Fellow-South African Malinda and I became friends 11 years ago at a Protea Association bar night. And in the past year, we’ve become East Coast neighbours; close enough to pop over for a drink or a braai.
Malinda Portwig and Dutch civil engineer Sebastiaan De Groot met here in Singapore late in 2001. She’d arrived in 1999 to take up a financial controller role with the telecomms MNC that she’d been with for four years in Sydney and then three years in Jakarta. Since their wedding in Bali eight years ago – she wore stunning scarlet – Malinda has joined another MNC and Bas has reinvented himself as an airline pilot… but that’s another great story.
In a series of spacious condo homes, the couple have had lots of space and big walls to show off the oversized furniture Malinda has brought in from her beloved Bali since she first visited the island in 1996. In fact, she and Bas were going to build a holiday or even retirement home in Bali. They’d bought the perfect rice-field plot and even had plans drawn up. But various events changed their minds, not least the chaotic overdevelopment of that once-idyllic island.
Time to Buy
It was time to put down roots here in Singapore, and that meant buying property. Exactly where was an easy decision: the East is convenient for a pilot’s flight schedules, and Malinda didn’t mind her city commute. And as they were already renting in Kew Green, they knew they liked the neighbourhood.
Expats are increasingly being drawn to the eastern suburbs, attracted by favourable prices, improved transport links, new international schools and proximity to facilities such as the East Coast Park. And where one expat goes, others will follow; it’s wonderful how many of our friends have ended up living within a kilometre or two of us in Bedok.
Having initially liked the idea of a penthouse, Bas and Malinda soon realised a house would suit them better. They’re both PRs (permanent residents), so they applied for and got permission to buy landed property. After viewing around 20 houses, when they walked into this terrace house in salubrious Kew Avenue, they knew it was the one. And after Kew Green’s thigh-pumping six levels, a mere three would be a relief!
About 14 years old, it was undoubtedly a good buy. Its attractive façade and location in a quiet and leafy avenue gives it plenty of kerb appeal, and having been renovated six years earlier, not much had to be done before they moved in.
Handyman Bas took just two weeks to do whatever was necessary for them to feel at home: removing built-in cabinets and shelving and heavy light fittings, doing some rewiring, installing air-conditioners and recessed ceiling lights, plastering and painting.
Bigger projects such as the kitchen could wait for a year or so while their finances recovered from the shock of buying in Singapore. But now, with the kitchen completely renovated and the back garden revamped, the house is ready to be seen.
Phase One – Clearing the air
With the help of a single contractor, Bas ripped out cabinetry from the main wall in the living room – “it was a TV shrine,” shudders Malinda – and from the wall at the end of the dining room, opening up the space to light. That wall now holds a massive new mirror: imported from Bali, naturally. Malinda says she gets “mates’ rates” from the vendor because she has known him for such a long time.
Bas also took down the traditional chandelier that hung from the double-height living-room ceiling and replaced it with a funky LED one designed by Dutch company Mooi, which he ordered online. (Its younger sister hangs above the kitchen island.) To recycle the discarded crystals, he filled a couple of large glass vases with them, wired them as lamps and put them on top of the fridge. Clever!
To open up the stairway, they removed the front railing and topped the low wall with beautiful old strips of Balinese carving. And on the mezzanine, they ripped out more built-in cabinetry. Sensibly, they’re taking their time deciding what to do with the rest of the house; it’s a work in progress.
Phase Two – The kitchen
Assuming that it’s big enough to congregate in, you know you’ve got your kitchen right when your guests want to hang out there all night. “We had a houseful of family here for Christmas,” says Malinda, “and we couldn’t get them out of the kitchen.”
Roy and I sit around the central island one evening with her and Bas, picking on olives and cheese; happily, the two EuroAce wine-fridges concealed in the island are within easy reach. The stunning LED chandelier is great for ambience, we agree; but when you’re chopping biltong (traditional South African dried meat), you’d better turn on the recessed ceiling lights!
White kitchen cupboards, diamond-flecked black granite tops and slate-grey floor tiles create a monochromatic effect; we love the stackable cast aluminium bar stools – some black, others white. All the appliances are Bosch.
A kitchen wall is the perfect spot for a pair of old, ornately carved Balinese doors – a good thing, Malinda laughs, as it was the only available wall left in the house. Another wall serves as the backing for an open shelving unit that holds her everyday crockery; she hates having to open cupboards to get at her plates.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of cabinets with doors, all fitted with Blum hinges and other hardware. Playing with the lift-and-tilt door mechanism is more fun than one might expect, especially after a few glasses of house-warming Champagne. Bas was so involved in the kitchen renovation that the Cloud Nine work team jokingly called him their on-site supervisor; and it was he who installed the LED lighting strips under the cabinets.
Malinda admits they made a couple of mistakes. For one thing, the extractor fan is a bit high, so her tall and gorgeous husband knocks his head on its sharp corners. The central island’s top could have projected further out from its base, too; happily, that can be remedied.
To the rear of the kitchen is a barbecue area that they’ve covered with clip-together decking, a composite of palm wood and plastic. It’s been only partially successful, they’ve found, as excessive heat and moisture cause the material to rot.
The spacious mezzanine level holds a comfy three-seater couch and a TV that stands on a rice-storage bin from Java; another huge rice-storage pot is from Sumatra.
Off this area is Bas’s utilitarian study and workshop: his desk is a recycled dining table. Right next door is Malinda’s study, featuring lovely Balinese furniture and artwork together with reminders of her 15-month posting to Tokyo in 2005: books, a kimono, temple decorations, practice kanji scrolls, five fans from a sake stall. A big chest that she bought when she first came to Singapore in 1999 holds all her files.
“This is our Japanese porn,” she says as we ascend to the third level, indicating a rather naughty illustration of three ladies at their toilette.
It’s a huge master bedroom. “We did quite a bit of work here, ripping out a walk-in closet and built-in desk and shelving. But we kept the false wall and display alcove opposite the bed because it provided sound insulation from the neighbouring property.”
An ornately carved wardrobe and a little wedding chest on wheels are from Java; so are the wayang scene and the figures of a couple. Bas bought the extremely rude illustrations from the Kama Sutra during a trip to India.
Instead of gutting the en suite bathroom as originally planned, they installed a double vanity basin unit and generally modernised the rest of it. And the smallest of the bedrooms is soon to be properly fitted out as a walk-in wardrobe.
There’s nothing to stop them adding another storey onto the house, if they like. Bas was quite keen on the idea, if only for storage; he’s the hoarder. Malinda is more in favour of throwing stuff out; she’s the purger. “I can be quite ruthless. If I haven’t worn anything for 18 months, out it goes.”
The Coastal Settlement
200 Netheravon Road
Cloud 9 Living (Cedric; customised kitchens)
4 Boon Tek Road
Al Forno (best Italian; delivers)
400 East Coast Road
Oh Deli (opposite Al Forno; excellent antipasti)
421 East Coast Road
The Thai Table
20 Jalan Pari Burong Picardy Garden
Bottles & Bottles (wine)
#B1-83 Parkway Parade
Chutney Mary (Indian food; delivers)
719 East Coast Road
Quarubar (local bar with live music)
113 Frankel Avenue
Sidewalk Tavern (good steaks and tuna salad)
924 East Coast Road
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