In a quiet neighbourhood behind Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital is the home of Melwyn and Harriet Dias and their two grown-up children. The family, originally from India of Portuguese descent, moved countries frequently on account of Melwyn’s private banking job, living in India, Oman and Dubai, before finally putting down roots in Singapore. They bought and designed this house in Novena, in central Singapore. It’s a home that contains some very unusual pieces; read on to find out more!
Who lives here: Melwyn, Harriet, Tanishqa and Keanu Dias, and Cody the Labrador
Time in Singapore: 17 years
Size and type of home: 6,800-square foot, five-storey custom-designed house
Décor style: Eclectic and arty
Entering the Dias family’s courtyard, I am greeted by an enormous life-size bull made entirely of spare car parts. Melwyn welcomes me in and quickly explains the sculpture: “It was inspired by the Charging Bull at Wall Street; I love how totally symmetrical it is. It weighs 900 kilograms and had to be brought in by crane!” Taking over two years to create, and purchased at one of the art fairs in Singapore, the animal is a nod to Melwyn’s stock-trading background.
If you look up “eclectic” in the dictionary, you may well find a picture of this house. In fact, I feel like I might be too clumsy to be comfortable in this space, although Melwyn assures me that if their large 12-year-old Labrador is okay, I will be too!
It’s difficult to pick out a centrepiece of the living and dining area. On the left is a mounted femur bone of a woolly mammoth; it’s over 10,000 years old. Carved into it are the figures of six generations of the ruling family of Benin. Although it is priceless to the Dias family – Melwyn admits he would never part with it – the bone is the only one of its kind in the entire world and has an estimated value of over $1.3 million. “It’s the only piece in the whole house that I didn’t pay for! It was a gift.”
There are two angels that come from the first church in India, St Thomas Syro-Malabar; more than 400 years old and done in the style of Hindu apsaras. “Everything you see in our home has a history to it. We have collected over time! It’s all well thought of and isn’t something that someone else has chosen and brought in. Everything has a memory attached to it. The most important thing to us is where we got each item from and not its price.”
Halfway along the first floor is an atrium. It goes up to the top levels, ending with a large skylight, which allows all the natural light to cascade down into the space. This is where the family have most of their meals and entertain, at a table made of ash-coloured fossilised wood, while a bright painting of the Beatles playing golf watches over them.
Building a legacy
Melwyn tells me the story of the impressive house. “We designed it on this long block as a walk-through art gallery. We wanted a full concrete house, so the colour comes from the art and not the walls.”
After settling on the area they wanted to live in, Melwyn asked a broker to go door to door to find a spot where they could build their dream home. Harriet explains, “It was important for us to have a house that was flexible in design and allowed for multigenerational living as well as for my business, Treasures of the Raj, to be housed under the same roof. We had to spend a long time convincing the authorities that it wasn’t a condo because of the three kitchens!”
The plot they chose was on a gradient, which then allowed them to have a basement with its own exit at the back, leading to the MRT – less than 50 metres away.
Living under one roof
We take the internal lift to the second level, one of two 1,500-square-foot self-contained apartments. Each has two bedrooms, balconies, ensuite bathrooms and walk-in wardrobes, with its own living, dining and kitchen space.
The first is where Keanu, the couple’s 20-year-old son, lives. He has recently completed his International Baccalaureate and an internship with Asialand (the firm who built the house) and will soon begin a degree in architecture at the University of Kent.
This level has a more minimalist and a masculine vibe, thanks to the black-and-white palette used. Keanu’s room has splashes of colour courtesy of the artwork on the walls – all his own creations.
Our final stop is the third level where daughter Tanishqa lives, which is softer and includes more colour, including a Bob Marley wall! At 23, Tanishqa has completed a degree in international law and marketing from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and is preparing to go to IE Madrid in September to study her Master’s degree.
Dias family recommendations
Church of Saint Alphonsus 300 Thomson Road
6255 2133 novenachurch.com
Treasures of the Raj Tanglin Shopping Centre
9173 5041 | totr.pw
Gnani Arts Tanglin Shopping Centre
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This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!