Professor Roger Lehman talks about a life split between two continents, and why his East Coast apartment suits him perfectly.
No one place alone is home for American psychologist Professor Roger Lehman, whose working life is split between Europe and Singapore. When he’s here, it’s a lock-up-and-go penthouse apartment in East Coast’s Mountbatten Road.
At the end of a little cul-de-sac off busy Mountbatten, Tessa Lodge is a quiet, low-rise block of only ten units. Roger and his British wife – also named Tessa, coincidentally – have one of two fifth-floor penthouses: living area downstairs, master bedroom upstairs.
While Roger talks to Paris for a promised three minutes, I wander through to find the source of the happy breeze that blows through: an open patio furnished for entertaining with built-in barbecue and two pretty water features. Overlooking a school and the playing fields beyond it makes for an unobstructed view, plus peace and quiet during the evenings and at weekends – when it counts.
“One of the reasons I installed this water feature on the patio was to block out road noise,” says Roger when he rejoins me, “but it’s been less necessary since they erected a building between us and the road.”
The apartment was only two years old and still looked brand new when they bought it in 2009; so, nothing needed doing to the kitchen and bathrooms. However, the Lehmans decided to remodel the living area to suit their needs better.
Needing only the upstairs master, they removed walls to do away with the two downstairs bedrooms, thereby doubling the interior living space. A cosy alcove, still with its original built-in wardrobe, is furnished with a sofa that serves their elder son Tim as a put-me-up bed when he pops across from his PR and communications job at a property development company in Lombok. If needed, a folding screen can be pulled out for privacy. Younger son Robert, says Roger, works in New York City.
Though he was happy with his individual contractor, Robert would rather not recommend the company; he feels they tried to cut corners. As with most things, he agrees that personal referrals are the way to go.
What brings you to Singapore?
I teach leadership and organisational psychology at INSEAD business school. I teach psychology to executives, and I am in charge of an executive Master’s degree programme called Consulting and Managing for Change, which is run at both our Singapore campus and our Fontainebleau, Paris campus. My time is split sixty-forty between there and here. Typically, when I’m here, I’m just teaching and working all the time. It works well, because teaching executives means I can set my own schedule.
Tessa is employed at the American Embassy in Frankfurt, but she manages to come out to Singapore three or four times a year. Our home there is a half-timbered 1903 house featuring what the Germans call fachwerk, which we restored to its original style from the 1950s modernisation it had been given. For Singapore, though, we wanted something new and modern and easily maintained; a place we could just lock up and leave.
Why did you decide to buy a home in Singapore?
I’d been coming here for seven years for work, and staying at INSEAD’s own hotel; but it had reached a stage where we wanted somewhere of our own. As the market was fairly low at the time of the housing crisis, and interest rates were so favourable, it wasn’t much more expensive to have a mortgage than to pay rent.
Having decided to buy, we spent seven or eight months looking. The estate agents were fantastic; what we found was that they tend to specialise in one area. One estate agent in particular gave us some very good advice: First figure out which part of Singapore you want to live in, and then decide what kind of place you would like and can afford there.
How did you choose this one?
We probably looked at 70 places – some just from the outside, and that was enough. The big condos have huge pools and good facilities, but we found them a bit anonymous; a small, friendlier development like this one appealed to us more.
Sentosa was another option, but we wanted to be part of a community and be able to walk to shops and other facilities. Parkway Parade has everything I need, with a Cold Storage supermarket in the basement, a FairPrice Finest right next door and a market next to that.
It’s just crazy how many restaurants we have within a ten-minute radius from our home. That said, we don’t eat out that much. If I’m not attending a work-related programme dinner, I generally prefer to eat at home; in fact, I plan to barbecue just for myself tonight. Also, I have an easy commute from here to the campus, which is right off the AYE motorway at Buona Vista.
What’s more, both Tessa and I are very athletic, so we just love the East Coast. It’s a ten-minute stroll over to East Coast Park, perfect for walking, running and cycling; and while the pool in our complex isn’t huge, it’s quite long enough for a decent swim. For a golf fix, I go over to Malaysia or to Bintan. Whether we’re in Europe or Singapore, we typically get up very early in the morning to do our exercise.
How did you furnish it?
Mainly during the course of one whirlwind trip to Bali, with a friend who knew just where to find things. Almost everything you see came from that three-day trip: furniture, art, statues, water features – we stuck it in a container and shipped it over.
Even the comfortable outdoor furniture set comes from one particular manufacturer who was doing an order for the Four Seasons – 5,000 units, or something! He agreed that he could make an extra one for us.
We did have the two white sofas made locally, by Just the Place. We were very pleased with their professional service and the custom sofa bed they made for the alcove.
Feeling that curtains would be too restrictive, we were very pleased with the wooden Venetian blinds that were already here; they match the wide windowsills and the wooden bedroom floors nicely.
Our carpets came from a variety of countries we have visited over the years – Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. One of the advantages of my job is that I get to travel on behalf of INSEAD, as we provide extensive education programmes all over the world.
Do you like to entertain?
Yes, we do, and the alfresco area is perfect for that. The built-in barbecue gets plenty of use. I always invite my students over for an evening, and it’s wonderful. That’s when I really appreciate having three terraces and a large living and dining area, as I can easily accommodate up to 36 people.
What are your plans?
In the short term, I’m looking forward to Tessa coming out soon to spend two weeks here with me. We’ll spend some time just enjoying the life on the East Coast, and then we’ll visit our son in Lombok and perhaps hike up the volcano.
In the longer term, we’re looking at retiring to the South of France in a few years’ time; there’s a lovely area about 20km outside of Nice, with nice hiking in the Maritime Alps and, of course, the wonderful beaches on the Mediterranean.
We’d like to keep this flat, either for ourselves or perhaps to rent out; it would be ideal for a professional couple.
30 Labrador Villa Road
Just the Place (interior design)
59 Club Street
135/137 East Coast Road
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