A blog that explores Australian houses. If you love architecture, design, interiors and interesting buildings of all types, The House Hunter is for you.

Various, Singapore

 

Singapore! Colonial Victorian terraces, cutting edge modern-day architecture, quirky high-rise public housing blocks…it has it all.

 

This is my first international post (well, aside from a post I did on UK tiny houses, but I didn’t actually visit the UK for that post), which makes me pretty excited. It also marks the first time I’ve been overseas since I visited Hong Kong in 2011, which was way too long a gap.

 

I schlepped through the streets of Chinatown and Little India, where I found the types of places that particularly interest me; historically rich, colourful, character places stacked on tightly packed, buzzing streets. You realise pretty quickly that Singapore is serious about architecture and design. It’s evident in landmarks like the Art + Science Museum and Singapore Art Museum (by the way, the plethora of museums and galleries is also indicative of this national interest in design I’m describing), and also in the homes lining the sides of the road. Singapore just looks nice.

 

It’s a small place with a large population, a financial hub with huge port facilities and a magnet for business. It makes money. It’s also expensive; probably the only place I’ve visited that seems on par/dearer than Sydney.

 

Air-conditioning is serious business in Singapore.

 

Interestingly, it has a kind of similar residential real estate profile to Australia, with speculation of a housing bubble and predictions that the value of property will decrease 10-15%. Unlike Australia, and placing it in a similar basket to Hong Kong, a large segment of the population lives in government-subsidised housing; Wallpaper‘s travel guide pegs the figure at 82%.

 

 

In love with these stairs.

 

Singapore has an interesting feel about it. It’s generally considered the gateway into Asia, and I can understand that perspective. It’s culturally between Sydney and Hong Kong; diverse enough to keep your interest but similar enough that there isn’t a great degree of culture shock. The combination of different cultural influences in Singapore’s national identity is appealing; it’s kind of a bricolage of different conventions and ideas that have come together to form something holistic. I’m trying to avoid the use of the term ‘melting pot’, given that’s such a corny phrase…oh look, I just used it.

 

One of my favourite districts is Chinatown. It has a certain whimsy that other global Chinatowns – from Sydney to San Francisco – don’t seem to capture quite as well, plus the neatness that Singapore is characterised by. Along with pockets of Victorian housing and boutique hotels, Singapore’s Chinatown is spotted by little eathouses – eating is a serious item on the national agenda. If you ask Singaporeans what you should do while you’re there, I can guarantee you they’ll recommend you sample some hometown cuisine. (How silly will I look if you do ask a Singaporean question and they don’t mention food at all?)

 

Little India is very distinct from Chinatown, adopting the profile of its namesake and bursting out with colourful shopfronts and cheap little hideaway restaurants. I really wanted to sample the sweet treats because they looked amazing with their pretty pinks and gold foils, but there was a pigeon running through the shop and my OCD brain immediately shut down the idea. Damn it. I must try these mysterious sweets at some point. Feel free to hook me up if you have a good suggestion in Sydney. I, in return, can provide you with a list of about 50 bakeries I am obsessed with. But they’ll probably hurt your back pocket. And your scales.

 

 

Given my sensitivity to the cold, the heat in Singapore is something I relished. Pretty much nothing excites me more than the prospect of trekking around in 30 degree temperatures looking at interesting buildings, with the prospect of good food and decent shopping in a clean environment afterwards. So in that regard, Singapore is one of my favourite places. It caters to me almost as though it knows me. Also, Singapore Art Museum introduced me to a piece of work so fantastic that I cannot stop talking about it – ‘Superbarbara Saving the World’. Check it.

 

 

I haven’t focused on the CBD architecture here, and could dedicate an entire extra post to it. The financial district (and woah, what a financial district – virtually every big name in the banking world has an office in Singapore) is full of clean lines and impressive contemporary skyscrapers, with the skyline dominated by the Art + Science Museum, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. The country is a melding of old and new, with the CBD taking its cues from cutting edge modernity and the residential districts divided between colonial British influences and eye-catching high density blocks that dominate some streetscapes.

 

Chinatown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinatown

 

Little India. Such colour.

 

High density living. Public housing flats. Rochor Centre. Built in 1977. It's set to be demolished.

 

CBD.

 

Where we stayed. Oh yeah.

185 Military Road, Dover Heights

 

Aren’t the curves kind of exquisite? This is a very cool architect-designed duplex that’s just been completed in Dover Heights. The couple who built the duplex – they’re keeping the back one and have auctioned the front one – have taken a seriously bespoke approach, which Dov (one half of said couple) led me through in detail. And as anyone who knows me is aware, I love details. They are some of my favourite things.

 

Dover Heights is a seaside eastern suburb. It’s nice and wealthy, hob-knobbing with Rose Bay. All you have to do is follow the adjacent street from this house to its end and bam! Ocean.

 

The couple picked the suburb as Dov’s wife grew up there and the property was already in the family. “Her father bought the house in ’65. The original house was built in the late ’20s… it was a teardown.” But, and you know I always appreciate this, certain features from the original site have been maintained, including the sandstone used for the fence. There is probably no building material I find prettier than sandstone, as an aside.

 

It took a year to design and get council approval for, a year for the bank to approve the loan as Dov is originally from the US, a year to find the perfect builder and around two years to build. “We’ve never built anything before, we never want to do it again, so we wanted everything to be just right,” Dov said. It’s a good philosophy. Renovations are infamously painful, so ensuring every detail is as close to how it should be as possible is a good aim (budget allowing…the main thing that seems to trip people up, from my knowledge, is the budget. However, Dov and his wife did something clever by building a duplex in order to recoup some of the costs of building by selling off the front property. They also went to the trouble of building separate driveways so there’ll never be any inconvenient, messy garage spats – score! As someone who once had a guy try to pull her out of her car in a parking related argument, that is a massive plus).

 

The thing that’s most impressive about this place – aside from the visual effect of the curves, because they’re hard to beat. They give the home a Modernist vibe, and curved facades tend to age better – is how much thought went into sourcing everything. ”Everything’s been individually sourced. Just the windows [as an example], we spent forever shopping for windows, and windows are really expensive in Australia.” My very witty rejoinder was “Everything is really expensive in Australia.” But I guess that isn’t so much a rejoinder as a statement of fact.

 

Dov’s business imports goods from Bali, and the couple travelled over there six times in twelve months to source various products for the home, including fossilised wood, the solid wood floorboards and the super pretty marble basins and teak vanities in the bathrooms. Both the laundry and en suite are hidden, which I always consider a nice touch (nothing like an element of surprise!).

 

The design is intelligent, too, not just visually impressive. Aluminium was used for the gates instead of wood, for instance. ”In this neighbourhood, anything with wood is a disaster. It just rots,” due to the sea breeze. I can vouch for this as someone who grew up by the beach lamenting the fact that my guitar strings rusted almost instantly and my cover of Metal Box by Public Image Limited was ruined.

 

The living area expands out to the yard, creating an indoor-outdoor entertaining space. This layout reminded me of an article published in Domain recently about the value art can add in homes, which is something demonstrated in the house at the moment as it’s been dressed for sale and some eye-catching paintings and sculptures are acting as focal points in the communal zones, which is good to drive conversation. An open living area benefits from something striking (maybe I’m influenced by the Brett Whiteley print my parents had hanging in our upstairs living room, because I love that thing) – this website has a good mix of prints if you’re looking for something interesting (I find this one amazing but I am, let’s say, ‘quirky’).

 

So this property is an interesting one; unique down to the core due to the time the couple has dedicated to ensuring that the detailed work is done well, nicely located near the beach with city views in one of the east’s most covetable postcodes, and, most importantly, beset with some serious curb appeal.

 

One of the upstairs bathrooms has city skyline views, so the couple cleverly used frosted glass down the bottom so you can keep your modesty and clear glass up the top so you can ogle the view while you thank god that you have enough money to live in such a lovely spot.

 

 

The preserved sandstone.

 

It might seem weird to wax lyrical about a basin, but isn't this one incredibly pretty?

 

The en suite bath! Impossible not to want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

152 Clyde Street, North Bondi

 

I actually really like certain contemporary houses. The reason I don’t feature them as often as I do character homes is that not enough people put effort into the design of new homes. It’s all function, no form. So I get really excited when I find a house like this one – a new place that’s totally perfect.

 

It’s in North Bondi, and is well-placed in-between the beach and Rose Bay, my old haunt. As an aside, North Bondi is the best part of Bondi. I guess I can’t technically say that’s a fact, as such…but it’s definitely true. Everything is just pretty nice there. It’s also, incidentally, pretty expensive.

 

This house manages to be beachy, industrial and very architecture-y all at once. The concrete floors, plentiful use of timber, painted brick and deck/pool area combine to give off a kind of ’60s modernist vibe, but in a current-day space.

 

There’s wine storage – always a massive plus – and the layout is good for families or sharers; there’s a fourth bedroom tucked away downstairs that has a nice little view over the front yard and is totally independent from the rest of the house, with its own bathroom and study area. This room would be my room, if I could buy this house. It is on the market, although certainly out of my price range (unless the vendor is willing to accept $26 and a pair of four year old Louboutins…to be fair the Louboutins are really awesome and it’d be sad to see them go, so that’s something). The kind of buyer who should be looking at it – all over it, more precisely – is one who wants contemporary features in a visually arresting place that is located in a part of the east that manages to capture everything at once; the family-oriented, quiet aspects of Rose Bay and the dining/beach vibe.

 

So, where should you go if you want a location like this one – close to the beach, rubbing shoulders with prestigious suburbs, restaurants/cafes/bars on offer, a certain amount of blue chip serenity, Cranbrook/Kambala/Ascham/Scots College all in nice proximity – but are not too keen on the $1.67m median price range? Well…I’m not sure. There’s only one area that compares that I can think of (Mosman – more prestigious than North Bondi, also close to the beach [albeit a very different type of beach], good dining choices but less bars, elite private schools, a nice atmosphere), and it’s even dearer (median of $2.1m). There’s also Manly (excellent choice of bars, gorgeous beaches, not the elite school capital), but its median has crept up to $1.64m, putting it in the not-exactly-affordable category, too. Which is understandable. All great areas. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, you’re going to have to compromise.

 

This is the best bathroom I've ever seen. I adore it.

 

If you can’t tear yourself away from the east and need to be near the beach, Malabar is probably a good bet. Cheaper, ‘quieter’ than Maroubra, geographically impressive. Only issues are the STP and the lack of dining options – you’ll have to trek up to Coogee. But hey, the property market is often about compromise. If you’re not as interested in being right near the beach, Alexandria isn’t a bad choice; it’s been coming up in the cafe/bakery scene for a while, and when I lived there the trip to the eastern beaches was never difficult. If proximity to the city isn’t an issue, my choice would be the northern beaches; suburbs like Newport and Mona Vale are more affordable, have good beaches and are developing decent dining scenes. Your main issue there is the commute.

 

But if you can afford the proper east, this house should tick most of your boxes. I know it ticks mine. It has city skyline views, which helps it push just that little bit further across the ‘awesome’ line.

 

 

I have a lot of love for industrial-style kitchens.

 

The House Hunter outfit of the day.

20 Wunulla Road, Point Piper

 

There is no suburb in Sydney as synonymous with wealth as Point Piper. It’s a small suburb – eleven streets in total – wedged next to Rose Bay in the east with views over it and the harbour. It’s home to the country’s richest residents, including Malcolm Turnbull (Australia’s best politician, surely, with a background that spans over entrepreneurship, law and investment banking…but I’m sure you already know that).

 

Before I delve in to the suburb and the house, I need to make note of the fact that this place’s kitchen has the most amazing tiles I’ve ever seen. I am still tempted to go back there, crowbar them off and run away with them. I hope no one actually does that now, because that would be super awkward now that I’ve written this. They feature different types of liquor bottles. It makes for a great point of interest. It’s also probably popular with guests keen on a drink.

 

What makes this house so fascinating is that it offers everything a buyer looking in the suburb would want – a vast Federation with gorgeous character features in place (the fireplaces are particularly special, and seem to be in immaculate condition), bay views, a sizeable block and double street frontage - but goes beyond that by being quirky. It’s reminiscent of the mansion featured in my favourite Mulberry ad campaign; whimsical, grand, ageing, fantastical. That’s mostly due to the taste of the owners, who appear to have made the mansion into the ultimate party house. I can’t think of a better approach.

 

So what makes me want to have my birthday party here? (And yes, I did ask the owner if I could, but since it’s in February and this one’s on the market, that’s unlikely to get the go ahead.) There’s a lap pool with giant inflatable swans on it, for starters, along with a cabana, a bar and a Heineken umbrella and matching drinks table.

 

Love.

 

The house is not heritage listed, but I’m hopeful that someone who would pay over $7 million for such an exquisite house would retain it and choose to renovate rather than bulldozing the thing. Although the house hasn’t been updated (part of its charm from my perspective, as always), it has a number of defining features in superb condition that would make the refurbishment easier. There are five marble fireplaces and one wooden one that are all looking perfect, a kauri pine staircase, leadlight windows, a butler’s bell (chances are if you can afford to purchase this place, you’ll need a butler’s bell), and a sauna.

 

The bathrooms are one of my favourite aspects of the house. The one featured in the post below in particular is perfect; a bright, consistent colour, speckled mirror, tiny tiles. It’s my idea of faded grandeur.

 

I’d be  very curious to find out what happens to this one once it’s been bought. I’m confident it’ll lose its status as a party house. There’s really only one question to answer: will it become a stunning family home, or a development site?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of life’s best elixirs.

 

49 Great Buckingham Street, Redfern

So this one is really half a house, which is what made me so interested in it. There’s a fantastic sense of eeriness about it – particularly in the contrast between the still semi-intact front rooms and the construction site behind. It’s a grand Victorian terrace frontage in one of Redfern’s best streets that’s had the back stripped off it in order to rebuild, but the owners changed their minds and decided to exit, leaving an unusual proposition for redevelopers and owner-occupiers looking to build a home they can customise.

 

There’s something a little overpowering about standing in a shell of a room – exposed brick walls, the works – looking out at the bare bones of the structure while standing underneath an ornate ceiling with its light setting still attached. It reminds you of what it once was.

 

A little context to the area. This gem is in Redfern’s most coveted pocket, right near the park and rubbing shoulders with Surry Hills (a spot that agents sometimes call ‘Redfern East’. NB: no such suburb exists. Maybe it should, to be fair, because the suburb is pretty diverse). The street is leafy and wide. It’s very clean-safe-inner-city-living. As someone who spent three years in Alexandria, I can say with confidence that Redfern is a suburb with many faces. This is its wealthiest. It’s not an up-and-coming part; it’s well and truly there already. We’re talking low-mid seven figures for an entry level terrace.

 

David Servi, the listing agent, noted that it’s difficult to ascertain value here given the nature of the offering. “You’ve got to work back from what you think the finished product will be worth,” he said. It’s being auctioned on 2 November – I just realised I can’t make it, which is unfortunate as I’d love to see how the bidding progresses and what this one ends up being priced at.

 

I thought you might be interested in seeing what it once was, and luckily the sold listing is still up.

 

Redfern has (unsurprisingly to anyone who’s been interested in the inner-city market over the past decade or so) been increasingly positioned as a sub-set of the Surry lifestyle; it contains my favourite diner (Milk Bar by Cafe Ish – they have malteser pie and rosewater milkshakes. Unbeatable) hole-in-the-wall cafes (Nookie) and small bars (The Dock, amongst others). If you’re priced out of the east side and are looking at how to enter the market here as affordably as possible, you’ll probably have to start looking a bit further south, because even The Block has started to exceed the $800k mark. Darlington’s seen its median jump over that point, too. Waterloo still has a median in the low $700k zone, and has one of the inner-south’s best eating and design strips (Danks Street, everyone’s perennial favourite). It also offers easy access to the eastern suburbs and a pretty simple commute to the city. The only thing to be wary of is the tract of high-density apartment blocks that have sprouted up there over the past decade, and the suicide towers, which can be a little spooky.