Actor and stylist Josephine Byrnes lived overseas with her family for 12 years before putting down roots in Singapore, a tropical city-state where everything thrives.
Gorgeous entertaining ideas from expat families
OUTDOOR ROOM Josephine, husband Peter and children Jasper and Ivy live in one of Singapore’s famed black and white houses. “It’s ideal for expat life,” says Josephine. “We’ve had lots of parties here. Our good friends are scattered across the globe so it’s lovely when they visit.” The oak table has moved all over the world with Peter while the white Malawi chairs are from Singapore store Originals. FACADE Though close to the city, the property has a large garden featuring traveller’s palms, a mango tree and the odd monkey.
Finding a home or returning to it in some way is what drives many of us. Accomplished screen and stage actor Josephine Byrnes, who came to Australia’s attention in the 1991 TV miniseries Brides of Christ, found hers in a lush pocket of Singapore when she and husband Peter landed one of the city’s sought-after black and white bungalows.
“We moved here in 2014 after 12 years in Hong Kong,” says Josephine. “We planned to live in another apartment, a ‘lock up and leave’ that would allow us to travel, but I realised that this was the time whenmyfamilyneededagardenandroom for parties and friends to stay. This was what my children [Jasper, now 12, and Ivy, nine] would remember as ‘home’, so we decided to take on one of these houses.”
Mostly built between 1903 and 1928 for British colonials, only about 500 of the heritage-listed houses remain. Named for their dark timber beams and whitewashed walls, they are classically Victorian in style, with Art Deco and tropical elements: pitched roofs, high ceilings, shutter-style windows and open layouts to maximise breezes. The Singapore government leases them to those plucky enough to cope with their various states of dilapidation.
“While the houses are magnificent, they’re not for everyone,” says Josephine. “We only had one viewing and gave a silent bid in an envelope to the agent. You agree to take them on as they are – that might mean no kitchen or bathrooms and all sorts of things falling apart. You agree to maintain them and their land.”
A fixer-upper was never going to be a challenge for Josephine, who has been working as a stylist for some time.
“In Hong Kong I mostly did be spoke events and parties,” she says. “I loved playing with flowers and sometimes mad themes.
“With interiors, my inspiration is always the space,” she adds. “I looked at lots of these houses before I chose this one. It was in good condition, with three bedrooms and bathrooms, but we still had to put new glass in the upper windows plus airconditioners and fans. Previous tenants had created the lovely, covered outdoor space and we inherited a functional kitchen, so we were lucky.” Josephine also reinstated the traditional black and white bamboo blinds and has made countless cosmetic improvements throughout.
The furniture is a melange of pieces from Australia, Hong Kong and Bali; many of the accessories were picked up on Josephine’s visits to flea markets in Paris, London, Thailand and Vietnam. “They’re my other happy places, where I buy silver and old glass and things people once took time over and loved,” she explains.
There’s plenty more to do here, but Josephine is already looking elsewhere for design challenges – and perhaps a little acting work on the side...