Living in a contemporary mid-century black-and-white bungalow in Singapore


Just like shophouse living, living in a black-and-white colonial bungalow is totally unlike other forms of dwellings in Singapore. With their dark timber beams and white-washed walls, these homes were once built for high-ranking European families in the 19th Century. 

They have now reached iconic cult status, and are prized for their expansive grounds surrounded by lush nature, along with the peacefulness and privacy away from it all.

It is precisely for these reasons that drew Sarah (*not her real name for privacy reasons) and her family to this particular home. Having lived in Kuwait and another landed home in Singapore previously, this enclave set in nature has now been home to their family for the past three years.

The roughly 20,000 sq ft land-sized bungalow was originally built in the 1930s and required quite a bit of restorative work inside out to make it habitable. While it was a love at first sight scenario for the exterior, the interior needed a bit more convincing.

"It was empty for a long time and in a run down and not great condition," Sarah shared.

Porch view/front of the house. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

To orientate you better, this particular bungalow consists of the main two-storey unit, and there is a shared back house at the back with their neighbour where there are two additional rooms.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

The first floor consists of separate living and dining areas, and a kitchen. There is a verandah by the side, and the front porch has been remade into a lovely outdoor dining area.

While it may look big on the outside, there really are only two bedrooms (although they are really sizeable) on the top floor (as there is a second living room), splitting the room allocation evenly on each side.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Interestingly, the guest room on the first floor used to be a kitchen which also used to have an old staircase. They also have a rented pool set up for the kids to swim in the hot tropical climate.

In light of the pandemic, the hallway has also been converted into an additional makeshift study.

Conversations & home design

When asked why she was drawn to such a home, Sarah pointed out to the lush greenery. "It's unlike anything you can get in Singapore."

"It's private and peaceful too," she adds. The impetus to move into such a home is also thanks to the couple's children, whom they wanted more space for to roam around and have fun.

With only two bedrooms available, Sarah commented that they have thought of moving on several occasions throughout their residency. "There is increasingly little room for our growing kids to have their own private space."

Accessible pool with open spaces for the kids to freely roam. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Much of the interior was done from scratch, which took awhile for them to craft something that would ultimately create a lasting impression. "We love doing up the interior ourselves, redecorating, and finding new ideas along the way. In fact, a lot of the paintings that you see are done by hand by my husband," says Sarah.

"Swedish design inspires us greatly and so does our travels in South East Asia." Walking through the home, you can see that the art pieces are the easy standout of what makes the home so uniquely theirs.

Another visually interesting art piece by the verandah. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

When we asked if they made any of the art pieces for sale, she shared that some pieces have been given by her husband to close friends as gifts. But sadly, none of them were up for sale. "It's really just a hobby for him," Sarah shared.

For us, there's no question about it - the pieces of art and design seem in dialogue with each other and the vibe of the space.

First floor living room with various artworks on display. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Described as a contemporary take on the retro 50s style, the house is filled with a charming blend of old and new elements. The chequer-tiled kitchen with its unmistakable light fixtures emanates that spirit.

"We have about 30 lamps around our house and some have been quite costly," That said, it's not all about the price tag as Sarah says. "I remember bringing home about 10-20 lampshades from our trip to Vietnam. We also brought back different artifacts from Africa. All at a very inexpensive cost."

Kitchen with unique lampshades and a checkerboard tiling layout. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Furniture pieces around the house were curated from various local places in Singapore such as Second Charm and Journey East, with other items from Sweden being brought in as well. Many of these pieces give the home its distinctly warm character with woody, rustic undertones that span throughout spaces.

Second-hand furniture was also sourced from Carousell. As much as it may sound like a cliche coming from a Swede, "Ikea is our go-to for practical things," Sarah noted. "Their cupboards are functional and simple."

Dining. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

A one of a kind living experience

The house is designed with plenty of social areas in mind, with spaces made to be permeable rather than enclosed during the day. "It's a social house. We love to entertain and have people over but these days, you can't be as social because of the pandemic," Sarah remarked.

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Just outside the first floor living room is what used to be a front porch that they've cleverly converted into a serene outdoor dining space. It basks in the surrounding nature, perfect for entertaining guests on cooler days. As a family that loves nature, living in the thick of it really doesn't get much better in Singapore.

Outdoor dining space. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Upon stepping foot on the second floor, one is immediately greeted by a second living room. "This is my favourite part of the house," Sarah shares. With wooden floors, sleek furniture, and large windows that bring in the sights and sounds of nature, it's not difficult to see why.

In the context of this sociable home, having a secondary living room on the upper floor is a wonderful bonus. This allows the family to have something akin to a private living space with the option of utilising it as an additional entertainment space should they wish to.

It does come with the downside of the top floor only having enough space for two bedrooms, however, so that's the tradeoff that you will have to contend with if you want to live in such a space.

Second-floor living room. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

The communal space is made vastly more enjoyable and complete with a Hi-Fi system coupled with an impressive vinyl collection. The matching console and wood-framed speakers are also indicative of the attention to detail.

Vinyl collection at living room on the second floor. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

A cosy study nook can also be found along the corridor just past the living space, making full use of an otherwise dead-end space. "On stormy days, thunder will rattle throughout the entire house," explains Sarah.

Seated at said nook, one can imagine how the vibrations and noise produced by surrounding artefacts make it perceptibly vivid.

A cosy study along the corridor. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

A dream home that's not for all

While Sarah and her family really love the home, she also wanted to share the realities of living in such a space too.

"There is little to no soundproofing and we can hear the kids running around, especially during the lockdown," Sarah reflects. While a concern to those who prefer a quieter environment, the ability to sense a family member's presence can be charming with some embracing it fully.

Also as it is quite secluded, the area gets really dark at night. "We have cameras (installed) but there have been no intruders so far," Sarah notes. "It definitely is one of the perks of living in Singapore".

Still, if safety is of utmost concern, potential homeowners might want to take this into consideration. Stargazers on the other hand are in for a treat as the lack of much surrounding light makes for a better than typical gazing experience in Singapore.

Master bedroom. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Surrounded by flora and fauna, the home is more prone to insects. So daily visits from ants and lizards are commonplace. The humidity of Singapore is also more pronounced here, making it rather damp as well.

"It leaks when it rains and we have to do gardening twice a month. Air-conditioning and clogged pipes are the most annoying," says Sarah when asked about maintenance.

"The biggest problem is the trees. Contractually, the trees (in the vicinity) are under our care and if a tree falls down, it's our responsibility," she adds.

A sheltered path that connects to shared back house. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

'You have to be quite innovative and hands-on to stay here'

PHOTO: Stackedhomes
PHOTO: Stackedhomes

For a home with a unique location and bursting with character, it's easy to gloss over the work required to curate such a delightful space. "You have to be quite innovative and hands-on to stay here," Sarah states.

The opportunities for those who love to tinker and get involved in DIY projects are vast, and you can most definitely take pride in your handiwork. Those who prefer not to, however, might find the lifestyle to be challenging. Such is the reality of living here.

Entryway leading to the front gate from unit. PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Still, despite some of the shortcomings, there's no denying that this is ultimately still a much-loved home for the family.

"This is truly an oasis unlike any other in Singapore." said Sarah. "and we've been really lucky to be able to experience living in such a place".

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.