When I visit Canadian Karen Cvornyek at her two-storey, four-bedroom Siglap shophouse on a balmy weekday morning, she is calmly juggling her job as head of B+H Architects in Asia, preparing to host 40 people at a party to celebrate her daughter’s first Holy Communion, and hosting family members who are visiting from Canada. Husband Mark Ceolin, President of Red Gate International Media and Marketing Group, conveniently dials in from Shanghai to participate in the interview, and Tofu, one of their three dogs, eagerly jumps up to add his input too.
Why the East Coast?
Karen: We were attracted to the East Coast’s outdoor lifestyle and the opportunities to get out in the fresh air, not to mention its proximity to the airport for our frequent travel.
Why this house?
Karen: We spent a lot of time looking! We were open to any new area and looked all over the city. But it was the outdoor kitchen, the character, and the location within the Siglap neighbourhood that clinched it. For Canadians, who are used to a cold climate, this house offers a unique lifestyle. It feels good to live somewhere that reflects Singapore’s history, culture and heritage. We like the eclecticism of our modern furniture within a historical context, and the black-and-white style can go in any decorating direction.
How do you feel after a couple of months of settling in?
Mark: I’ll admit I wasn’t totally convinced about the East Coast, but I’ve grown to love it! We take full advantage of the location and the easy walk to restaurants. In China, we always had to drive long distances to find food or a coffee, so we love living on vibrant Upper East Coast Road, and being part of the city. East Coast Park is just five minutes by bike and we enjoy riding as a family; that’s not something we did in China, and it’s a definite step up.
Tell us about your furniture.
Karen: We lived in five very different places in Shanghai, including a lane house in the French Concession and a villa in the outer suburbs, so our furniture is an eclectic mix. We brought much of it with us, including the grand piano, and supplemented this with some outdoor furniture. Shanghai is a totally different lifestyle and there were some gaps we needed to fill. The table and chairs are from Teak & Mahogany, and the colourfully painted bench is made from recycled wood sourced from old Indonesian fishing boats.
These white walls are a perfect canvas for art; tell us about your collection.
Mark: All the artwork really means something to our family, as it’s been collected during our years of living and travelling in Asia. The larger-than-life images captured by Shanghai photographer Wang Gangfeng are a reminder of our time in that city; delivery carts dragging gigantic stacks of recyclable plastic oil bottles, and people riding bicycles despite the rain, are common daily scenes on Shanghai’s chaotic streets. The century-old historic map imprint includes the street in the French Concession where we bought and renovated an old lane house.
From the street, the size and spaciousness of this shophouse is not obvious. Its tenants are benefitting from the owner’s clever renovation, which has created a unique and family-friendly residence. Downstairs are living and dining rooms, and a large open-plan outdoor kitchen and lap pool, while upstairs are four bedrooms and an enormous study configured in what was once the light-well void.
How did the move to Singapore transpire?
Karen: We were based in Shanghai for 10 years, despite arriving there on a one-year posting. So in 2013 we were looking for a lifestyle change, and at the same time an opportunity opened up to expand B+H Architects, one of the largest Canadian architecture, planning, interior and landscape design firms, into Southeast Asia.
Mark: While we loved working in Shanghai, living there is a challenge. It’s one of the world’s great cities, but everyday life is affected by traffic, pollution and the size of the city. Moving to Singapore was a positive move for both family and business.
Tell us about your work here.
Karen: Since opening its first operation in Asia in China in the 90s, B+H has branched out to Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. In Shanghai we designed the Microsoft campus and the Pudong Sheraton hotel, and numerous other mixed-use developments.
It was the expansion in healthcare here that brought me to Singapore, where we have several hospital projects underway. These include two buildings at Changi General Hospital, the National University of Singapore Centre for Oral Health (with close to 300 dental chairs!), and a new Community Hospital at Singapore General Hospital. Just over the border, the new Gleneagles Medini Hospital at Johor is nearing completion.
Mark: I started a media, marketing and public relations company called Red Gate in Shanghai in 2003. Much of my work is still in China, including the production of film and TV shows, corporate and consumer events, and trade delegations. My achievements include pioneering the inaugural Shanghai Fringe Festival in 2006, and creating a three-day street festival in the centre of Shanghai for 400,000 people. Now, I creatively help my clients based in Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia to get exposure in the Chinese market. Speaking Mandarin helps. It was a hobby during my first year in China, but has become a real asset in doing business now. We are closely involved with the Canadian business community in China and Southeast Asia; in fact, I sit on the Boards of the Canadian Chambers of Commerce in both Shanghai and Singapore.
What do you think will keep you here in Singapore?
Karen: Undoubtedly, our respective business operations, plus the lifestyle we enjoy as a family. We value the endless summer and fresh air, and the freedom the kids have to roam about in safety – not to mention the great schools and business environment. As Canadians, we feel very comfortable living in a country that espouses our multicultural values.
KAREN & MARK’S RECOMMENDATIONS:
Al Forno Italian Restaurant
400 East Coast Road
Etna Italian Restaurant
110 Upper East Coast Road
Teak & Mahogany
This story first appeared in Expat Living’s August 2015 issue.
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