All Abroad

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.

Australian House & Garden - - News - STORY Deb­o­rah Grant | STYLING Josephine Byrnes | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Chris Warnes

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...

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