Aussie florist Catherine Strickland has always loved flowers – and has succeeded in pursuing her passion wherever life has taken her. She shows Verne Maree around her beautiful old Binjai Park home.
Tell us about your family and your expat trail.
Ben and I are originally from Perth, and came here three years ago after 10 years in the UK. Our first home in Singapore was at Astrid Meadows in Coronation Road – an easy choice, as my brother and sister-in-law already lived there and we’d spent holidays at their home. It gave our three children James (now 10), Charlie (6) and Poppy (5) a bunch of instant friends. After a while, as the kids got a bit older, we thought it would be good to bring the family back together under one roof.
How did you find this wonderfully large and airy house?
Through an agent. We’re very lucky in our landlady, a Singaporean who lives in the house just behind us. She is very interested in flowers, too, and as they’re a deeply musical family, we often hear beautiful piano music floating over the hedge. Their four grandsons come over to play and to swim in the pool, and our kids go up there to play with them.
I love this house! Unusually for Singapore, it was designed for tropical living and is completely open from front to back, both upstairs and downstairs. With a good breeze coming through most of the time, we never use the air-conditioning.
Monkeys scamper through the garden now and then, around every six weeks or so. They haven’t come into the house yet, which is fortunate: I wouldn’t be good at keeping things closed up.
Though the pool isn’t new, it’s a good one that you can do laps in quite easily. All the children were swimmers by the time we moved in, fortunately. We enjoy the lovely established garden too, especially the palm trees and our large rambutan tree that’s currently in season.
For my floristry work, it’s ideal to have this large room on the ground floor with separate access and its own bathroom en suite. When you’re working with flowers, you need a ready supply of water.
Did you have to do much to the house before moving in?
Mainly painting and a bit of plastering. Designed in the seventies, its face-brick and extensive wooden panelling made it rather dark, we thought, but the owners kindly allowed us to paint the wood white and plaster over the face-brick. The upstairs level used to look like a Swiss chalet, but it’s now all fresh and white.
This is a marvellous family home that has housed a series of expat families. We’ve had a number of previous tenants knocking at the door to say hello, including Australians who had lived here for six years as children, starting from 1988.
Having moved from a condo, how did you go about furnishing the place?
We’re actually a bit sparse on furniture at the moment, as we have just shipped quite a lot of stuff to our 115-year-old house in Claremont, Perth, which we have recently restored. Many of these were fabric-upholstered items, which tend to perish in Singapore’s humid climate.
The colonial-style couch is from Taylor B, and I’m a bit of a fan of the junk shop at Turf City, where I found our round table. The chaise is from IKEA, and various other pieces were acquired from auction houses in the UK: the dark wood cabinet, the light oak side table behind one of the white sofas, plus a couple of pieces in my workroom. There, at least, they are protected by the air-conditioning.
Will you show me the bedrooms upstairs?
Yes, of course. Our master bedroom is in shades of washed-out blue. The French reproduction bed is from Loaf, bought online; the small kopitiam-style table was bought on Craigslist; and the print of what looks like a Peranakan terrace house is from The Shophouse. My mother-in-law gave us the blue armchair.
All the children’s rooms are very spacious, and each of the upstairs rooms on one side of the house has a door onto a terrace that overlooks the pool.
First is Charlie’s room, decorated in blue with two wrought-iron hospital beds that I bought in London on auction, some time ago. Next is James’s room: he’s a Manchester United fan, and just loves sport, as you can see from his growing collection of trophies.
Your downstairs workroom is a feast for the senses. What is that delicious aroma?
I’m burning a quince candle at the moment, but you can also probably smell the flowers and greenery: hydrangeas, orchids, green hypericon berries, lucidendron and more. I order flowers from various places, including Australia, Israel, South Africa and Holland.
My real love is English-style flowers, and I have a preference for large blooms in loose, very informal arrangements. But I also love the natural style of the Australian natives. They tend to have the hardiness and longevity that you need for Singapore’s hot climate.
How did you start your business here?
I began by doing bits and pieces for friends and family, and set up this business in the middle of 2013. It’s all going very well: there are lots of opportunities in Singapore, as people love entertaining. Apart from my private clients, I’ve done work for organisations such as AustCham (Australian Chamber of Business) and for the Australian High Commission. Caring for Cambodia hired me for their Evening in Orange fundraising event at Tamarind Hill – it’s great fun doing flowers for that sort of occasion!
Little Flower Girl is the branch of my business that does birthday parties for seven-to-13-year-old girls, where we give them a floristry lesson.
How difficult is it to juggle family and work commitments?
I’m really fortunate in so many ways. I have all the space I need to do my work from home, a husband who supports me at home when client events keep me out at night, wonderfully efficient wholesalers, and a helper who frees up my time during the day. It all adds up to a fabulous opportunity.
How is Singapore treating you?
Though I wasn’t initially excited about moving here after ten years in the UK, I now love it. What’s more, all three of our children are very happy at St Joseph’s, which is a gorgeous school.
Living so much closer to Western Australia has in itself been life-changing. Apart from having plenty of room for visitors – and we do have a steady stream of them – it’s also great that James is now able to fly on his own to spend time with both sets of grandparents.
After committing capital, time and energy to restoring your historic Perth house, where is home for the Strickland family?
For the moment, home is here in Singapore. But it’s great to be able to stay in our own house when we visit Perth, after years of wearing out our welcome at the homes of our family members – especially with three young children! As the house is a listed building, we didn’t do massive alterations; we restored the ceilings and the cornicing and replaced some of the floorboards, but we kept the old fireplaces and other period features.
Though we used to rent it out, we’re now keeping it to ourselves for the time being. Admittedly, it’s an absolute luxury; but after working so hard on the restoration we want to enjoy it for a bit. It’s also used as a base by my parents when they visit Perth. They live in country Western Australia, about an hour and a half from the city.
Further down the track, who knows? The grand plan may be to return to our roots, and put the children into the same secondary schools that Ben and I went to.
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