We go inside the impressive 200-square-metre Siglap house of PAVLA SCHNEUWLY, just before she, her family and her helper Jilyn head off to live in Dubai. She talks to us about leaving Singapore and her recommendations for living here!
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey up to Singapore.
I met my Swiss/French husband Alain almost 30 years ago in Prague and a year later joined him in Singapore where I enrolled in intensive Mandarin classes at NUS. In 1995, we moved to Hong Kong and witnessed the unforgettable handover of power from the British to the Chinese. During our time there, I spent six months perfecting my Mandarin, in Tianjin in mainland China.
The Asian economic downturn in 1998 brought us from our beloved Asia back to Europe (Cannes in France and then Prague in the Czech Republic) where our sons were born. We always knew that we would one day return to Asia, and in summer 2010 we were back in Singapore and remained here.
Alain is a management consultant. I’m a Heritage Guide working for the best travel company in town – Jane’s Tours, run by my friend Jane Iyer. I started my guiding career as a FOM (Friends of the Museums) Docent, and a volunteer guide at NMS (National Museum of Singapore) and MHC (Malay Heritage Centre). Later, I became an accredited tour guide in English, French and Czech.
We have two sons: Victor is studying Product Design in Nottingham in the UK, and Prokop is in Grade 10 at UWCSEA East.
What kind of property were you looking for when you arrived? What were your non-negotiables?
Our first priority was to find a place near the children’s school. After five years living in a condominium, we were ready for a house! To be closer to the UWCSEA East community, we were looking for a property near the East Coast. When I visited our new home, I knew from first sight that I’d found a little jewel, an oasis for my family.
We love your Siglap house! Tell us more about the property. What was it that sealed the deal for you?
The location is just fabulous, in a lush green residential area near the Park Connector to the ECP. The terraced house is in a cul-de-sac, sheltered from traffic and noise. It overlooks an old school field and enjoys rare open-space vistas, surrounded by huge trees and a cacophony of tropical birds.
The row of houses belongs to the same owner who’s been smart enough to renovate the houses in a simple, tasteful manner, keeping them just two levels high. The architect implemented the layout of a typical Chinese shophouse – a long structure with an inner courtyard and air well. Each house has a small front and back garden with grownup old frangipanis, mango trees and coconut palms – a glimpse of the laidback atmosphere that made the East Coast so popular in the past.
However, what I’ve appreciated the most are my neighbours – a mix of expat and local families. We’ve been enjoying friendly “villagelike” chats, school car-pooling, inviting each other for dinner, even organising a neighbourhood potluck for an entire row of houses! Singapore can be a very transient place, so it’s been a blessing to be able to build long-lasting friendships.
And, of course, there is our garden, our little piece of paradise. Moving to the house, I’ve discovered the joy of gardening (must be the age!); especially during the lockdown, it helped me to keep my sanity. We’ll never tire of sitting on our patio, listening to the fascinating sights and sounds of the tropics: the noisy green parrots, the hummingbirds sipping nectar from the orange flame tree, the pair of doves cuddling on the branch of the frangipani, the dancing of butterflies and occasionally the impressive hornbills hopping around.
How would you define the style of your home and interior?
It’s a collection of objects that reflect our past 30 years living in different parts of the world – Singapore, Hong Kong, China, France and the Czech Republic. It’s an eclectic mix that carries strong emotional value. There’s the Indonesian kitchen cabinet, our first piece we bought in Singapore in the early 90s, and which made a tour of the world to be back here in 2010; a Chinese wedding cabinet purchased in the year of our wedding in Hong Kong in 1995; a 1920s set of chairs from a Modernist shop in Prague. Every time we move to a new place, these objects get a new life in different settings.
My husband is a passionate photographer and music lover; I love literature, architecture and history. We both enjoy travelling and discovering the world. Our interior reflects that.
What’s your favourite corner of the house and why?
I just love my patio seating, with the view of the garden. I never grow tired of the colours and sounds, the late afternoon orange light illuminating the walls. It’s magic. In the evening, it’s a perfect place to entertain, dine or just read a book.
Where do you source your furniture and décor from?
For outdoor furniture, our choice is Fermob at Soul & Tables. We like the collections with their broad colour range, and the quality is unbelievable – great for resisting the tropical climate.
The rugs and decorative accessories are from The Cinnamon Room; since I’ve discovered Visha’s showroom, it’s my go-to place! The sofa and beds are from King Living. And our latest addition is a beautiful dining table from French brand Ligne Roset.
For getting photographs printed and framed, we use Brilliant Prints and AVS. And our Hi-Fi system is Avantgarde Acoustic from Germany. If you’re a Hi-Fi lover, the old Adelphi Shopping Centre is a paradise – a must-visit. It’s been around since the late 80s.
What three items would you save in a fire (god forbid!)?
I love this question! It made me think really hard… My grandma’s jewellery; the box with my sons’ childhood memorabilia; and my beloved head statue of Jayavarman VII from Siem Reap. My husband will most likely be running out of the house with his Leica cameras around his neck, dragging boxes of negatives and slides he hasn’t had the chance to scan yet!
Favourite thing about Singapore and the region?
In pre-COVID times, my answer would be the location – it’s an excellent place to explore Southeast Asia.
How are you feeling about going to Dubai?
Dubai was a deliberate choice and we are very excited to discover new horizons! We can’t wait to explore UEA and nearby countries such as Oman, Iran and Azerbaijan. It’s well connected, and it will bring us closer to our families and friends back in Europe – especially our son Victor who is studying in Nottingham.
With more than 13 years in Singapore, it’s an important chapter of our life that’s closing. As our departure date approaches fast, we’ve been increasingly sentimental and lucid about what we love about Singapore – the ethnic and cultural diversity (including the Singlish), the food (Jumbo Seafood black pepper crab on the East Coast!), and the lush greenery.
We’re grateful for the opportunities this place has given to all of us, for the amazing people who crossed our path and with whom we became friends, and for so many countries in the region we were able to discover. But we feel that now it’s the right time to move on.
What would your advice to newcomers to Singapore be?
My favourite Malay proverb is “Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung”; it means “Hold high the sky of the land you tread on”. Behave like you are here forever, treat Singapore like your home. It’s a place that has a lot to offer. Also, hang your paintings, pictures and photographs on the walls – don’t find excuses that you are here just for couple of years. In a blink of an eye you will realise that those two to three years you’ve planned to stay have turned suddenly to five or more.
- Become a Friends of the Museums (FOM) member – it’s the best way to learn about Singapore’s history and culture through guided visits, lectures, book clubs and film clubs; you also get to meet interesting people.
- Go for an early morning or evening stroll to Alexandra Park starting from Hort Park.
- Visit Inverturret and Atbara, beautiful blackand-white houses that have been converted to Forrest Learning Centre on the hill of the Gallop Extension of the Botanic Gardens. Bring a picnic with you. Early evening is the best time for surprising city vistas.
- Sign up for a kayak trip to Pulau Ubin with Darren Goh of SneakPeek Singapore (sneakpeeksingapore.com). Escape the city and explore mangroves, spot wildlife and dig into lunch at a floating restaurant.
- Try the hot springs at Sembawang. Yes, it’s unbelievable, but there are hot vichy waters here. You can either boil eggs or your feet in the basins and meet local fans soaking for hours in inflatable tubs.
- Visit Haw Par Villa, the quirkiest place you can find in Singapore. The 10 Courts of Hell gallery is not to be missed!
- Go for a Jumbo Seafood dinner on the East Coast. We recommend the black pepper crab, drunken prawns, baby garlic kailan and seafood fried rice. And, of course, a pitcher of Tiger beer.
- Visit Bukit Brown with an accredited guide, “Bukit Brownie”. You’ll be amazed to discover one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China.
- Go for a movie at The Projector; it’s in the Golden Mile Tower, next to the Golden Mile Complex, which was recently gazetted as a conserved building.
- Read some historical fiction – The Red Thread from Dawn Farnham’s Straits Quartet series, or Singapore Sapphire from the Harriet Gordon mystery series by AM Stuart.
Things to do near Singapore (when you can).
- Spend a weekend at Sea Gypsy Resort on Pulau Sibu on the east coast of Malaysia. It’s an absolutely amazing place that has been around since the 1990s; we love Richard and Linda (“Mama Sea Gypsy”)!
- Visit Georgetown, Penang for a feel of Singapore 50 years ago.
This article first appeared in the January 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!