I don’t know if it’s Julie’s amazing cooking, Peter’s hospitality behind the bar, or the Irish singing that starts around midnight, but these friends of ours throw some of the best parties in town.
The unpretentious black-and-white bungalow was built during World War II as British Army accommodation, says Julie, and it’s constructed mainly out of wood. The house itself has only two bedrooms, but the outbuilding to the rear of it – originally sleeping quarters for servants – has been converted to provide a further two bedrooms with a sitting room for guests.
Being the exceptionally hospitable people that they are, Julie and Peter have a succession of friends and friends-of-friends making use of these rooms. It’s not surprising that overseas visitors prefer this accommodation to a hotel room, especially as the guest wing is just metres away from the bar. ‘We have a good Tasmanian friend who stays with us regularly, for the price of a bottle of duty-free vodka,’ says Julie with a broad grin.
‘It’s also great for the grown-up kids of friends from overseas,’ she adds, ‘because these rooms are separate from the house, so they can come and go at all hours without disturbing anyone.’
How did they get this house? ‘Aussie friends of ours lived here before us,’ explains Julie. ‘When we heard they were returning home I immediately asked, ‘Can I have your house?”
That was six years ago, when you could still hand on these houses informally, but the rules have changed. Now, all properties on the various black-and-white estates around the island have to be returned to the managing agents DTZ, and prospective new tenants must bid for them. The same happens – painfully – at the end of each two-year lease; Julie sighs heavily as she contemplates this unfairness.
She loves Singapore’s black-and-white homes. ‘Before I met Peter, I had a small one in nearby Royal Road, just big enough for me and my dog.’ When she married Peter, they moved to a condo in Pasir Panjang and then to a house in Bukit Timah Road, before this one became available by chance.
I can’t help wondering why they would pay good money to a landlord in such an un-Chinese way, but Julie explains that she and Peter do own a condo, which is tenanted. ‘We far prefer living here. Also, our daughter Ashley was little when we moved in, and it was great for her to be able to play outside.’
Furniture and Furnishings
Their friend Lew, the previous tenant, built the bar and planted much of the greenery that surrounds the house and shields it from the road. ‘We virtually live outside. My dining suite from John Erdos was expensive, but it will last forever – especially as we’ve used it only twice in six years. Whenever we have guests for dinner, they insist on eating at the bar.’
Their rice-chest coffee table is also from John Erdos, as is the giant urn, the Buddha statue and the box it stands on. But most of her furniture was shipped in from Bali and Jakarta – ‘I’m in shipping, remember!’ Julie feels that these heavy, rustic pieces are perfect for this house. But showing me some damage to the corner of a lovely dresser, she warns that living in a wooden house means you’re constantly under attack by termites.
Most of the carpets came from The Orientalist ten years ago. Many of the paintings are Vietnamese, four of them from an up-and-coming artist that Julie and Peter first met in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. A friend gave them the vibrant Burmese painting of a group of laughing novice monks. The two crystal lamps were bought in Vietnam in the early 1990s – ‘You could easily find this sort of thing there then’ – and the candle-lamp on the bar was carefully carried back from Denmark.
Out and About
For nature-lovers, this location is hard to beat. In Hyderabad Road, it’s just up from the entrance to Hort Park, and has easy access to the Southern Trails, a succession of inter-connected green spaces that stretches for nine kilometres. It starts in Kent Ridge Park and links to Telok Blangah Hill Park, from where the spectacular Henderson Waves – the undulating pedestrian bridge that is the highest in Singapore – connects to Mount Faber.
‘The forest walk is quite a climb from here to Mount Faber, but it’s easier on the way back,’ explains Julie, who does the route with eight-year-old Ashley about twice a week.
Twice a week when she’s in town, that is. Julie’s career with Jardine Shipping, whom she has been with for twenty years, means a lot of travelling. What airline does she fly? SIA, of course! Not only does she functionally cover Asia Pacific, but she is also required to visit the US, Europe and Australia.
It helps, she says, that Ashley is very independent. ‘When I was in Hong Kong the other day, I asked her if she missed me, and she replied, ‘Yes, I miss the good food.”
To Market, to Market
That I well understand. Julie is one of those rare people who seem able to cater effortlessly for a crowd, both Asian and Western cuisines, and do it with style.
She buys Australian meat, cheese and butter wholesale from Xie Chun in Depot Road – ‘It’s great for me because I do a lot of entertaining, but you can always cut it up and freeze it in smaller portions’ – and goes weekly to Tekka Market for vegetables, fruit, fish, prawns and so on. ‘Tiong Bahru is another good wet market,’ she says. The Cold Storage at Great World City is her favourite supermarket, and as the chain is part of Dairy Farm, owned by Jardines, she’s ‘keeping it in the business’, she says. As for wine, she is passionate about South African labels.
There are always flowers in the house, which she gets from Ji Mei in Joan Road. ‘The parking is easier there than at Far East Flora, and they have the biggest cold room in Singapore.’
Ashley is happily ensconced at the Dover Road campus of United World College (UWC), which she gets to and from on the school bus. And when she stays on for an ECA (extra-curricular activity) such as Irish dancing or rollerblading, there’s a special ECA bus to bring her home. Add on once-weekly gymnastics classes at Prime Gym at Toa Payoh, extra maths tuition on a Saturday and a golf lesson on Sundays, and it’s clear that this is a very busy little girl.
Peter, an engineer by profession and top barman and party-host by choice, recently joined the company Braemar Steege, loss adjustors for the oil and gas industry. ‘I’ve been telling him for years that shipping is a great industry!’ says Julie. They’re members of both the Keppel Club and Raffles Country Club, where they all play golf.
Miniature schnauzer Belle rounds off the family. She’s absolutely gorgeous – and as this breed neither smells (much) nor sheds, I have added one to my Christmas wish-list. And I suspect that a number of Expat Living readers will be adding a black-and-white bungalow to their wish-lists this month.
• John Erdos Gallery
83 Kim Yam Road
(+65) 6735 3307
• The Orientalist
50 Cuscaden Road
(+65) 6732 0880
• Ji Mei Flowers
5 Joan Road
(+65) 6285 0017
• Flutes at the Fort
23B Coleman Street
(+65) 6338 8770
• Oso Ristorante
46 Bukit Pasoh Road
(+65) 6327 8370
• Xie Chun for wholesale meat
Blk 4008 Depot Lane #01-84
(+65) 6278 2488
• Tekka Market for fresh produce
Corner Bukit Timah and Serangoon Roads
• United World College of Southeast Asia (UWCSEA)
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