As the co-owner of White and Black Trading, JUSTINNA PANK has proven herself a savvy business woman. As it turns out, the queen of Micro scooters also has a knack for feathering the nest.
When Justinna Pank and her husband first arrived from London in 2007, they spent two years on Chancery Lane with two little kids, but it all felt very temporary. They didn’t have a car and their house didn’t really feel like family living. After realising how convenient Singapore is, Justinna decided she wanted to move further out. The real estate agent took her to see a house on a hill in Siglap that he’d always loved.
“I remember driving out here on the PIE; I kept asking how many more exits it would be. It felt like we were driving forever, but when I walked in the front door, I knew I’d found my home.” They’ve been living in what used to be the Siglap Kampong ever since, almost ten years now, and have come to think of their 1950s home that was once used as a local doctor’s surgery as a sort of retreat. “Living here provides me with a slight sort of freedom, away from it all. At night, you can hear the fog horns from the ships and we get a really nice coastal breeze because we’re on a hill. And we have wild civet cats walking around, which I just love. This is my escape.”
A House Becomes a Home
Justinna went about putting her own stamp on the 50s throwback. “The dog came. Another child came. Furnishings came. Bit by bit, Singapore became my home.”
Not only is the house a getaway from the hustle and bustle of central Singapore, but it’s also been a great palette for Justinna’s passion: decorating with colour. “I look at shapes. If I like the shape of something, I’ll buy it and just paint it the colour I want.”
And what colours she has: pink and orange dining chairs, a hot pink bench, a purple sitting chair, a turquoise cabinet – the list is as varied as a colour wheel itself. “When it comes to choosing colours, you can’t believe the colour charts. You have to try and see how it works. And yes, there have been a few mistakes along the way,” Justinna laughs. “But then I just paint them again.” She recommends acrylic paints for Singapore.
Justinna is also a big fan of reupholstering items to make them more contemporary. “It may not be the most economical choice, but some items have sentimental value so I figure out a way to make them work.” Her go-to for reupholstering is Joo Chiat Sofa & Cushion. But there are a couple of items she’s never touched. One is an old Peranakan cabinet in a pale green she picked up from a local vintage shophouse, which has since closed. “I haven’t done anything to it and I just love the imperfections.” The other piece belongs with the house: a vintage, screened Chinese food safe that sits proudly in the kitchen, like an old friend, complete with saucers for the feet. The saucers used to be filled with water to keep ants from crawling up the legs to get the food. Clever, eh? Relatives of the Chinese owners who built the house long ago still own the property. From time to time, the owner visits and they catch up over tea and she recounts snippets about living there in the past. And she fondly checks out the old food safe every time.
If those walls could talk… even Justinna has repurposed the rooms several times. As her children have grown over the years, she’s reinvented the rooms to fit her needs at the time.
“One mistake newbies make is to shop for large pieces on vacation and then ship, which is expensive and you have to pay added taxes on imported items. I pick up smaller items when I travel and buy the bigger pieces locally.”
Justinna finds items all over Singapore, but she warns that it can be hard to tell the difference between true antiques and reproductions. Some places say their items are made from old reclaimed wood just to make a sale. Emperor’s Attic (formerly FairPrice Antiques) is a favourite of hers for old items as she trusts the source. The end tables she got there go nicely with the bed she bought from another expat and painted white for her daughter.
She’s also had several larger pieces made, such as her dining table. “We went to Woody Antique House in Dempsey and they had an old door, but we wanted something bigger. The Woody’s team found it for us and made it into our dining table, which we just love. I especially love the legs with their old English flare.” Her four-poster teak bed was made by The Shophouse. Over it hangs a piece of art she picked up in Myanmar, painted on material.
Justinna also chooses very bright colours for her art, sourced from several vendors including Hanoi Art (a big Buddha), REDSEA Gallery (the painting in the entry to the home) and Ketna Patel (several acrylics).
She has also done amazing things with the garden, planting a fruit and vegetable orchard that the children really loved as they each grew some special plants such as chillies, papayas and pineapples. There are also three large rambutan trees. “The garden gave the children something to make the house feel even more like a home.” A frangipani tree, grown from just a cutting, now shades the terrace.
People often think Asian furniture only looks good in Singapore, so they often worry about investing too much. Justinna, however, believes that items from this part of the world look fabulous back in the UK or wherever you live – the art is in the mixing of things you buy here with other items from elsewhere. Believe it or not, she isn’t as much worried about moving her Asian-style furniture home one day as much as she is about the colourful items. “I would love to bring all this colour back to London one day, but it just wouldn’t fit into our place there.”
In truth, Justinna has come to think of Singapore as home. “I stopped calling London home a long time ago. Home is where you make it. Family is the heartbeat, isn’t it?” And, for Justinna, her heart is in an old house in Siglap.
Emperor’s Attic(antiques) emperorsattic.com
Hacienda Blue (bone-inlay table) haciendablue.com
Hanoi Art Gallery hanoi-artgallery.com
Joo Chiat Sofa & Cushion 275 Joo Chiat Road
Ketna Patel (acrylic art) ketnapatel.com
The Shophouse (fourposter bespoke bed) theshophouse.com
REDSEA Gallery redseagallery.com
Woody Antique House (bespoke dining table) woodyantique.com
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!
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This article first appeared in the January 2019 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!