Adventurous duo Claus and Carol Karthe have called Singapore home for the past six years. Carol showed us around their Tembeling Road shophouse on the East Coast, and peppered the tour with lots of anecdotes about their fascinating lives.
Germans are renowned for being forthright, and it was one simple direct question from Claus that secured this couple their three-bedroom home in one of the city’s most well preserved and charming neighbourhoods.
In her attractive Filipino accent, Carol recalls the morning her husband went strolling around the quiet back lanes of Joo Chiat in search of a home.
“The front door was open and by chance the owner was on the front porch. He said to her, ‘Is this your house? I want to buy it.’ She said it was not for sale, but Claus gave her his phone number anyway. A week later she rang back and said, ‘OK, we will sell it,’ and told Claus the price. He did not even haggle, but agreed instantly.”
That was back in 2007, when the couple had recently moved from Manila and were looking for a property to buy, rather than rent. This shophouse is not a standalone property, but is integrated into the Sandalwood complex which comprises 16 two-storey shophouses and a five-storey apartment block, all of which share a pool, a gym and underground parking. It’s cleverly designed, with the facilities well hidden from the street; no wonder it won an Urban Redevelopment Authority Architectural Heritage Award in 2005.
Carol is right when she declares that, of all the houses, she has the pick of the bunch. Instead of facing a high brick wall, their front door opens onto a narrow, grassy strip that reaches through to the parallel street. This allows her to leave the front door open to take advantage of cooling draughts that flow right through the house.
Being at the end of the terrace row is another advantage. “Rather than being hemmed in and gloomy like some other terrace houses, this one has windows on one side to bring the light in,” says Carol. She likes to curl up on the sofa under a painting of a tribal woman, purchased in Burma, and feel the breeze. Light streams down through a skylight three floors above.
There were originally two indoor ponds that separated the living area from the back of the house. But prior to moving in, the couple had these covered with wooden boards. “They didn’t add anything to the room, and were difficult to clean,” explains Carol. Another change they made to the layout downstairs was to remove the wall separating the kitchen and dining area at the back of the house.
“Claus loves cooking; he finds it therapeutic. The kitchen felt claustrophobic and we couldn’t interact with guests from there, so it made sense to open it up. We also raised the floor to make it the same level as the dining area, and installed new cabinets and German appliances.” The changes have utilised the small space more effectively, and large sliding doors block out any cooking odours.
In the casual dining area is a waist-high, built-in cabinet that conceals a small bar fridge and storage for odds and ends. Carol has a lot to talk about in this room: from the animal-hide-framed mirror that evokes memories of Africa (although she actually found it in the Philippines), to the stunning pair of pendant lights that hang above the dining table. “They were designed by an old neighbour from the Philippines, who exhibits around the world. I buy pieces from him after the shows,” she explains.
The couple designed an enormous wooden table and benches, and had it custom-made to fit the room. “In the Philippines we lived in big houses, so we had to leave quite a few pieces behind, unfortunately. One of the challenges of moving to this house was getting our furniture into the tight spaces. It’s a narrow house, so our old, square dining table didn’t fit. We brought two of the eight dining chairs with us, and left the others.”
Just outside the dining room is a small, private outdoor area that is a favourite for breakfast and casual dinners. The high bar table enables them to see the comings and goings in the communal space and pool area, and host impromptu gatherings with the tight-knit community.
Carol says she’s contemplating adding more Peranakan touches to the house to give it a stronger heritage feel. Through her volunteer work with Friends of the Museums and her contacts at the Peranakan Museum, she found a boutique tile shop in Tiong Bahru, called Rice. She chose a gorgeous black-and-white pattern and had the tiles laid in a small section of the floor and stairs that lead to the laundry and car park downstairs.
Carol gives private swimming lessons, and is an avid sailor and surfer who cites Siargao Island and Puraran Bay, both in the Philippines, as her favourite surf locations. It was their shared love of sailing that brought her and Claus together in 2006. Carol was competing in the Philippine Hobie Challenge, near Luzon Island. At the same time and place, Claus was on a stopover to repair damaged sailboats with the fleet of the round-the-world Clipper Race. After such a fortuitous meeting, and many years and adventures together, they recently married in this home.
It’s a shame Claus is not at home the day Expat Living visited because he clearly has lots of stories to tell, including how he sailed around the world; a remarkable achievement. He is also a pioneer in the telecommunications industry, arriving in the Philippines in 1993 when mobile phones were as big and heavy as bricks and the landscape was yet to be dotted with those ubiquitous towers.
The pair have travelled extensively around the globe and, this past Christmas, journeyed to the Golden Triangle as members of the Land Rover Owners Club. “We travelled via Penang, Krabi, Hua Hin and Ayutthaya, and it was hitch-free until Chiang Mai. There, unfortunately, our car was rammed by an intoxicated driver while we were visiting the Night Market,” recounts Carol. “After much negotiation with the local police, problems with translation, and calls to the Singaporean Embassy, we had the car towed back. The ensuing paperwork required to return it through three countries was a headache. Next time, we will rent a car!”
Home, Sweet Home
The 3,600-square-foot property has three bedrooms, two of which are on the second floor. The all-white master bedroom is light, bright and serene, due to its high ceiling and large windows. It’s in complete contrast to the colourful, eclectic mix of furniture downstairs. “I wanted simple white walls so that I feel peaceful when I wake up,” says Carol.
Last year they renovated the master bathroom, removing a gigantic, rarely used bathtub to create a double shower with enormous showerheads and a small seat. It’s ideal for a long shower accompanied by a couple of glasses of Champagne.
Between the master bedroom and study is a light-well and a small open landing with a spiral staircase that rises to a roof terrace. The large, partially covered space seems ideal for entertaining, but Carol admits the two flights of stairs have put them off lugging food and crockery up.
Sailing references and trophies dot the walls and line the shelves of the study, which they also use as a guest room for their frequent visitors. Carol tells me she enjoys sailing Hobie-cats, and mentions that she and Claus have made many friends at sailing championships across the globe.
Though their many adventures take them out of Singapore, Carol says they’ve become very settled here and plan to stay for a while.
|Where is Tembeling Road?
In the labyrinth of streets in the East Coast area known as Joo Chiat, Tembeling Road is known for its shophouses. Thankfully conservation orders have preserved those that remain and many have been redeveloped under strict URA guidelines. While the original façades have been maintained, the interiors can vary tremendously, from traditional to modern. A stroll past the colourful shophouses along Koon Seng Road, particularly, is a must.
In Joo Chiat’s melting pot of cultures, the Peranakan influence is dominant. You won’t go hungry; there are hundreds of food options in the area, including a number of Vietnamese restaurants that have sprung up. Relaunched about a year ago, the large I12 Katong mall satisfies those seeking a shopping centre fix, but there are lots of small shops to explore in the area, too.
Rice (for tiles and marble)
213 Henderson Road #01-03
6692 1199 | rice-fields.com
Kitchen Culture (kitchen design and installation)
2 Leng Kee Road
6741 6776 | kitchenculture.com
Lotto Carpets Gallery
Block 26, #01-04 Dempsey Road
6476 8784 | lottocarpets.com
Flutterkick Swim Co. (swimming classes for all levels)
9337 7504 | www.facebook.com/flutterkick
Look It’s About Me (personalised storybooks and gifts)
9729 6852 | lookitsaboutme.com
The Stand Up Paddling School (for lessons and board hire)
Tanjong Beach, Sentosa
The Bread Project (for artisanal baguettes, croissants and more)
174 Joo Chiat Road
Yoga with Agnes (French yoga teacher)
9678 1733 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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