Their first Singapore home was a gorgeous old shophouse in Neil Road, says Jane Bonsor, – vast, as such houses tend to be, but with few windows and just one bedroom. “We loved it, but our landlord sold it when I was eight months pregnant with our first child and we had to find a new home in hurry.”
Perhaps the best thing about their lucky find on Emily Hill is its view of Mount Emily Park. This stretch of Upper Wilkie Road has a nice sense of community too, says Jane, an on-the-go businesswoman, lecturer in textile design and mother of three. “And it was even quieter five years ago, before they developed a couple of condos in this area.”
One flight up from the front entrance is the kitchen, plus a casual dining room and play area for Cosmo (4), Hope (2) and Albert, who has just turned one.
Back home in the UK, Jane studied history at university before joining high-street fashion brand Morgan – where she designed clothing for very thin, very small people, as I remember. She then set up her own fashion company, Pocket Venus, with manufacturing based in Nottingham. “I had a shop and a clothing line, but printed fabric was my main thing,” she says. “We sold to Selfridges and to about 50 different boutiques in the UK and Europe.”
After three months in Shanghai, her hedge fund analyst boyfriend (and now husband) Alex took a job in Hong Kong, so Jane opened a shop there in Soho and moved her production to Southern China. The couple spent nearly five years in Hong Kong before relocating to Singapore in 2007, where Jane teaches textile design part-time at LaSalle College of the Arts.
So, just how does she fit in her business and teaching commitments with being a mother of three? “Well, I can’t pretend I live a glamorous sort of life where I have time to get my nails done and look perfect all the time. But we are so lucky to have help; that’s what makes it possible.”
Because the living room showcases Jane’s ever-evolving Korla printed fabric collection, and she regularly changes the cushions and blinds and re-covers the armchairs, she tends to keep the main pieces of furniture monochromatic.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, I’m immediately smitten with a screen print. It’s by Genevieve Chua, based on a photograph of the huge banyan tree I can see through the window in Emily Park – rendered mainly in monochrome, but with leafy areas of the same remarkably fresh green. “We love this tree,” says Jane. “I nursed three babies from this bed while looking out at it.”
She explains that in the UK you can add warmth to the cold northern light by using soft reds and pinks; or you can go with the light and chintzy tones of an English garden. “But here the light is so different: when you’re surrounded by intense light and this sort of electric green, you can get away with using much brighter colours.”
Their bed was inherited from a friend who was, sadly, leaving as Jane and Alex arrived. At its foot is a squarish sofa from Bali, and the chairs are IKEA: Jane changed the legs and recovered it with Korla’s Alhambra Stars in turquoise.
Albert’s room is “wallpapered” in one of Jane’s fabrics, printed with pink and maroon Chinese zodiac figures on an off-white background.
In the other children’s bedroom, a delightful Korla print of London buses in a cheerful print of red and blue on white covers one wall. Art by Albert’s godmother, who lives in London, includes a hand-lettered and framed copy of Max Ehrman’s Desiderata. That’s a sweet idea.
Their house is big, but as it’s also the premises of design company Korla, it needs to be. Conveniently located to one side of the front door and fairly separate from the rest of the house, a large room accommodates the team. It’s headed by American Ted Utoft, who joined Jane in mid-2011 to manage the business.
“We saw a clear space in the market here for something like Korla,” says Jane, “affordably mid-priced but beautifully designed, somewhere between the very expensive, high end fabrics and what you can buy at Spotlight. There really isn’t much like that here, partly because of sky-high shipping costs.”
Comprising only 100-percent natural linen, cotton and canvas, their fabrics are woven near Shanghai and then traditionally hand-printed in Southern China. “I’m amazed to see so much synthetic fabric around: it’s so uncomfortable here in Singapore.”
All sales of their fabrics, curtains, blinds and accessories are done completely online, she explains. “Our website has a fantastic virtual showroom where you can drag various fabrics onto the furniture to see how they work together. It’s really fun, even addictive! We want this to be something people can enjoy doing and easily fit into their busy lives.”