My neighbours Kim and Don Angelico got their home for free. All it took was vision, hard work, exquisite taste, wonderful timing and a big dollop of luck.
During the heady property market surge that peaked in 2007, the Angelicos bought two 99-year-leasehold flats in Townhouse Apartments on Cavenagh Road. For the first, a 3,000 square-footer, they paid $1.2 million and moved in after a $300,000 renovation.
The second, bought a year later and measuring 2,200 square feet, cost them $1.4 million – a higher price for a smaller area, indicating how much the market swings in the throes of a feeding frenzy. Renovating it cost $200,000, and they moved in after selling the first larger apartment at the height of the boom for a very nifty profit. Lucky indeed.
The Angelicos are old-time expats, having come to Singapore in 1985 from Montreal. Don was attracted by a job offer at the National University of Singapore, where he taught information systems for three years, moving on to a variety of positions with MNCs and local dotcom start-ups.
Their only child, Alex, 19, did all his schooling at the Overseas Family School. “He was there from kindergarten right through the 12th grade,” says Kim, “and we were very happy with the school. It was fantastic.”
He is now doing an arts degree at the University of Melbourne, majoring in creative writing – “and sleeping”, adds his mother. Almost on cue, Alex, home for the holidays, emerges from his room sleepy-eyed and hairy of chin to forage for a late breakfast.
The family is completed by two ravishing cats: a Persian named Kaname, and Ninja, who has particularly beautiful markings and is a ragdoll, a recognised breed of Siamese-Persian cross.
As one would expect for a couple that has been in Singapore for 23 years, the Angelicos have moved house a number of times. Their first home was at Holland Hill Mansions. Kim recalls that back in 1985 they were among the first tenants to move into the brand new, low-rise development – and such is Singapore’s impatience to be off with the old and on with the new that it’s already been sold en bloc and demolished to make way for a highrise condo.
“We then moved to Hilltops and The Cairnhill, both in the Cairnhill area, where we lived for about nine years. Hilltops is gone now, too,” Kim recalls. “After that, we moved to a landed property in Ang Mo Kio, so that our son could learn to ride a bike. After two years, I said ‘That’s enough!’ and we moved back into town, first to the Holland Hill area, again, and then to The Cairnhill, again, and then to Hilltops, again.
“We love to be central,” she says, admitting that they have lived in some unusual properties. “Our Hilltops apartment was 5,000 square feet and we paid just $2,400 a month for it. I would always ask for an older building, something I could renovate.”
And that’s exactly how they managed to find their new Cavenagh Road home, when they decided it was time to buy again. In their original state, never having undergone renovation, the two units at 30-year-old Townhouse Apartments were in a sorry condition – dark, dingy and frankly filthy.
Not everyone would have seen their potential, but Don and Kim did. Each apartment in turn was completely gutted, walls taken down and new ones installed, the space completely transformed. In the living areas, pale limestone underfoot reflects the abundant natural light, with warm, natural wood on the bedroom floors. Kim is not afraid of colour; in each room, a feature wall in lime, red or turquoise in contrast to its white neighbours makes a bold design statement.
Both keen cooks, Don and Kim designed the heart of their home together, and are full of praise for their contractor’s willingness and ability to realise their minutely detailed but non-professional drawings. Andrew Yim of AY Interior Design and Renovation has done almost all the work, they say, and has also completed several major projects for their friends.
Don points out the perfect alignment of the double sliding doors to the kitchen, and the excellent way an old, four-panelled antique Chinese elm screen has been installed on runners to conceal a wine cellar and other storage.
The kitchen is dominated by a big, central island – not only in terms of size, but because it unusually features a vibrant Vietnamese painting topped with a thick layer of glass.
“We put granite tops into the kitchen of the first apartment,” explains Kim, “but I found they showed up marks too easily, so this time we decided to go for tempered glass. One morning, just a couple of weeks before our move-in date, I woke up and thought how cool it would be to have a big, bright painting to look at while I was cooking.
“The contractors were nearly finished work and time was tight. Don said, ‘Do you really think you’re going to find the right painting in one day?’ But we went to Holland Village and found this one, which wasn’t too expensive, that very day at Framing Angie. It ties in with the red of the kitchen walls and the green of the lounge, and has all the colours I love most.”
The deep red walls are unusual for a kitchen, but work beautifully, especially as the background for a gorgeous repro-duction of a famous Chinese painting. A Singaporean friend commissioned it for them as a house-warming gift from a student of the original Shanghainese artist.
Blue storage jars on top of the cupboards are from the famous karanguni (rag-and-bone) man Keng, whose sign wittily proclaims: “We Buy Junk and Sell Antiques”. In the adjacent dining area is a sketch of his River Valley Road shop. Models of the Terracotta Warriors of Xian complete the Chinese theme.
The kitchen has an amazing 50 drawers, says Kim, “and they are all full!” She pulls out a couple to reveal sets of beautiful crockery for the Japanese cuisine she is fond of preparing. The couple are great entertainers, and their new home is perfect for parties.
The dining table, the lamp above it and the striking green chair – which is incredibly comfortable – are by Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue, and were bought from Rustic Empire in Park Mall. The lovely painted Chinese sideboard was a present from Don to Kim a couple of Christmases ago, and purchased from Anne Lockett (The China Collection).
The antique bronze Buddha statue was bought from a Watten Estate antique shop more than 20 years ago, says Don, who adds that it is “seriously rare – you hardly ever see them with bases of that shape.”A big painting of gigantic red poppies was purchased last summer in Ottawa. Says Kim: “It was too big to move as it was, and I had to convince them that it was all right to take it off its frame.
A handy lintel is ideal for displaying a collection of prints collected by the Angelicos on their travels, as well as a row of original paintings of bowls by Kim herself, which feature on the greeting cards she makes. Another series of her paintings, acrylics of slender flower stems, takes you up the stairs to the bedrooms on the uppermost of the apartment’s three levels.
At the top of the stairs is another big Vietnamese painting, a retirement gift to Don from his colleagues purchased from D’Artist Gallery in Holland Village. “I’ve been using D’Artist Gallery for all my framing, for many years,” Kim remarks. “In fact, it was they who sold my first paintings for me.”
On the turquoise feature wall behind the master bed is a composition of eight framed woodblock prints, acquired during various visits to Japan, and a gorgeous red-and-gold-on-black embroidered obi is displayed on a simple floor-stand. A serpentine dragon in red adorns the black bedcover, and Kim explains that two more obis were used to cover the box frame of the bed.
Her award-winning brush paintings – one depicting a pair of ducks, the other a pair of graceful catfish – complete the scene.
Downstairs, Alex’s bedroom is an equally strong evocation of Japan. But whereas his parents’ room is traditional Japanese, Alex is into the Japanese art form of anime. Posters cover the walls, and anime DVDs and figurines are neatly displayed on shelves. An unobtrusive pullout sofa bed is handy for accommodating (the many) friends who sleep over.
Art and Business
Within their first year here, Kim took up painting. Her Chinese brush paintings, two of which hang in the master bedroom, won awards in the late 1980s at UOB-sponsored multi-category art competitions and have been displayed at the National Art Museum.
About the time son Alex was born, she started painting pictures on children’s furniture, mainly teddy bears and Disney characters, for which she had to obtain a licence from Disney. She sold this furniture at various fairs. “At the start there was only one fair,” she recalls. “I think it was the Fancy Fayre, which still operates from the Orchard Parade Hotel.”
In 2000, finding the furniture inventory awkward and bulky to handle, Kim moved on to painting teddy bears with blue and white porcelain, using watercolours. From this, the highly successful Paw Marx greeting cards business evolved. How does an original painting become a greeting card? Kim explains that she paints the pictures in either acrylic or watercolours, scans them and sends them to the printer to be reproduced on cards, mainly blank ones, but also birthday and thank-you cards
“I use Olympia Printers,” says Kim. “They do an excellent job, and they’re so accommodating, bringing the proofs to me rather than expecting me to go to them.”
Her cards are sold at stores such as Tang’s on Orchard and in VivoCity, Harris Bookshops, Discover Singapore (Changi Terminal 2), the American Club shop, Tango Mango at Tanglin Mall, Lim’s in Holland Village and Times Bookshops.
Paw Marx is a full-time job for Kim, and Don has recently come on board to develop the business. “We need to expand both within and outside of Singapore,” he says.
“We’ve already had success in China and Taiwan, but the distribution has been erratic.” With Don managing relationships with distributors abroad, the sky, they hope, is the limit.
It’s been good talking to my neighbours, and the coffee from their new, built-in espresso machine is excellent. But I fear that talking about the renovation process may have sparked some restlessness in Kim. She turns to Don and says: “It was fun doing it all, wasn’t it? Maybe we should do another one!” His brow furrows a bit, but the look in his eye tells me it might not be completely out of the question.
• AY Interior Design and Renovation
Andrew, 9456 4430
• Painter’s Multicolor Centre
Jason, 9815 5518
• D’Artist Gallery
Jasmine, 9795 7721
• The China Collection
Anne, 9787 8556
• Rustic Empire
Amy, 9784 7413
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