It’s always a treat to be invited into one of the intriguing Peranakan shophouses on Emerald Hill, rather than having to peer surreptitiously through their windows on your way past.
New Yorker Kara and her Californian husband Byron are both second-generation Americans, her parents having emigrated from Ireland and his from China. Daughter Katie (12) tells me she’s in Grade 7 at the American School.
The tall, stylish Byron is in the energy business, but his wife says that with his incredible fashion sense he should have been a designer. He certainly has a taste for the finer things in life – apart from Kara, that is – and this amazing shophouse is a testament to the couple’s passion for collecting furniture and objets d’art from around the world.
Ninety-five percent of the furniture has been acquired since they moved here from London, which is where Katie was born. An exception is the living-room sofa, some rattan chairs and the leather chair I’m sitting on – this all comes from the Andrew Martin shop in London.
“In fact,” reveals Byron, “our house is pretty much styled after his shop – ethnic, eclectic and filled with things from all around the world, including Asian Buddha sculptures, Indonesian sculptures, Burmese puppets, all types of masks. This is anything but minimalist décor!”
Though he spends more time at home nowadays, Byron has done an enormous amount of travel in the course of his career – 200,000 miles a year at one stage, he says – and he loves to shop along the way. A lot of the furniture comes from Altfields in Hong Kong, but a number of his acquisitions are from Tanglin Shopping Centre’s Tatiana, Naga Arts & Antique and Harvest Straits.
Adding vivid colour to the living room is a Tibetan “scary cabinet”, painted with dragons and skulls, which would have been set into a wall alcove to scare off bad spirits. On it stands a rare Japanese Buddha statue. Furniture should be functional as well as beautiful, says Kara, opening the painted chest on which the TV stands to show the media equipment and wires neatly stored inside it.
Humidity and mildew are a problem, they agree. You have to inspect the back of your prints for signs of incipient damage. Marcus Su of Eden Galerie makes regular house calls to check for termites and other pests.
“We love paintings that feature vibrant colours and human figures,” says Kara. The ones hanging on their walls don’t lack political power, either. I’m taken by the living-room lithograph of the last emperor of China, bought in Bangkok; matching porcelain coasters from Shanghai Tang are a nice touch. It’s by the same artist who did the portrait of Obama on the opposite wall. There are also a number of satirical poster-style works from Chinese artist Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism series, the first of which came from Sunjin Gallery in Chip Bee Gardens, others from the Opera Gallery, and two smaller ones by the same artist from a gallery in Los Angeles.
Apart from the obvious collections – furniture; tribal sculpture; paintings; books on art, interior design and more – there are umpteen other collections on the go.
A glass cabinet in the main bedroom displays just a couple of regiments of Byron’s estimated 1,000 lead soldiers; near it is a collection of carved slingshots, toys. Masks of all descriptions adorn the walls. Most striking is a series of three depicting Dutch colonists from somewhere in Southeast Asia, ghostly white with pointy noses, beady eyes and severe expressions.
Kara has assembled collections of painted betel-nut boxes, African townships paintings and a variety of birdcages and baskets. Their Globe-Trotter luggage – a chi chi handmade British line – bears a nostalgic collection of stickers from their travels all over the world. Byron bought his first piece in London 20 years ago; you can find the brand at Isetan.
“Have you ever seen such a cluttered house?” says Byron. It’s not cluttered, I demur, but it certainly is full. Do they spend weekends trawling the city for antiques? No, they don’t. “We’ve slowed down a lot – we’ve had to, because we’ve just about run out of space!”
Tatiana Primitive Art
Contact: Georgia Kan
Tanglin Shopping Centre #03-29/30
+65 6235 3560
Naga Arts & Antiques
Contact: Andy & Roz T. K. W.
Tanglin Shopping Centre #01-49
+65 6235 7084
(Will also design stands and restore antiques)
Harvest Straits Tribal and Asian Art
Contact: Kelly Ng
Tanglin Shopping Centre #03-31
+65 6836 3178
Contact: Marco Su
Chinese furniture and wood restoration
21 Lor Kilat #01-04
+65 6463 1885
Hey Gorgeous Cosmetics
Image stylist and makeup artist Moira Coops
_65 6737 4632
(For when you need a little extra help)
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!