Though many of their neighbours are opting for a modern facelift, Lucy and Struan Ridgewell’s rental shophouse on Makepeace Road retains its original façade.
This is one of those quiet residential roads that you could pass by without noticing, unless you had a specific reason for going there. As I drive down the narrow street, construction is in progress at one of the houses – no doubt to tear down the old façade and replace it with sheets of gleaming glass.
But when Lucy and Struan moved to Singapore three years ago, they weren’t looking for a modern home; they were looking for something far more traditional. Despite its rather unusual interior, when she first laid eyes on the house, says Lucy, she could see its great potential.
“The previous tenant was a British film director who painted the walls extraordinary colours. The living area was electric blue! But we signed the lease on the spot.”
Since then, they have toned down the décor significantly. The walls are now painted white, and Lucy sums up the interior as “colonial with a dash of Chinese and a smattering of Ikea”.
The reception area still has its original terracotta flooring, now complemented by some beautiful colonial furniture made by close friends of the couple, who live in Bali. And mounted on a wall in the reception area is a magnificent pair of Masai warrior spears, which they picked up in Kenya.
“We couldn’t believe how easy it was to get them into Singapore!” admits Lucy.
Pets, Parks and Pubs
I love visiting the houses of families who have dogs – mainly because I don’t have one of my own – so I was thrilled when Maisie the West Highland terrier appeared. Fortunately for Maisie, there is a small park at the rear of the house where she can run around, and the courtyard, which leads from the house into the park, reminds me of the garden of a quaint English country pub. Lucy, on the other hand, says it reminds her of a Moroccan riad. Either way, it’s lovely.
There is a high brick wall on one side of the courtyard and a wrought-iron gate leading out onto the grass, and looking back towards the first floor of the house are the gorgeous, original wooden window-frames. Small Union Jack pennants are strung up across the courtyard to remind Lucy and Struan of home.
Lucy tells me that home for her is the Isle of Wight, and having been there myself as a child I assume that it would have been wonderful to grow up there.
“Goodness, no! It was terribly dull when I was a teenager,” she says. “Of course, I love it now that I’m an adult.”
Do you ever have the sensation that you’re being watched? Well, while I am chatting to Lucy, I get that feeling. Then I spot a cherubic little face peering down at me from the original Chinese air-vent above.
“Oh, that’s Alec,” explains Lucy, as a little hand begins to wave at us from the lap of the family helper.
Alec is Lucy’s 15-month old son and according to his mum he often sits up there with Maisie, keeping watch on the goings-on below.
We troop up the staircase to meet the little man himself, and to take a look at his wonderful bedroom. In one corner sits an old-fashioned pram, which looks like a prop straight out of Mary Poppins.
“My brother was pushed around in that pram as a baby … and he is nearly 50 years old!” says Lucy. She adds that she has taken Alec out in it a few times, but found it difficult to manoeuvre compared to the modern super-buggies.
“I also had people coming up to me saying how much they liked my antique!”
Down to Business
Besides the obligatory collection of soft toys and teddies, Alec also has a splendid four-poster cot filled with fabric accessories, care of his mum’s new company, Ruby Slipper.
Despite its name, Lucy assures me that her business has nothing to do with slippers or shoes of any kind. Instead, she sells a collection of soft furnishings and accessories made of pure linen and Egyptian cotton. “When I first got to Singapore, I couldn’t find any linen that I liked, and anything that was decent quality was horrendously expensive. So I decided to make my own,” she explains.
Her designs are hand-embroidered in Vietnam, on cotton from Egypt and pure linen from China. “People are often put off when they hear that the linen comes from China, but in fact its quality rivals the stuff made in Italy,” she says.
Lucy sells her products at fairs – including the popular Shophouse Fair, which is held on the last Thursday of every month – but she has also launched a new website where customers can order online.
The top floor of the house, where the shopkeeper’s family would have once lived, is a showroom for Lucy’s wares. Her cushion covers, duvet covers and other soft accessories are primarily white, accented with coloured embroidery. The stitching is immaculate; for such excellent quality, I find the prices surprisingly low.
If you peer out of the window, there is a great view of the courtyard below and also of a large chimney jutting out of the rooftop on the first floor, which would have had a functional purpose in days gone by. Lucy admits, however, that this is one area she would like to renovate: “I’d love to turn the rooftop into a chill-out area where I could enjoy a G & T in the evenings.”
We agree that Singapore is a wonderful place for reinventing oneself. The former PR executive says that she would hate to go back into the corporate world and is thoroughly enjoying her new business venture.
“Because I work from home, I am able to spend time with Alec,” she says, and since the playroom doubles as her study she can build her business empire from there, while Alec gets stuck into his crayons beside her.
Ruby Slipper for exquisite linen and cotton merchandise
+65 9116 4471
Pottery Jungle for great pottery, vases and lamps
5 Lorong Tawas
+65 6268 6121
TS Portraits for lovely portraits of pets or people from photographs
+65 9727 3812
Davi Beschizza, an artist who paints houses beautifully
+65 9824 6440
Elliott’s Antiques for one-off antique Chinese cabinets
Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade #02-13
+65 6337 1008
At Home & Garden for incredibly realistic fake flowers
733 Bukit Timah Rd #01-05
+65 6468 0868
Little Ones for children’s photography
+65 9728 1598
The Orchard for colonial and contemporary furniture
33 Jalan Oberoi, Legian, Bali
+62 361 410 397
Croyez Power Plate Studio, where working out is fun
Blk 8D #03-06, Dempsey Road
+65 6474 4133
Playdays, a great children’s nursery
41 Sunset Way, # 01-01 Clementi Arcade
+65 6465 4481