When she was growing up, 42-year-old Marie Boon attended the prominent Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, which was founded in 1899 as an all-girls Peranakan school. Before it was relocated to Dunearn Road in the 1990s, the institution was located on Emerald Hill, a conservation area where many of the Peranakan houses feature Chinese Baroque architecture. Boon remembers well the long houses in the neighbourhood with their airwells. Her fondness for Peranakan culture was cultivated from her school days, as her family home on Garlick Avenue was adorned with green ventilation tiles, a quintessential Peranakan feature.
Today, imbued with respect for the Peranakan culture, Boon has tastefully mixed the traditional and modern in her refurbished home at 32 Greenleaf View, a 2½-storey semi-detached house with six bedrooms and seven bathrooms. She designed the interior of the house after she rebuilt it last year.
Boon tore down the old house and rebuilt it; it is by far her largest expenditure (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
The feature wall of the attic bathroom is decked out in amber Peranakan tiles, which she sourced from local tile supplier Hafary. “I [bought] these amber versions of the same green tiles from my childhood before knowing what I was going to do with them,” says Boon, a language and numeracy therapist to children with dyslexia. “Now, I will always have my fond childhood memories with me.”
Boon’s house, which she is putting up for rent (see “Renovated house commands rental premium”), is inspired and shaped by her colourful life experiences. For example, the skylight is reminiscent of the airwells from her youth and is a practical feature that brings light into the house. “The inner area [of a semi-detached house] is usually rather dark,” she explains.
The house boasts an old and artful collection of objets d’art, one-offs and oddities. It is decorated with curios from around the world, which Boon painstakingly collected over time, including the brass bird tray by Creatively Active Minds and a marble door stop by west elm, a Brooklyn-based home decor store.
The feature wall in the attic bathroom is adorned with amber Peranakan tiles, Boon’s ode to the culture she loves (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
Harnessing the power of the internet, she turned to social media applications such as Instagram, Houzz and Pinterest for design inspirations and careful purchases.
Boon is constantly on the lookout for her next buy, scouring both the internet and physical stores for treasures.
A turquoise swing graces the garden of the basement bedroom. It was silver when Boon chanced upon it at a blacksmith’s store in Serangoon Gardens. Interestingly, the basement is one of the reasons she bought the house, as only three units on the street have one.
The basement bedroom opens out to a garden, where Boon enjoys many evenings on the turquoise swing (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
“It isn’t your typical dark and dingy basement, as it opens out to the garden. Evenings are the best time to sit on the swing; otherwise, it would be too hot,” she says. In addition to the garden in the basement bedroom, there is an outdoor bathroom that brings one closer to nature.
The most sumptuous space in the house is the powder room, tucked unsuspectingly under the staircase, behind a door that blends in with the white wall. There, one is transported to another universe: The striking emerald green subway tiles on the wall and the Peranakan tiles on the floor are another nod to the culture Boon holds in high regard.
She says, “This is one of my favourite bathrooms. It was so funny when there were guests over and some of them said, ‘Where’s the toilet?’, and then they were pleasantly surprised by it. It is designed to symbolise the hidden treasures in the world around us.”
The centrepiece in the powder room is an antique Singer sewing machine table restored to its former glory and now used as a sink holder. It was a lucky find at Hock Siong & Co, a second-hand furniture store on Kampong Ampat. “I had always wanted a Singer sewing machine, so I went around Singapore looking for it,” she says.
Emerald green tiles are the surprise element in the powder room, which has Peranakan tiles on the floor. The refurbished Singer sewing machine is creatively reused as a sink holder. (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
Doubtless, upcycling is something in which Boon has a keen interest. “If something old can be fixed, given a new coat of paint and repurposed, why not? People need to go through several transformations in life, so why not furniture?” she muses.
Besides the sewing machine, there is also a vintage window grille that serves as wall art and is admired for its intricate details and craftsmanship.
The original house at 32 Greenleaf View, which Boon demolished, was ordinary-looking and much smaller. The interior was simple and traditional, with a plain staircase. “There’s nothing on the street that looks like this now. Google Maps still has the image of the old house,” she says.
The turquoise main door, complete with a sun motif, is an example of Boon’s creativity. The design was sketched on a Post-it note. “I drew it out, passed it to my architect, Andrew Loh from LG Architects, and told him, ‘Please translate,’” Boon says.
The turquoise main door is a nice contrast to the warm shades in the house (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
An avid traveller, she fancies Spanish-style houses with their sandy and terracotta shades, a common sight in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she did her Master’s. As such, she had the walls of 32 Greenleaf View painted in antique bisque, emanating a warm, rosy hue.
The seven bathrooms in Boon’s house, each furnished differently, bear her special touch. As evidence of her soft spot for texture, the walls of one bathroom are full of Patricia Urquiola’s Azulej Flores for mutina tiles in Nero; in another, it is Patricia Urquiola’s Esagona Decor Ecru tiles. Both sets of tiles were sourced from Rice Lab in Singapore. Yet another bathroom is decorated with Murray Feiss’ antique brass nautical lights, topped with a high-arc antique brass faucet from the Pegasus Verdanza series. The master bathroom is lined with mother-of-pearl mosaic tiles as well as stone tiles with carvings of flower motifs, some of which were obtained from Hup Kiong, a local supplier on Defu Lane.
Each of the bathroom are decorated differently, like this master bathroom which is lined wiith carvings of flower motifs. (Credit: Andrew Phua/ Instagram: @andrewphuaphotosspace)
Boon recalls a French tenant who, upon entering the master bathroom, exclaimed, “This is exactly what I do back home in France: mother-of-pearl tiles with recess!”
While Boon hopes to pursue her passion in interior design, she wants to dedicate her time to helping children with dyslexia. She believes they are deserving of help and could benefit from guidance and encouragement. For 18 years, she has taught this particular group and found joy in helping them acquire a love for reading and writing.
Boon was behind the design of 32 Greenleaf View, from start to finish (Credit: Albert Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
It remains to be seen whether Boon will pursue interior design as a career. As the 32 Greenleaf View project shows, however, interior design will always be in her heart. “I need to take a break from managing a house but, in terms of decor, I don’t need a break. I am ready for the next challenge,” she says.
This article appeared in the EdgeProp Issue #833 (June 4, 2018)