Published March 10, 2007


Home away from home

GEOFFREY EU meets a couple from UK who buy a house in S'pore, give it an extensive makeover and make it their second home

IT WASN'T exactly love at first sight when Charles Fearn and his wife, Sandy, set eyes on the house that was eventually to become their home, mainly because there really wasn't that much to admire.

Spacious and bright: A major characteristic of the Fearns' house is the overall sense of space. There are high ceilings, a distinct lack of clutter with the furnishings and plenty of natural light

The still-unfinished two-storey house, designed in a fairly generic style to reflect the modern, affluent face of residential architecture in Singapore, was one of several houses that had been built along a prime stretch of road in central Singapore and put up for sale by a local developer.

The Fearns, who were moving to Singapore for the second time in a decade, already had a primary residence in Surrey, England and were looking for a second home to accommodate them during the extended periods when Mr Fearn was here on business: he is the chief executive of Petredec Services (Asia), a trading and shipping company that deals mainly in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Thanks to the persuasive powers of their property agent who sold them a 7,500-square-foot house on a 15,000-square-foot plot where they originally intended to purchase a smaller apartment, and a fortuitous meeting with an interior designer who oversaw an extensive residential makeover, the Fearns have both a reason to be house proud, and a tidy return on their initial investment.

'The house was basically a concrete shell when we first saw it. But we liked the neighbourhood and we decided 'why not, let's go for it',' says Mr Fearn, who first came to Asia in the early 1990s when he attended an LPG convention in Kuala Lumpur. 'We came away with so much enthusiasm for Asia that we decided to open an office in Singapore.'

The company also has offices in Monaco and the Caribbean. But Mr Fearn, who spent two years here in the late-1990s and then returned to the UK before coming back in 2005, expects to spend a substantial amount of time in Singapore.

'Asia is still a large growth area for our industry,' he says. 'I always felt very comfortable working here because the environment encourages business and there's no bureaucracy as such. The government makes life relatively easy for us.'

The house had already been fitted with standard interior fittings and finishes, but the Fearns were not satisfied with the overall quality. 'It just was not good enough for this type of house, so we negotiated a set of different finishes,' says Mr Fearn.

Meanwhile, he met Spanish designer Isabelle Miaja through a mutual friend and engaged her services. Ms Miaja, who has offices in Singapore, Dubai and Paris, works mainly on hotel and resort projects. She worked to get the right finishes, designed some of the furnishings and also helped with selecting some of the readymade pieces of furniture.

'A home should be worked on together,' she says. 'It's something that needs to evolve. We need to remember that it's not a show flat.'

One major characteristic of the finished house is the overall sense of space in the house. There are high ceilings throughout, a distinct lack of clutter with the furnishings and plenty of natural light. In addition, the seating in the living areas are deliberately designed to be low in order to emphasise the height of the ceiling.

The home looks inescapably contemporary, exuding a thoroughly modern but not overly cold feel, thanks to the creams and light browns and other natural colours that dominate the main living room, plus the limestone floors, built-in lights and a staircase finished in Tasmanian oak.

A lot of careful thought and interesting detailing went into the interiors, including built-in cabinets, well-made shelves and other small design flourishes throughout, such as the secret compartment-like doors leading to a room that has been turned into a gym. Various decorative items occupy prominent spots, and there are several examples of abstract art on the walls, including a triptych that was commissioned from a local gallery. The house has four large bedrooms, one of which is occupied by visiting grandchildren on a regular basis. The Fearns also travel quite frequently, which might explain the fact that there doesn't appear to be a single item out of place. Everything, including the barely used kitchen, is in pristine, ready-to-entertain condition.

The Fearns live in a 20-year-old house in England, while the house in Singapore was finished in 2005. 'Because it's the tropics, we wanted the house to be light, spacious and airy,' says Ms Sandy. 'The contemporary furnishings work particularly well in a warmer climate as well. The biggest thing I like about it is the amount of space and natural light we have.'