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Showcase: Look inside this stunning Joo Chiat shophouse, Singapore

Getting a little lost on the way to Luke and Lydia’s house, I disturb two of their neighbours, one of whom I suspect may have been having an early afternoon snooze. Far from being annoyed, they are as helpful and friendly as can be – a testament to the community spirit at Lotus – and usher me to number 91 where the Janssens live with their daughter Lucia (3), son Leo (1) and helper Julieta. Lucia needs a nap, so I try to make this chat a quick one, but it soon becomes apparent that that won’t be happening.

Discussing the Janssen’s background is like taking a dizzying tour of the globe.Luke is the son of a Dutch-Irish father and an English mother, and Lydia has a Portuguese mother and an Irish-American dad. Lydia grew up on the East Coast of the US, spent a year in Portugal as a young girl, and then lived in New York City for 17 years. Luke is a perennial expat; his family followed his father’s job in the airline industry, taking them to a different country every three months from when Luke was 18 months, before longer stints in Liberia, Oman, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Sydney and then New York. As we walk around the house I’m shown art, memorabilia and furniture from Japan, Bali, Mexico, Zambia, Argentina, Kashmir and Portugal. This is truly an international family.

They met in a Brooklyn reggae salsa club, where Lydia (a professional painter and former modern dancer) and Luke (a musician, championship whistler and CEO of personal media technology company Tigerspike) locked eyes, danced and consequently fell in love. “It was bam for me; it wasn’t bam straight away for Lydia,” Luke explains. “He chased me like I’ve never been chased before, to the point that my friends were questioning whether it was for the visa,” jokes Lydia.

By this time Luke was already CEO of Tigerspike, which he set up in Sydney with (now neighbour) Oliver in 2003 and has since been listed in Deloitte’s Fast 50 for six years running and in Forbes’ Top 100 Companies to Watch. But neither he, nor his business partner, fit into the tech geek mould.

Following Luke’s work, the Janssens moved to Singapore in January 2012, and when Lydia walked into 91 Lotus she knew it was “the one”. “Our agent heard we’d come from New York and assumed we wanted to be in a shiny high-rise, so that’s all we saw, one after the other. In the end I thought ‘this can’t be Asia’, and put it out there that we wanted to be near locals,” Lydia says.

The art of dance and music

A walk through Luke and Lydia’s home gives a truly kaleidoscopic view of their lives. “Our style is driven by our individual aesthetics: my art and the things that inspire that journey, Luke’s music and our travels. Our house is filled with my paintings, Lucia’s paintings, dozens of photographs of our family and friends and artefacts given to us by loved ones,” says Lydia.

Galleries of photos adorn the walls, and it’s impossible to miss Lydia’s own large abstract canvases in most of the rooms. Her history as a dancer and the injuries she sustained are integral to the nature of her painting. Her professional dance career ended following several injuries, which resulted in her kneecaps dislocating. At the age of 24 she realised she could no longer earn a living as a dancer, and started to paint professionally. “I was surrounded by people who supported and inspired me, and by 2006 I was able to live off my art sales.”

But now, as the mother of two children, she finds the ability to zone into her painting more “interesting”. “If I try to paint at home, and get just a whiff of my babies, I can’t work.” Hence their investment in an art studio on Joo Chiat Road, where Lydia can go to paint and Luke can spend time binding books – a skill he learnt here when looking into buying a leather-bound book for his song writing. “One of the reasons I married her was that I love to watch her paint,” says Luke.

Another nod to Lydia’s artistic background are the two partially painted walls with black chalkboard paint, one in the living space downstairs and one in the children’s area upstairs. “The kids are only allowed to draw on those walls, and so far they’ve created mini-masterpieces,” says Lydia. “I’m often torn between being an artist and being a mother. The artist in me wants the kids to have free artistic rein, while the mother in me knows I’ll have to clean it all up!”

One of Luke’s passions is music; in the music corner downstairs are his baby grand piano and guitars. His mother was a music teacher and, as a student at United World College in Singapore from 1990 to 1994, he played in the school band, performing to crowds of up to 2,000 people. “I now have a bash at the piano once or twice a week, and the neighbours say they like hearing it,” he says.

But his musical talents don’t end there. As a child he discovered he could whistle in a unique style and with far more skill than the average Joe. Encouraged by a friend, he entered and won a whistling contest in Sydney. He then claimed first prize at the International Whistlers Convention in North Carolina in 2009, a poster for which hangs amongst the children’s playthings on the second floor landing. Entering the competition again in 2011 he claimed third place, and is determined to regain his crown in the near future.

Luke and Lydia are both content with their Joo Chiat shophouse. “We have the best of both worlds with the communal pool, playground and gym; it’s like living in a traditional shophouse within a mini-resort. One of our neighbours says it’s like the Melrose Place of the East Coast. The great thing is its community feel; at any one time there are five to ten kids just running around outside and popping in and out of each other’s houses. We love that communal living aspect,” Lydia says.

 

Lotus at Joo Chiat: A Brief History

The complex of 18 two-storey shophouses at 11 Everitt Road (at the corner of Joo Chiat Place) underwent a complete restoration and refurbishment in the late 1990s, including the construction of a new four-storey block with 32 apartments and private communal facilities such as a swimming pool, playground and mini-kopitiam. The 1930s shophouses reflect the Peranakan heritage and are now an integral part of the conservation trail in the heart of Katong. lotus-sanctuary.com.sg

 

Lydia and Luke’s Recommendations
Art

Lydia Janssen

lydiademelojanssen.com

 

Straits Commercial Art Co.

North Bridge Centre

420 North Bridge Road

6338 1710

 

Gillman Barracks

9 Lock Road

gillmanbarracks.com

 

Goodman Arts Centre

90 Goodman Road

6342 5790 | goodmanartscentre.sg

 

artvark.com.sg

(Online portal for art community)

 

East Coast Food

Relational Goods

29 Everitt Road

6440 4282 | facebook.com/RelationalGoods

 

Fei Fei Wanton Mee

62 Joo Chiat Place

 

Rabbit Carrot Gun

49 East Coast Road

6348 8568 | rabbit-carrot-gun.com

 

Madeleine’s Original Portuguese Egg Tart & Puff

198 Tanjong Katong Road

 

Food and Drinks Further Afield

Lucha Loco

15 Duxton Hill

6226 3938 | luchaloco.com

 

Blu Jaz Café

1 Bali Lane

6292 3800 | blujaz.net

 

Breeze Bar at the Scarlet Hotel

33 Erskine Road

6511 3333 | thescarlethotel.com

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