The ultra-chic Wendy Long is a self-professed city girl—and by city, she really means the heart of Singapore’s shopping belt, Orchard Road. So, when the time came to find a new home that would be larger than the four-bedroom apartment in the Marina Bay area that she shares with her husband, Long decided to look for properties that are a stone’s throw away from all the places she usually frequents.
The advantages of a bigger space, Long explains, was something she had come to appreciate during the last two years of the pandemic. However, instead of going for a Good Class Bungalow or—as she calls them—“cookie cutter inter-terrace landed properties”, Long fell in love with a pre-war conservation house on Cairnhill Road.
“Whether it is your own style or the house that you live in, personality is very important. I’m very particular when it comes to what I like and what I don’t. A house should always be a reflection of your overall style,” she expounds.
Location was an important factor when it came to choosing her new home. But she adds that the proximity also helps as she is often slightly late to everything. “Staying further away would mean that I might show up only after everyone is done,” she says, half in jest, breaking into laughter.
Designed by renowned Singapore-based Argentinian architect Ernesto Bedmar in the 1980s, the three-storey conservation property sits on prime real estate land with a built-up area of about 4,000sqft. According to Long’s own research, it was previously owned by a member of one of Singapore’s most prominent families. That tiny fact clinched the deal for her.
Long recalls that she had first seen the listing for the sale of the house slightly more than a year ago. While she loved the space from seeing the photos and the video tour of the house online, she did not make a viewing appointment. Shortly after, the listing was taken off the market.
“At that time, I was not ready to make an offer, and I did not want to see things just for fun. I always believe that you should see it in person only when you are in the position to make a serious offer. Otherwise, you are wasting people’s time and effort. And that is not how I operate.”
Good things, as the saying goes, come to those who wait. When the couple was finally ready to take the plunge, they viewed six other shophouses (none of which piqued her interest) before the Cairnhill house reappeared on the market. “The stars were aligned. I did not waste any time making an offer because we knew what we wanted and were serious about buying,” says Long.
So keen were they to purchase the property that Long initially did not even want to schedule a pre-purchase viewing. They did, in the end, see the house in person, but Long says that it was “more of a formality than anything else.” One of the interesting design elements of the property is the way it has been constructed to allow natural light to fill the home. Of course, some updates needed to be done to the property. For the six-month long project, Long engaged her longtime design collaborator, Terence Chan, principal architect of creative design studio Terre. The brief to him was simple: A more contemporary take on the mid-century modern design aesthetic, while retaining as much of the original design elements as possible.
“I wanted to pay homage to the heritage and provenance of the space as well as the architect, while putting our own spin on it,” Long explains. “So rather than gutting out everything and starting from scratch, Terence and I worked on a design that juxtaposes the old and new in a more harmonious way.”
On the outside, the property’s facade is deceptively simple and unassuming. The old, dark grey tiles and grey-toned wall colour were replaced with large light olive-toned beige tiles and white paint to brighten the exterior. Flanking the courtyard are two heavy stone benches that were Bedmar’s original design. An olive tree stands at the corner of the main gate. It was one of the two things that Long’s husband requested for. Her architect took that as a starting point for his design, adding splashes of olive tones all over the house. She subsequently decided to christen the property ‘The Olive House’. She says, “The name makes perfect sense and made monogramming the towels, for instance, easy.”
Despite the rather minimalist aesthetic of the exterior, the interior is anything but. Step through the wooden double doors and the first thing one notices while standing in the reception area, is the stark contrast from the outside. In the original design, two areas in the upper decks had been punched through, the openings replaced with glass panels. This lets in natural light, creating an arresting display of shadow play around various spots in the house, and a cosier atmosphere despite the high ceilings. The forward-thinking design also meant that the first level now has very clearly designated areas for entertaining—something that Long loves to do, and is known for.
Cream-coloured sofas fill the reception space, anchored by a gargantuan lacquered wood coffee table by Christian Liaigre, piled with fashion and art books, artfully stacked in between Baccarat crystals and Louis Vuitton table ornaments. “The funny thing is, while this area was designed as the reception or living room, we hardly spend any time here,” Long shares. “Usually, when guests come, they will be ushered to the bar area first, which is situated on the upper deck at the back of the house.”
The space flows seamlessly from the reception room to the dining area, which is separated only by the glass staircase. Taking centre stage in the dining room is a handsome 4.3mlong, 16-seater dining table that was custom made from four slabs of marble.
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Because of her love for throwing sit-down lunch and dinner parties, the space is designed and organised in such a way that allows for such activities to take place smoothly. Today, for instance, the BAZAAR Singapore crew is treated to a sumptuous Asian spread of mutton and chicken biryani, satay, and crab cakes, catered by COMO Cuisine and served on gorgeous Gucci tableware. The drink of choice for the lady of the house is Ruinart. Her biggest fear when it comes to entertaining is under-catering the food. “You never want that to happen, which is why I don’t know how to do things in moderation,” she confesses.
With the larger space in the new house, Long can finally display her extensive collection of beautiful tableware from fashion houses such as Hermès and Ralph Lauren, as well as those by Richard Ginori for Gucci.
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When she is not entertaining, Long shares that she and her husband spend their mealtimes in the kitchen, which is one of her favourite spots in the house. Done in a chef’s kitchen aesthetic, it is equipped with stainless steel appliances, including two refrigerators and an ice maker machine, ample storage spaces and a doubledoor pantry cabinet. “I like it there because it feels very homely. We sit around the island to eat, and when my parents come to visit, the kitchen becomes a communal spot for small gatherings.”
A timber walkway, built over an indoor pond, leads to the upper deck at the back of the house, where there is a full bar set up, another sitting area outfitted with designer furniture from the likes of Eames and Bottega Veneta, as well as a billiard table. The recreation space, as she often refers to it, is created for pre- or post-prandial drinks. From this vantage point, one can see the entire length of the house. A spiral staircase beside the bar leads to the third floor, where her husband’s study and a separate guestroom are located.
The couple’s master bedroom is located at the upper deck at the front of the house. Looking up while climbing the glass staircase, which is a part of Bedmar’s original design that was retained, one can already see another of Long’s favourite spots in the house: Her walk-in wardrobe dedicated to her favourite label, Saint Laurent.
Built on the mezzanine floor right above the ensuite bathroom of the master bedroom, the walk in wardrobe is akin to being in a private lounge of a Saint Laurent store. Her most recent purchases from the French house’s latest collection hang on the display rack that lines the wall, while hats, accessories and other pieces from past collections are kept in wardrobes, visible through sliding glass doors. A massive mirror leans against the wall, magnifying an already generously-sized space.
Every tiny detail in the house has been well-curated and carefully thought of. A place for everything, and everything in its place, as they say. It is the same type of curation process that Long applies to her own wardrobe and personal style. “I know exactly what I want, and how I feel in certain pieces. Sometimes, it is just based on instinct because you know when you look at something, be it furniture or fashion, whether it works for you or not. And this comes from practice,” she says. “To me, self-awareness is key, and the only way to know what you want is to have a strong idea of what makes you feel comfortable. Everything else will then fall into place.”
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Gracia Phang
Producer: Navin Pillay
Video: Ewan Lim / Ohai Media
Hair: Grego using Keune Haircosmetics
Makeup: Wee Ming using Chanel Beauty
Production Assistant: Brandon Chia