 6468 7119
Towner Construction (builder)
Blk 809 French Road, #05-150 Kitchener Complex
+65 6291 0328
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