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Heritage Spotlight

The neo-classical beauty of Beaulieu House

Former lodgings of British naval officers, Beaulieu House has Victorian cast-iron work

Overlooking the Strait of Johor, Beaulieu House may be one of Singapore's most well-preserved heritage buildings.

Meaning "beautiful place" in French, the 6,652 sq ft house was built in 1910 by Jewish businessman Joseph Brook David as a holiday home. He also had residences in Oxley Rise and Nassim Road.

Much of the single-storey bungalow's original neo-classical look has remained intact. It received conservation status in April 2005.

Located at 117 Beaulieu Road in Sembawang Park, the British government bought the house and its surrounding land from Mr David in 1923 to build the Sembawang Naval Base, which was completed in 1938.

Ms Diana Chua, a member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) conservation advisory panel, says: "The British built only one naval base in Singapore and, during the 1930s, this was the biggest one east of the Suez Canal, so it was a big deal."

Senior navy engineering staff involved in the construction lived there, followed by navy officials, most notably Vice-Admiral Geoffrey Layton from 1940 to 1942.

After World War II, Beaulieu House was handed to the Singapore Government in 1968 as the British forces started to withdraw from the country.

A handsome bungalow, its architecture would have been perfectly symmetrical if not for the annex to the left of the house. It is believed to have been added at a later date for extra living space when naval officers occupied it.

Original terrazzo clay tiles cover the floor of the front hall, the marble and quartz chips embedded in the tiles catching and reflecting light. In the main hall directly behind, multi-coloured encaustic floor tiles, which get their colour from the clay used, enchant with their geometric pattern.

Although the tiles are naturally hard-wearing, URA's senior architect Loy Ju-Lin says it is "rare to have such well-preserved tiles".

Another eye-catching detail of Beaulieu House is the Victorian cast-iron work inside and outside the building.

There is also a balcony of sorts on the roof with similar cast-iron detailing. Although it makes for a good vantage point, Ms Chua does not think it was actually used as "it does not seem to have access to it".

Inside the house, cast-iron work acts as a decorative divider between the front and main hall. Hand- wrought, the three cast-iron framework near the ceiling is an intricate design of stars and various shapes. Ms Loy says it was not common to use cast-iron work extensively in the house and was most likely a design trend among the wealthy at the time.

Currently, the building houses the Beaulieu House Restaurant, a seafood and steamboat restaurant run by Mr Lim Hock Lye since 1981. Having grown up in Sembawang and admired Beaulieu House from a distance, he fell in love with its architecture and sea view.

The restaurant briefly moved to the nearby SAF Yacht Club for three years in the early 2000s when the Government did extensive renovations to the house. The roof was retiled, electrical cables rewired and plumbing repaired. The ceiling in the main hall was also lowered and patched up as it leaked.

Although Mr Lim spends up to $30,000 a year on maintenance, such as repainting or fixing the electrical wires, he feels it is money well-spent. The restaurant is busiest on weekends when couples hold weddings or their solemnisation.

He also hosts lunch tour groups for tourists and war veterans from countries such as Australia and Britain. Their itineraries usually involve the Sembawang Naval Base, the Kranji War Memorial and Changi Prison.

As charming as Beaulieu House is, Ms Chua reiterates the historical significance of the house. "Beaulieu House is a key to our past. This place marks the turning point of the country's handover from colonial rule to the Singapore Government."

•This is a monthly column on heritage buildings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'House of beauty and history'. Print Edition | Subscribe