Seeing the light in a world for which the lights will soon go off

25 06 2013

I recently stepped into an old world soon to be discarded in an obscure corner of Mount Emily, a corner which has until now, resisted the changes which have taken away much of the area’s old world charm. The world I stepped into at 13 Wilkie Terrace, a semi-detached two storey house perched atop a terrace above which a house I suspect was built by the Sultan of Siak (the former Osborne House) proudly stands at the top of Mount Emily, will soon make way for a new residential development. Having been the home of the Chia family since 1935, the family decided to bid farewell to it by hosting a community arts exhibition, Displacements (which closed on Sunday), which has not only allowed the artists involved to express the subject of being displaced – a theme relevant not just to the house but to Singapore as a whole, but has also given the curious (I should really say kay-poh – local speak for a “busybody”) like me to have a peek inside a house which has always seemed mysterious to me.

Windows into a once mysterious world that was 13 Wilkie Terrace.

Open windows leading into a once mysterious world that was 13 Wilkie Terrace.

A passageway into a world filled with memories.

A passageway into a world filled with memories.

Climbing the stairs to terrace, brings the house into full view. I was immediately drawn to the many windows the house has been generously provided with, typical of houses built in its era. It is through the many windows, which I always see in old places as portals into the past, where we do find lingering memories of the house and the reminders of a simpler time we have long forgotten.

The stairway to the terrace on which the house is perched.

The stairway to the terrace on which the house is perched.

Through the main door, a hall where too much seemed to be going on, came into view. In one corner, what seemed to be a flea market contributed much to the colour and clutter, clutter that was also contributed by the group crouched over a long table at the far end where a workshop was being held. Right by the door, a few cages filled with cat, apparently on sale, added to the confusion in the seemingly small pace. The confusion perhaps a reminder of the many extended family gatherings we are told had once brought much life to what did eventually became a silent and empty space.

Displacement through a window.

Displacement through a window.

The confusion that was the hall.

The confusion that was the hall.

A workshop being held.

A workshop being held.

A cat in a cage.

A cat in a cage.

It is beyond the hall where I found most interesting – the high ceiling spaces of the interior beyond which, coloured by the changing patterns of shadow and soft light streaming through the windows, both on the lower and upper levels were a joy to behold. In and around the rooms, there also were the many memories in the objects present, of times which have passed. An old piano for which the music has died, sits on an open area of the upper level. Laid bare, the signs of age and neglect for which it has been abandoned are very evident, a reflection of the once grand houses of the area, for which time did very quickly pass.

The passageway past the main hall.

The passageway past the main hall.

A room on the lower level.

A room on the lower level.

Another room on the lower level.

Another room on the lower level.

An installation which does reflect the displacement of spaces in Singapore where many place names have been displaced moving with where development takes them.

An installation which does reflect the displacement of spaces in Singapore where many place names have been displaced moving with where development takes them.

A hallway.

A hallway.

The stairway to the upper level.

The stairway to the upper level.

The view down the stairway.

The view down the stairway.

Bakelite switches and the controls of a ceiling fan.

Bakelite switches and the controls of a ceiling fan.

A old piano laid bare.

A old piano laid bare.

A Butoh dance performance by Syv Bruzeau seen during my visit to the house.

A Butoh dance performance by Syv Bruzeau seen during my visit to the house.

An installation.

An installation.

A Victorian era rotary knife cleaner.

A Victorian era rotary knife cleaner.

It is not just this house for which time will soon pass, the signs can already be seen of the transformation which will completely change the face of the terrace – on a plot where an empty terrace once separated No 13 from a neighbouring house at No. 7 (since demolished), sales office and a show flat for the new residential development taking place there have come up and it will not be long before another piece, one of few that is surviving, of an old world I once enjoyed wandering around, will be lost.

7 Wilkie Terrace (since demolished) seen in Nov 2012.

7 Wilkie Terrace (since demolished) seen in Nov 2012.

Signs of the change that will soon come to Wilkie Terrace.

Signs of the change that will soon come to Wilkie Terrace.

More photographs of 13 Wilkie Terrace

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A secret hideaway

27 09 2012

Lying in a quiet corner of Katong, is an old bungalow, a secret hideaway it may seem, that even with a very modern looking extension that it has recently gained, still exudes a charm it must have had when it was first built. Built at the turn of the last century, the house raised on piers, tells of a time and place we have long forgotten, a time when the song of the sea would be heard from the nearby shore which since been moved. It is today ventilated not by the breeze of a nearby sea that its generous windows were meant to welcome, but choked by a surroundings in it is now out of place in.

A house that feels like a secret hideaway in Katong.

The house which is located at 25 Chapel Road, is one on which much has been done to keep its charm – a recent conservation effort undertaken by the owners won a Urban Redevelopment Auitority (URA) award for conservation – the URA Architectural Heritage Award in 2010. Part of the conservation efforts involved work on refurbishing some of the exterior features such as floral mouldings and ‘Peranakan’ tiles found on the steps that lead up to the house, the excellent condition of which is clearly seen today.

Floral mouldings on the balustrade of a stairway to a forgotten world.

Peranakan tiles on the steps leading up to the house.

Restored floral mouldings on the exterior of the house.

I had a recent opportunity to see the house for myself, the green and white bamboo chicks of a type which once adorned many verandahs and baclonies, colouring what would be the openings on the house’s open verandah, was the first thing to catch my attention. It is up one of the two flights of steps that flank that the verandah, step that are gaily decorated by ‘Peranakan’ tiles and lined by concrete balustrades on which the floral mouldings are evident, that the charm of the very simply furnished and very airy verandah becomes apparent. It would have been a wonderful place to spend quiet evenings relaxing in, fanned by the cool breeze of the sea.

The front of the house with its polygonal verandah and a new extension which now accommodates bedrooms and bathrooms.

Part of the well ventilated open polygonal verandah.

More of the airy verandah.

Another one of the verandah.

Stepping on the restored floorboards of timber, I am taken back to a place of my childhood, a place that is no longer there. The wooden wall panels, and details on them certainly spoke of that time forgotten. I step into the main hall beyond the wood of the wall, greeted by a spacious but cosy room which might in its pre-conserved state, have been sub-divided to accommodate a bedroom, as is the room beyond a transverse partition that separates the hall from what is now the dining room. The back of the dining room was where the back wall of the house would have been, a wall again fitted generously with windows, now serves as a partition between the dining room and an extension added at the rear which accommodates today’s modern kitchen.

A memory of my childhood: seen under the floorboards, the piers that support the house, bringing me back to places of my childhood I can no longer go back to.

The very spacious yet cosy main hall.

Another view of the hall.

The transverse passageway created in the space between the old and the new, leads at one end to a flight of stairs. This serves as the access to the other new additions: a lap pool and another extension, built on the site of the former garage. This extension is where a gym, bathrooms and bedrooms are to be found, new that is seemingly in harmony with the old.

The passage between the rear extension and the original house – the former rear wall of the house is seen on the right.

The new extension where the garage was, seen on the left with the lap pool.

One of the bedrooms in the new extension.

Another bedroom.

A peek at the bathroom in the Master Bedroom.

Another look at the bathroom.

Based on information at the URA’s website, there had been quite a lot of thought that had been put in during the conservation efforts not just to retain the building’s features, but also in preserving the memory of the occupants. More information on the house and the conservation effort can be found at the Conservation of Built Heritage site on the URA’s website.

Another look at the verandah and one of two flights of steps leading up from the front yard..

Old world reflected off a representative of the new world.

A 1993 photograph of the house showing a garage where the extension has been added (from the Lee Kip Lin Collection. All rights reserved. Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board, Singapore 2009).

Close-ups of some of the details seen at the house can be found at a previous post: Patterns of an old world.





Patterns of an old world

21 08 2012

In a world that is changing too fast, it is always nice to discover reminders of a time we have left behind and a time we may long have forgotten. I very recently stumbled on one, a world of Peranakan tiles, bamboo chicks and coloured frosted glass …