Little did Indian expat Chitra Saghal think that both of her children would come back to work in Singapore after completing their university studies in the US – though she’s delighted that they did. So it’s lucky that, when she remodelled her spacious Leonie Gardens apartment five years ago, she opened up and extended the living area to provide three distinct seating areas, connected yet separate.
Roots and Careers
It’s been a long time since Chitra and her husband Raghav left their hometown of New Delhi. The two met and married in Washington, DC, had their children Dhruv (now 26) and Nikita (24) during the five years they lived there, then relocated to Singapore.
“We thought Singapore would be a ‘soft landing’ in Asia, and that we’d spend just a couple of years here before returning to India,” Chitra remembers. That was 22 years ago, and here they are still.
After completing their schooling at the Singapore American School and then attending college in the US, both son and daughter have returned to forge careers in Singapore. Dhruv is an entrepreneur; newly graduated Nikita has started working for a start-up company involved with environmentally sustainable lifestyle products.
“It’s wonderful to have them here,” says their mother, “though I never expected it. It helps that the Asian markets are so vibrant at the moment.”
Chitra has an executive search company – Telesource Executive Search, focused on the telecommunications industry throughout Asia Pacific – which she started up with a friend 16 years ago. It must have been quite a leap from her degree in textile design and experience in the garment industry, but they saw a gap in the booming telecoms sector and decided to fill it.
Part of the reason for wanting to start something of her own was that Raghav – who now works for a software company that’s based in Israel – had one of those regional jobs that demand a lot of travel. Chitra wanted to have more control over her time, so as to be there for the kids after school.
After living in Leedon Heights (since demolished) in Holland Road for a couple of years, the Saghals bought an apartment in Horizon Towers East, Leonie Hill Road, where they lived for almost 15 years. Leonie Gardens was just a stone’s throw away; what sparked the move?
“We wanted something bigger that had a balcony. And I wanted to be in the city, with easy access to amenities. My office is in the International Building, next to the Thai Embassy in Orchard Road; and we’re often at the American Club, where we are members.
“I’ve always lived centrally – whether in India or the US – and we’ve been in this area now for 21 years. It suits me.”
“We gutted the place from the ceiling to the ground,” Chitra remembers, “breaking down quite a few walls to open up the space.”
Demolishing a wall between the dining area and what was a bedroom beyond it has given them the bonus of an additional family room. It also means that one whole side of the apartment is living area, and that all the bedrooms are conveniently grouped together on the other side.
At the time of my visit, Nikita has just arrived home from Delhi with a close friend, and the two young women are sharing a pot of tea on the sofa. With rustic chick-blinds against the windows screening a view of bamboo outside, it’s a cosy spot for reading or chatting.
As an extension of the kitchen, Chitra created an open bar area where the family spends a lot of time, she says; it’s the perfect hub for parties, too. Though Chitra loves entertaining and cooking for parties, she tells me that it’s usually the family’s helper Namrata, even now busy in the kitchen, who generally cooks the evening meals. I like the glass panels above the kitchen counters: they serve as an excellent surface for writing up shopping lists, menu plans and so on.
The spacious patio looks out over the greenery of the Overseas Family School onto Orchard; you can see ION Orchard quite clearly.
“A patio is important to us, so we remodelled the existing one with built-in concrete seating and water features, and also removed the upper part of the wall to increased the height of the glass doors onto it. It was so nice for the first year to have an unobstructed view, but then they started construction opposite us. That can’t be helped, of course.”
Having designed the space to meet her needs, Chitra tells me she is very happy here. Except, perhaps, for one little thing: “Perhaps I should have included more storage space.”
This is a Hindu household, but subtly so and in a strikingly contemporary way. Even before you go in, you’re greeted by Indian artwork flanking the doorway; and at your feet, on either side of the doorsill, are embedded the little yellow-gold footprints of the Hindu goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. As you step into the entrance hall, a casual collage of assorted Indian artwork adds personality to a white wall.
A guest powder room features an attractive stone sink from Bali; similar bathroom accessories and rustic stonework are featured in the ensuite to the master bedroom.
The dining suite and the couches in the main living area are from XTRA at Park Mall; the console table behind the sofa and the contemporary wood-and-chrome coffee table are from Asiatique, in Dempsey.
Striking marble and granite tiling is to be found throughout the living areas, while the bedrooms retain their original wooden floors. The carpets have all been collected in India over the years: Chitra visits her parents in New Delhi as often as she can, she tells me.
With a fair amount of experience in renovation and interior décor, including the recent acquisition of a villa in Goa, Chitra knew what she wanted to achieve here, and architect Sarah Tham helped her to do it. The main and guest bedrooms, for example, feature simple built-in beds with matching drawer and cupboard space, all in clean lines and with Indian cotton bedding in fresh, natural colours.
Chitra is a huge fan of Indian homeware brand Good Earth, and often shops at the New Delhi store. Examples include two beautifully decorated little silk cushions on a curved bench below an artwork by Karma, between the main living room and the dining table. Here in Singapore, of course, The Shophouse brings in certain Good Earth ranges for sale in its stores.
She’s had to work hard at restraining herself to achieve and maintain this open, spacious and uncluttered look, admits Chitra. With her passion for interior décor, and loving furniture, textiles and shopping as much as she does, it’s been particularly difficult.
Still, she says, her home is a work in progress. “I need to do much more with it, but I don’t find the time.”
Holly Interiors and M&L Furnishings for blinds
XTRA at Park Mall for furniture
Artichoke at Sculpture Square (Middle Road) for dinner
Boomarang at Robertson Quay for weekend breakfast or brunch, and the Tuesday evening quiz night
Architect Sarah Tham, of Cube Associates
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