Colonial houses in Singapore are steeped in history, and the black-and-white home of NEIL and EMMA BROOKES is no exception. Hidden in the lush jungle on Turf Club Road, it’s a tropical idyll of grand proportions. I sipped kombucha on the terrace with Hankie Pankie Tables founder Emma, and heard all about her fabulous home.
The house: Six-bedroom black-and-white colonial house
Location: Turf Club Road
Who lives there: Neil and Emma, Coco (11), Hamilton (10), Frankie (3) and Archer (10 months), two helpers Cathy and Shane, dogs Rocky and Badger, and just to add to the madness, new rabbit Monty
Tell us a bit about your gorgeous crew and how you found yourselves living in Singapore.
I’m originally from Scotland – I met my husband Neil while at university in England. After spending four years working in London, we decided it was time to change things up. We both secured jobs in Sydney and – promising our families and friends we would return in two years – off we flew. We’re yet to return, 17 years on!
We spent a fabulous eight years in sunny Sydney and two of our children were born there. Neil was then approached for a role in Singapore. Once again, as we packed up for our next “two year” adventure, we farewelled our friends promising a return soon… Nine years on and we’re still very happily living in Singapore, with another two children joining the Brookes clan.
I’ve since established a homeware business, Hankie Pankie Tables, which I absolutely love – sourcing artisanal products from our travels abroad and creating beautiful tables for clients in Singapore and further afield.
When you landed on Singapore shores nine years ago, what were you looking for in a home and why?
At the time, we were both working in traditional office environments. As our youngest was only one, being close to the city was important to me so I could dash back home quickly if required.
Our tenant profile meant agents offered us mainly condo options, which seemed foreign to me given our previous laidback Aussie lifestyle. We went in search of a landed house, and thankfully we found one in One Tree Hill, a hidden gem by Orchard Road. I was also keen for us to have a pool and a small garden for our dachshund.
Were you looking for a black-and-white house specifically? How did it happen that you chose one?
As our family has grown, so have our space requirements! With the imminent arrival of our fourth child last year, and rental prices skyrocketing, we were looking down quite a miserable road of house hunting. The bidding process for black-and-whites scared me intensely but I realised that a colonial house was the best option for us to gain the number of bedrooms we needed and the outdoor space I craved for our children.
In fact, we already knew this colonial house – our friends used to live here. They also had four children so I knew that the layout would work for us. Sadly, they moved back to the UK, but it meant we were on the front foot for dealing with the Singapore Land Authority. We miss them terribly, but my girlfriend has already been back to stay (in the guest room this time!).
What was it that sealed the deal for you?
We’d enjoyed many happy days being hosted at this black-and-white house by our friends, so I already had such a good feeling about the property. I’d seen it lived in, knew it had a great energy, and it was in good condition, unlike the dilapidated state of some black-and-whites we’d viewed. The stars aligned, and I like to think we were always meant to be a part of the story of this house on Turf Club Road.
Functionally, I liked that all the bedrooms were upstairs, which, when you need five, is not an easy ask! We also needed to accommodate the various life stages of our children, from having an 11-year-old daughter who wants her own bedroom, right down to a baby needing a nursery (which handily is an annex to my bedroom). Following the pandemic, my husband has a full home office setup, and he still likes to use it in the evenings now he’s back in the city. I work from home, so we wanted two office spaces and a showroom for Hankie Pankie Tables. This colonial house just ticked all the boxes.
Is there a place in your black-and-white house where you love to spend time?
Funnily enough, my favourite spaces in the house are the breakfast room and our attap. I’m not sure if this is because I enjoy eating or because my fondest memories are of times spent around the dining tables as a family, or entertaining friends.
I feel particularly fortunate that we can dine outside; the attap has become an extension of our home where we can relax as family and host larger numbers of friends and their children for parties.
Your colonial house contains a series of beautifully executed vignettes. Where do you source your stunning furniture and décor?
I’m regularly put on furniture shopping bans by my husband who claims we can’t fit anything more in – well, I manage!
I love the various expat sales groups on Facebook and some of my best buys have been found on them. I adore my youngest daughter’s treehouse bed, which I think had never been used by its previous “tenant”. For new and interesting pieces, I head to The Artful House in the Tan Boon Liat Building. It’s dangerous every time I walk in there as I struggle to leave empty-handed – from the beautiful bone-inlay trays and tables to the stunning mirror that hangs in our hall, it’s all divine.
Anna at Layard Interiors has also helped to source some stunning rattan pieces for us. I’m also obsessed with her bar carts; we now have three. Maybe my husband is right after all!
How would you define your interior style?
Totally eclectic … verging on being a hoarder!
Even a casual observer would say you have an eye for art. Tell us about your art collection.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some wonderful female artists here in Singapore. Unfortunately, with expat life some have now returned to the UK.
My most recent investment is “The Racing Horses” by Singapore-based Italian artist Gloria Rossi. I bought this piece when we moved into this colonial house as it was the racecourse manager’s home from 1933 to 1999 when Bukit Timah Racecourse was located at Turf Club Road. Story has it that the chap used to sip gin and tonic on the balcony after a long day at the track.
Another housewarming gift to myself was Mylène Viggers’ stunning “Dahlias” in a bespoke bobbin frame. I love the colours and wish I could have one in every room of the house! She’s a French artist living in Singapore, and her work is incredible.
In our guest bedroom, I adore the framed vintage Suzani textile panel that hangs above the bed. I met the interior decorator Marina Melrose at a pop-up sale and knew it had to be mine. The combination of the greens and pinks had me at first sight and she customised the green bamboo frame for me.
What is the allure of Singapore for you?
Landing in Changi airport, I do feel like I’m returning from a holiday to a holiday!
I thoroughly enjoy our life here and maybe because I know it’s not our forever home, I really do try to make the most of every day. I feel very fortunate that I can exercise outside most days and walk straight on to some fabulous jungle trails direct from our garden.
My friends joke that I never leave Turf Club or The Grandstand; it’s quite true as there’s literally everything here on my doorstep!
Restaurants & Cafés
Tailor Made (“best iced coffee after barre class, and also open for cocktails in the evening!”) cafetailormade.com
Caruso (“Great local Italian with my favourite – and rather controversial – Pizza Trulli. It’s a tuna and red onion topper I discovered when pregnant and had hoped would pass, but it’s become my pizza of choice.”) caruso.sg
Culina (“A firm family favourite for everything from date nights to baby showers, to birthdays – and the bakery for sneaky dinner-party puds”) culina.com.sg
Fitness & Wellness
With Passion Yoga (“a fab barre class”) withpassionyoga.com
Motivat8 Fitness (“Christy is fabulous for pre- and postnatal training; I especially enjoy her group training at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I’ve met some lovely mummies there too.”) motiv8fitness.online
Ahilya Kaul (“For at-home personal training, and an amazing kids’ dance instructor, Ahilya’s the best”) 9152 2780
Mint Nail Bar (“Lovely ladies, always happy to see me when I dash in between school pick-ups for a quick mani-pedi”) FB: @mintnailbar | 6468 3989
The Big Blow (“Ellie is the best and my go-to for up-styles and blow-dries”) thebigblow.com
Homeware & Fashion
A Raft of Otters (“Beautiful collective store in Tanglin Mall for all things homeware and fashion from local brands including Hankie Pankie Tables”) araftofotters.com
Cookie & Bert (“My favourite kids wear brand; just waiting on them to launch an adult range for me as I’m obsessed!”) cookieandbert.com
Hankie Pankie Tables (“we all need a little hankie pankie in our lives”) hankiepankietables.com
Junkie’s Corner (“If you have the time to search through the piles of second-hand furniture and homeware, you’re sure to find a treasure”) 2 Turf Club Road | 9791 2607
1880 (“for when you want to dance on the tables!”) 1880.com.sg
This article on the black-and-white house of the founder of Hankie Pankie Tables first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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Check out Hankie Pankie Tables at A Raft of Otters.