Australian Donna McWilliams is the type of friend that every expat hopes to find – friendly, kind and happy to share the wealth of knowledge that she has acquired through 13 years of living in Singapore. During her latest move, she revealed that even an expat veteran like herself faces an uphill battle when searching for a new home. Luckily, this story has a happy ending.
Having lived in six different locations in Singapore since 1997, Donna McWilliams says she had finally found the “perfect home” for her family in the penthouse of Leonie Condotel. After three years there, persistent talk of the building being sold en bloc and skyrocketing rental rates convinced her to seek more stable grounds elsewhere.
When asked how many places she visited before finding her latest home, she winces. “Honest truth? About 30. We had two days left before we had to move, when I found this condo.”
“This condo” is a four-bedroom, six-bathroom beauty at Beverly Hill condominium on Grange Road, a stone’s throw from Tanglin Mall.
“After I saw it, I immediately made an offer. I love the Orchard area. Beverly Hill is older, but very well maintained. The grounds are beautiful, and the playground makes it kid-friendly,” says Donna. “Even the security guards are the nicest that I have ever encountered.”
When I inquire as to her favourite aspect of the house, she pauses and motions to me, “Come here – I’ll show you.” I follow her into the large, octagon-shaped master bedroom. She kneels down beneath the bedroom windows and pushes the sheer curtains aside, revealing a series of secret compartments in the walls. “Storage”, she exclaims, before unveiling other covert cubbyholes stashed throughout her home. “This condo has hidden closets and storage spaces all over!”
Tiffany Blue and Homework, Too
The main living areas of the condo are open and interconnected, yet Donna wanted to create distinct rooms in order to evoke a “homey feel”. With the help of elevated landings and specially designed furniture, each of the living room, dining room, family room and children’s play area has defined borders. Four beautifully ornate ceiling cornices – a major selling point as they reminded Donna of her century-old home back in Australia – crown each space.
With assistance from Wendy Smith of Design Intervention, Donna created a regal chocolate and Tiffany blue interior. “Wendy is fantastic. We went shopping together so that she could get an idea of what I liked.”
Design Intervention made the couches, chairs, chaise lounge and cushions. The coffee table was purchased from Barossa, and the candles and lamps are from Vanilla Home.
A quick call from “Nana” back in Perth gives me the chance to take a closer look at the three large items of furniture in the dining room from Pagoda House. Shunning an old-fashioned china closet, Donna showcases her stemware and crystal in a large, glassless cabinet. A neighbouring piece contains Christmas china protected behind attractive wire meshing, which I later learn has withstood the force of handstands from Donna’s two daughters, eight-year-old Amy and six-year-old Erin.
Donna bought the large, backless bookcase that separates the living room from the playroom because “it holds our belongings but doesn’t close off the space between the rooms.” Designed by Wendy, this bookshelf and the kitchen table can be dismantled into separate pieces to make them easier to move.
Both girls attend Tanglin Trust School (which Donna calls “Amazing! Can’t say a bad word about it!”) and enjoy tennis, netball and practising their French. Amy takes piano lessons, and Erin is a budding ballerina. With such a busy schedule, is there any time left for Mum?
Apparently so. The former dental nurse informs me that she recently completed the 2010 Ironman in Busselton, Australia.
“I used to be overweight. A friend of mine was competing in triathlons, and I thought ‘I can do that’ even though at the time I didn’t even put my face under water in the shower! I borrowed a bike, started jogging and hired my kids’ swimming coach to teach me to swim. When I started, I couldn’t even swim one length of the pool. Now – 20 triathlons later – swimming is my strongest leg.”
Unable to picture her any different than the physically fit stunner before me, I ask if the weather ever interferes with her training, and she says, “No, but sometimes my babies do.” I learn that Donna is a volunteer foster mum with Sanctuary House, an organisation that places infants into loving homes while adoptions are being finalised.
“I’ve looked after nine babies in all, including a set of twins. The sleepless nights are hard, but I just love babies, as do my daughters. Even though these children will never remember me, I feel like I am giving them the best start in life that I can – just like I gave my girls.”
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