Originally from Sydney, Nina and David Beale have been living in Singapore for nine years after a five year stint in London. The Aussie expat family moved into this beautiful Alexandra Park black-and-white house in 2015, with their two daughters, India and Poppy. We explore the home and talk to Nina about moving and expat life in general.
Where was your first home in Singapore?
We were initially off Jervois Road, in a Spanish-style bungalow. It had a great outdoor area, and it was perfect for entertaining with young children.
Why the move to Alexandra Park?
We spent a lot of time here at Evolve Arts Studio and our friends also live in the park. One day we discovered that the family living here were leaving and had to break their corporate lease. We put an offer in and got it; luckily there was no tender. We had always wanted to have a quintessential colonial living experience in Singapore and it happened to coincide with the girls getting older, and so the dynamics of the household were also evolving.
We entertain at home a lot and we work from here too, so making sure it was the right space for us was key. There’s a large open-plan living room downstairs, along with a kitchen and outdoor patio. Upstairs is an open living area that is primarily used as the girls’ “hangout”. And then there’s the master bedroom with a study where I work from. There are three bedrooms all containing bespoke bookcases and wardrobes, plus a second set of stairs at the back of the bedrooms that leads to the kitchen and a spare bedroom.
Are you happy with Singapore?
We live a very safe and convenient life here in Singapore, with lots of opportunity to travel. The children attend Dulwich College, which is a wonderful school environment. Everyone is happy, so we feel lucky to be here. The children are at an age when many people leave, but we feel “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. My philosophy is that home is wherever the family is together; it doesn’t matter if you’re here for one year or ten, your home is a very important space, and a reflection of your family dynamics and style, so make it your space. Whatever country you’re in, let that be your home, and don’t sit and wait for the next move.
Where do you like to travel on holidays?
I don’t feel we have to travel in the region, because with this home we have everything here; but we often do a local trip in the Easter break. For 15 years, we’ve been spending summer holidays in Mykonos, Greece, but this year we are changing to the nearby islands of Paros and Antiparos – I understand that they’re like Mykonos was five years ago.
I lived in Mykonos for three months when I was six, and when we were living in London we started the tradition of vacationing there in the summer each year – we just love the simplicity of their way of life, the beauty of the country and the fresh food that’s full of flavour.
In Asia, we like The Surin in Phuket and the Alila Seminyak in Bali. Regionally, I think Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong are exciting places and great for a city break. Amanpulo is a private island hideaway in the Philippines; they ask you to remove your shoes the moment you step on the island, and then it’s just star gazing, swimming with turtles and exploring vibrant coral reefs. We have family in Sydney, so we spend every Christmas at our beach house about an hour out of the city.
Tell us about the launch of your business.
In May 2012, I started my company, Bungalow 55. Interior design has always been a passion of mine, even when working in Finance. I thought Singapore was short on interior stores offering decorative accessories – items to add to your existing collection of furniture. I saw it as an opportunity to bring a curated collection of one-off pieces to Singapore.
Then we saw that the ground-floor shop at Cluny Court was up for lease. Maybe naively, I thought, “it can’t be that hard to start a shop”. We had no massive game plan; we said, “we’ll just work out the rest as we go along”. I know Joe Malone started like that too.
And, it has worked. I would like a bigger retail space, but our clients tell us they feel like it’s coming into someone’s home, so we don’t want to lose that customer experience; also, I don’t want to move out of where we are – it’s a great space that I love styling.
We started an online store two years ago, so that’s an added dimension. People do research online, but they still want to communicate with us about their home and the suitability of the pieces in their living space. And they still want the shopping experience – whether it’s something for your home or a present, you do want to physically see and touch it.
What’s the most satisfying aspect of the business?
Everything in my home gets moved around regularly – David never knows what he’ll come home to! So, helping other people make the most of their space is something I love. I do two or three consultations a week; it’s a complimentary service that we provide, but helping make rentals feel like a home is very satisfying. Most of the time it’s just about working with what they’ve got. There are different tricks when you’re renting; you can’t change much – can’t start knocking out walls – so you have to be creative with what you’ve got. Also, seeing how people live, and seeing the common themes of what they’re looking for, helps me when I’m buying.
What would you say are the keys to your success?
We try and find new suppliers all the time, and we’re constantly juggling the mix of products being offered so that every time customers come to the shop it’s a new experience. I go to trade fairs in the US, Australia, Hong Kong and Europe; they’re great because they have up to 10,000 suppliers all in one place – so much easier!
We always try to deal with family-run businesses because they’re passionate about what they’re doing, they design their products in-house and have good after-care. We’re also constantly trying to make improvements by tweaking our customer service, packaging, website and so on, and looking at trends overseas. By listening to our client feedback and the challenges they find in decorating their homes, we become better at what we do – our clients are the most valuable resource for our business. We find that helping with a room’s layout and lighting are usually the things most people need.
Has the style of Bungalow 55 changed over time?
In the beginning, it was influenced by a more European style, but now it has evolved to incorporate more metallics and marble accessories to add a touch of glamour – and I use a lot more brass. The overall look hasn’t really changed, I just adapt it, and try to find pieces that will fit in with everyone’s style. Often space is limited, so whatever you buy needs to be versatile.
Nina’s shopping advice: “Buy pieces that you can take with you, and add to your collection as you go. It’s very difficult to sell anything second-hand now.”
“The culture of Dulwich College is unique; it focuses on bringing the best out in each child and producing well-rounded, innovative children, and the facilities are state of the art. It’s just on a different level.”
“The new family favourite is the Bayswater Kitchen at Keppel Bay Marina – it’s great for children, has lovely indoor outdoor flow and is right on the jetty with excellent seafood.”
“I usually only shop when I travel, as I’m relaxed. I look for boutiques rather than highstreet brands – Rosalie Pompon is my go-to in Singapore.”
“For the cut, I go to Kim Robinson.”
“Dance and theatre at Evolve, and SCC touch rugby for the girls – it’s really good.”
“My youngest was born at Thomson Medical.”
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This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!