Asian lux­ury in black & white

Th­ese Sin­ga­pore colo­nial clas­sics are keenly sought af­ter due to their grand style and in­creas­ing rar­ity

The Weekend Australian - Life - - PROPERTY - FARAH ELIAS

Sin­ga­pore is known for its mod­ern high-rises and small spa­ces, but scat­tered around the city are scores of prized prop­er­ties that of­fer a dif­fer­ent way of life: stately Tu­dor homes rest­ing on wide swaths of green that pre­serve a piece of the city’s colo­nial days.

Th­ese houses, called black-and-whites be­cause of their white­washed ex­te­ri­ors and black-stained tim­ber de­tails, are mod­elled af­ter the mock-Tu­dor ar­chi­tec­tural style favoured by late Vic­to­ri­ans. Dis­tinc­tive East­ern in­flu­ences have been added to the de­sign in a nod to life in the trop­ics: broad ve­ran­das, wide eaves and tall shut­ters to keep out the sun’s glare, as well as ma­sonry piers to el­e­vate the house and help al­le­vi­ate damp­ness. The parcels of land with the best of th­ese homes are typ­i­cally the size of foot­ball fields.

“They are the per­fect an­swer for peo­ple look­ing for a bit of green­ery and some space,” says Diana Chua, a Sin­ga­pore guide. “They of­fer a dif­fer­ent life­style.”

The houses, a favourite among ex­pats, are across Sin­ga­pore, from cen­tral ar­eas such as Nas­sim Road and the up­scale Good­wood Hill to coastal set­tle­ments in Sele­tar and Sem­bawang.

They vary in size; more ex­clu­sive vil­las range from about 800sq m to 1020sq m. Town­houses and one-sto­ery homes in the same style start at about 185sq m.

Ken H. Khoo, a prop­erty in­vest­ment com­pany di­rec­tor, bought a two-storey, five-bed­room villa on Ca­ble Road in Tan­glin for about $US4.3 mil­lion in 2005. The 465sq m build­ing, a clas­sic 1920s trop­i­cal mock-Tu­dor de­sign, once housed a cafe­te­ria for the staff of McAl­is­ter & Co., a Euro­pean trad­ing com­pany.

Khoo and his wife, Si­mone, spent $US1.4m to re­con­struct and ex­pand the house, adding a base­ment and an an­nex. The home, which they share with their five chil­dren, is now about 745sq m, with six bed­rooms and eight bath­rooms. It has three sit­ting rooms, done in con­tem­po­rary style. Out­side, on the 1375sq m lot, they have a 15m lap pool, an open sit­ting area and a car­port for six ve­hi­cles. A sim­i­lar colo­nial villa in the area is listed at about $US25m (about $33m).

Khoo says he bought the home be­cause it had char­ac­ter. “I’ve al­ways liked old houses,” he says. “There aren’t many black-and-white-houses avail­able for sale that are free­hold”, in which the owner gets the house as well as the land it sits on.

The best black-and-whites no longer ex­ist, says his­to­rian and aca­demic Ju­lian Dav­i­son, who wrote Black and White: The Sin­ga­pore House, 1898-1941. Many have been torn down to ac­com­mo­date de­vel­op­ment. Some that re­main have been con­verted into of­fices, restau­rants or gal­leries.

“What is sin­gu­lar about the black-and-white house in Sin­ga­pore — and Malaya — is the mar­riage be­tween the ‘ Tu­dor­bethan’ style of Vic­to­rian Eng­land and the colo­nial-bun­ga­low style in­tro­duced to Sin­ga­pore from the Bri­tish Raj in In­dia, which makes them rather dif­fer­ent to ‘Tu­dor­bethan’ vil­las in Shang­hai, Hol­ly­wood and else­where,” says Dav­i­son.

Built pri­mar­ily by the Bri­tish from the late 19th cen­tury un­til World War II, the black-and-whites once housed high-rank­ing of­fi­cials, mil­i­tary men and so­ci­ety’s elite.

The 19 colo­nial-era vil­las in Adam Park, for ex­am­ple, were built in the 1920s for ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers and civil ser­vants from Bri­tain. Later, they were used as World war II pris­oner-of-war camps.

Sales are rare in part be­cause few of the black-and­whites are pri­vately owned. Those that are in­clude most of about 100 black-and-white houses slated for con­ser­va­tion by the Ur­ban Re­de­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity of Sin­ga­pore. (The govern­ment lim­its ap­proval for for­eign­ers to own landed res­i­dences, though condo-like prop­er­ties can be pur­chased.)

Most of the black-and-whites are now state prop­er­ties that are leased. More than 90 per cent of the 500 man­aged by the Sin­ga­pore Land Au­thor­ity, a govern­ment land agency, are rented out as res­i­dences; some are leased for com­mer­cial use, says a spokes­woman. JTC Corp, a govern­ment in­fra­struc­ture-plan­ning agency, man­ages roughly 150 black-and-white houses in the Sele­tar and Buona Vista in­dus­trial parks.

De­mand for pricier black-and-whites has soft­ened as the govern­ment mod­er­ates the in­flow of for­eign work­ers and as com­pa­nies shrink ex­pat pack­ages. Rents for the man­sions have come off highs in 2010 to 2012, along­side cool­ing prop­erty prices in Sin­ga­pore.

The 33 black-and-white vil­las at Mount Pleas­ant, for ex­am­ple, rent for $US8600 to $US23,500 a month, prop­erty man­ager As­cott says.

New Zealan­der Mandy Rig­gir, who has lived in

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