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Showcase: Emerald Hill Shophouse

 Our infinitely gifted photographer, Bud Hayman, sent me an email saying: “You might want to feature my friends’ shophouse in the magazine, it’s gorgeous.” And so here I am, and Bud was right – it’s stunning!

Cezary Statuch and Brett Wilhoit have lived in this Emerald Hill shophouse not once, but twice.

“We first came to Singapore in 2002, but relocated to New York in 2005 and then moved to Shanghai. When we returned to Singapore in January this year, we noticed that the same shophouse was available to rent,” says Cezary.

Despite their love for the house, Brett was keen to try something different.

“We looked at several apartments but couldn’t get this much living space,” he says. “And we need a lot of space to house the furniture we have bought during our travels,” adds Cezary.

Art and Alcohol

It soon becomes clear who is responsible for the large, eclectic collection of furniture that fills the three-storey building.

“If I’m overseas and I see a piece that breaks my heart, then I have to have it. I worry later about how I’m going to get it home, and where it’s going to fit in,” says Cezary.

Brett, though slightly less impulsive, is equally passionate about interior design and tells me that nearly every piece they own has an interesting story behind it – including the striking Chinese painting in the hallway. “We were browsing through an art gallery in China when the artist began to explain his work in detail. He was surprised when at the end of his speech we told him we were only interested in purchasing the sign outside the store!”

The sign is pretty cool; a work of art in itself, and the misspelling in the text, or Chinglish, as Cezary calls it, was what drew them to it.

Furniture and objets d’art from Belgium, Vietnam, Italy, India, Burma and elsewhere are beautifully positioned around the home, but Cezary says that the final effect wasn’t intentional. “Although we have pieces in many different styles from all over the world, everything just came together. I think the house now reflects who we are,” he says. He also makes the interesting point that you rarely find a cosmopolitan city that is truly homogenous. “Businesses of all nationalities operate side by side, so why should interior design be any different?”

Recently, the guys bought and renovated a house in the Italian province of Tuscany, and while there they purchased the beautiful antique mirror that now sits on top of their Chinese altar-table bar. Cezary tells me that when the antique dealer discovered that they were using the altar table as a bar, he said: “I guess people worship different things!”


Animal Attraction

Nowhere is the eclecticism of their style better reflected than on the first floor landing, where a pair of stunning leopard-print chairs, designed by Dolce & Gabanna, flanks a Buddha statue. And it is again apparent in the huge master bedroom, where a zebra-print carpet stands out against black-stained wooden floorboards.

Their favourite area is the atrium, where they have installed a set of garden chairs and a table and some full-grown trees. “The beauty of these shophouses is that they are all slightly different. Some have koi ponds; we have an atrium,” says Cezary. He adds that when the air-conditioning is on inside, it also keeps them cool out here, but admits: “It isn’t very environmentally friendly!”

On the Hill

Cezary, a physician who works for a pharmaceutical company, is fond of the outdoors, and attributes this to his having grown up in Poland.

“I grew up surrounded by a lot of space,” he says. “Sometimes I like to sit outside on the doorstep with a cup of tea, and watch the world go by. I couldn’t do this if I lived in a condo.”

The guys chose Emerald Hill because of its proximity to the amenities on Orchard Road, but also because of their fondness for shophouse architecture. Cezary explains:

“They are one of the few uniquely Singaporean treasures left.”

For reasons unknown, however, theirs is the only house on the hill that doesn’t have frosted windows to prevent people looking in from the street.

“I guess people are curious about the houses, and we often find them peering in through the window,” sighs Cezary.

Here’s hoping that the beautiful photographs in these pages will satisfy the public’s curiosity and give Cezary and Brett a break from prying eyes!

Brett’s Recommendations

On Food
“There are many fantastic places in the Keong Saik Road area: Absinthe (48 Bukit Pasoh Road, 6222 9068) or Les Artistes Bistrot (35 Keong Saik Road, 6224 1501) for French fare; Oso (46 Bukit Pasoh Road, 6327 8378) for Italian; Majestic (31 Bukit Pasoh Road, 6511 4718) for Chinese; and Ember (50 Keong Saik Road, 6347 1928) for international. We also love Sage (7 Mohamed Sultan Road, 6333 8726), and a great new Chinese restaurant is One on the Bund (80 Collyer Quay, 6221 0004). For an otherworldly gastronomic experience we treat ourselves to Iggy’s (#03-00 The Regent Hotel, 6732 2234). While living in China, we discovered the wonderful Shanghainese dumplings called xiao long bao and go to one of the outlets of Din Tai Fung or Crystal Jade for a regular fix.”

On Shopping

“We find clothing in Singapore unnecessarily expensive compared to the US and Europe, but we do enjoy shopping on Ann Siang Road and Club Street because the shops there are quite unique. We also enjoy strolling down Haji Lane and in the Kampong Glam area, as these streets have a personality all their own. For home furnishings, there is one place that we particularly love: Christopher Noto’s Pagoda House in Tudor Court on Tanglin Road (6887 5867). This guy has a great eye for beautiful pieces. “Another secret, if you are interested in gorgeous antique or new carpets from all over Asia, is Saeid Labbafi (50 Arab Street).  We bought an amazing carpet there.”

Hair Secrets

“I shouldn’t give away all my secrets, but in my opinion the best hairstylist in Singapore is Patrick at Frontiers (123 Penang Road, 6733 0769). His precision and attention to detail is unbelievable. Now I will never be able to get an appointment again!”

Emerald Hill Timeline

1840s:  Emerald Hill is part of a nutmeg plantation owned by William Cuppage

1901: Cuppage’s daughters sell the land to a couple of local Chinese brothers, known today as the Seah brothers.

1902-1930: The Seah brothers divide up the land and build houses on it.

1981: The original, Peranakan-style houses still survive and are declared a conservation area by the Singapore government.

Today: Several of the shophouses at the bottom of Emerald Hill have been converted into bars and restaurants, popular with locals and tourists. The shophouses farther up the hill are much sought-after residences.

Shophouse Architecture

Most of the houses are built in the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) tradition, but the colonial government designed the wall that extends above the roofline to serve as a firebreak. The government also imposed a compulsory alleyway at the back of the houses to provide another firebreak.

The external spiral staircases that were built onto many of the houses were known as the “lover’s getaway”, a means of discreetly exiting the house for a secret rendezvous.

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