Black and white houses Singapore
For those new to Singapore, this title might result in a little head scratching. What exactly is a black and white house? It sounds like instructions for a fancy-dress party. What does it have to do with houses?
Dressed to impress
The elegant black and white houses of Singapore date back to the colonial era when well-heeled immigrants built magnificent homes set in gorgeously lush gardens. Most of these houses are spacious, aristocratic, and carefully oriented to get the most out of sunshine, shade, and the cooling breezes. The beautiful exteriors of these regal structures help clarify the term ‘black and white’, as they are invariably white houses with black trimmed timbers.
If you’re hoping to live in one of these beautiful homes, you’ll find that you have a lot of competition, particularly from other expats. There were once thousands of black and white houses, but today, only about 500 remain. But what houses these are! There are even tours that take in some of the most beautiful examples. Many of these are found in Alexandra Park, but a few black and white bungalows are dotted about in other locations too.
History and character
Most black and white houses were built by wealthy plantation owners in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds. The First World War slowed development and the Second World War ended this era, but a few of these homes remain. They’re usually double-story mansions despite the ‘bungalow’ name which evokes something low and compact. And of course, most of the people who had them built were British. There are single story black and white houses too, but like their double story cousins, they are large by modern standards!
Stepping into one of these houses brings to mind elegant parties, lawn croquet, and picnics with a throng of elegant guests arriving to enjoy genteel entertainment in the high-ceilinged parlours or spacious, green-fringed grounds. The black and white houses of Singapore echo with history and long-forgotten laughter – but today, expats are adding their own brand of modern vitality to this form of living.
Most black and white houses are owned by the state and are regarded as national monuments. That doesn’t mean you can’t rent them, though! The important thing is that you have to keep the original look and feel of these historic homes. No painting over with neon colours!
Of course, most people are happy and proud to live in one of these historic homes, and choose them for their colonial splendour, so apart from a touch of whitewash and a bit of coating on the black beams, most are happy to retain the original look.
What are the interiors like?
The rooms are large and airy, with plenty of light and black and white tiles and wooden floors are the order of the day. If you love decorating with antiques, and adore everything that’s retro, a black and white house is definitely for you.
The high-ceilinged rooms also lend themselves well to more modern furnishings, provided you go with classic materials and neutral colours. And of course, if you love Asian furniture, you can have a field day when you decorate your black and white house.
When you’re decorating a black and white house in Singapore, you need to think big! Modern houses are positively poky by comparison. Those who prefer smaller indoor spaces often use curtains or blinds to divide the space up a little more. To those used to modern apartments, the rooms seem huge!
Given the hot climate of Singapore, it’s hardly surprising that big windows, spacious verandas, and lush gardens are important features of black and white houses. Although modern expats often install air conditioning, the veranda is still a favourite place to relax with friends over some dinner, or a nice glass of wine!
Most of these historic homes are set in beautiful gardens filled with tropical plants and visited by birds and wildlife. Swimming pools are a modern feature that has been added to many of them. Who says you can’t beat the heat just because you live in an older building?
Art and architecture
Architectural magazines still feature Singapore’s black and white houses today. There have even been entire books devoted to the art of the black and white house. They are not only beautiful but practical too. The problem that the designs address is primarily that of the Singaporean climate which hasn’t got any cooler!
The roofs have large overhangs to provide shade, but the light still streams into the elegant rooms. After Japanese occupation many of these homes fell into disrepair, but since then, most of them have been lovingly restored with the addition of a few subtle mod-cons that we see as absolute necessities today.
Where are the best places to see black and white houses?
Rochester Park: View the beautiful houses and then have dinner or a drink at the Rochester House, the One Rochester or Da Paolo Bistro Bar all of which are located in forever-stylish black and white houses.
Dempsey Road: Once again, many of the historic houses here are now devoted to foodie delights.
Portsdown Road: This very arty community is part residential part Mecca for art galleries and creative studios.
Gillman Barracks: Once resounding with the tramp of soldiers’ boots this area combines art and cuisine with the wonderful architecture.
Adam Park: Strictly residential eye-candy for lovers of beautiful architecture! You will struggle to believe that this beautiful area once housed a Prisoner of War camp.
Sembawang Park: A magnificent area to view black and white houses. Best of all, the most stunning one is open to anyone with a taste for seafood as it is now a restaurant.
How do I get to live in one of these homes?
As you might have guessed, black and white houses are in high demand, and you will have to bid on one. The houses are in short supply and get snapped up quickly, so if you want to experience elegant, colonial-style living, the sooner you get the wheels in motion, the better!
Do be prepared for a hefty price tag. A rather dilapidated black and white recently commanded the highest price ever asked for a residential property in Singapore. As you’d expect from this, the rental on a well-restored and maintained black and white house isn’t exactly ‘cheap’ and for most people, it isn’t even affordable. But if you can afford to rent one of these truly stately homes, and you want to turn your time in Singapore into the best experience ever, there’s nothing to beat the classic black and white house.
Also published on Medium.