Eastville Apartments in Joo Chiat has kampung spirit

The kampung spirit is alive in a Joo Chiat estate where residents trust one another with house keys and hang out over movies and barbecues

Residents of Eastville Apartments in Joo Chiat never have to worry about missing a delivery from the postman or getting shut out when they forget the keys to the main gate.

A quick text for help on a WhatsApp chat group is all it takes and a good Samaritan will be there to help.

And it is not just a polite offer. For the residents living in the 1960s building with 16 units, the kampung spirit is real.

Neighbours pop into one another's apartments to help with quick home fixes, gather in the parking lot for movie nights or fire up the grill for a weekend barbecue together.

They look out for one another too. Those who go on holiday hand their keys over to their neighbours so that their plants can be watered.

Mr Simon Wong, 43, chairman of the estate, who has lived there since 2006, says a sense of camaraderie started forming when a new lot of residents moved in over the last couple of years.

While some of the apartments in the building are rented out, most of them are occupied by their owners, who tend to be well-travelled or work in creative industries. The mix of nationalities includes Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indians, a German and a Canadian.


Patterned ventilation holes (above). ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Mr Wong, who is an entrepreneur and the creative director of a design agency, lives alone in a 1,000 sq ft unit on the first floor.

The Britain-born Singapore permanent resident says: "The newer owners are about the same age - in our 30s and 40s - and we get on really well. The relationships formed quite organically and it has become this small village."

For freelance producer Sandra Ong, 39, who grew up in a Housing Board (HDB) flat, being close to the neighbours is "something new to me".

She never socialised with her neighbours back then the way she does now.

She and her architect husband Daniel Fung, 40, moved into their first-floor unit about 18 months ago. The couple have a two-year- old daughter, Lenna.

She pitches in where she can, especially when it comes to cooking. Sometimes, she makes a little extra for dinner for a neighbour whose husband travels often.

"Everyone fits in so well. Of course, at the start, we were unfamiliar with one another. You just have to try and initiate and people will reciprocate."

A long-time resident, who declines to be named, appreciates that the younger residents keep the kampung spirit alive.

The 62-year-old, who bought his apartment two decades ago, says it is much like a "throwback to a previous era" when older Singaporeans lived in a kampung and knew their neighbours.

For the younger set, many chose to move in because they love the spacious interiors.

The old architectural features here are a draw too.

There are two stairwells that have patterned ventilation holes punched into the facade of the stairwells.

Mr Vellakkannu Chandran, 42, who was born in India and is now a permanent resident here, says he enjoys the tranquillity of the neighbourhood.

The marine engineer moved in four years ago after getting married. He and his wife have a two- year-old daughter, Diya.

Mr Chandran, who used to rent a room in an HDB flat in Boon Lay, adds: "Even though the building is old, the apartment I bought was in good condition. I didn't do any renovation and just kept it simple."

Others gave their apartments an overhaul with new interiors.

The Straits Times pops into some of these homes to take a look.


Retro pieces for walk-up


A pared-down palette of white and concrete walls – from the living areas (above) to the kitchen – complements the home’s array of vintage wooden furniture. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

For the owners of this fourth-floor Eastville Apartments home, a vintage style was the perfect look to go with the building's old exterior.

Old wood furniture, original wrought-iron window grilles and a pared-down palette of white and concrete walls lend an old-school vibe to the unit that Ms Felicia Koh, 40, owns with her best friend.

The former colleagues, who have co-founded a content production firm, like the simple look as it allows them to add furnishings of different styles.

The two friends bought the 1,000 sq ft Joo Chiat apartment in 2009. They wanted a quieter space after eight years living in a walk-up in Little India. Ms Koh's friend, who is in her 40s, is married to an Italian and shuttles between Singapore and Paris, where her husband is based.

Ms Koh, who is single, says: "When we walked into this apartment, we could hear the birds. The estate just felt peaceful and chilled out. We... like old apartments."

They moved into the Joo Chiat property four years after they bought it - they rented it out during that time - and changed the layout. A third bedroom was removed to create a big, seamless communal area that serves as living room, dining room and kitchen.

The interesting furniture pieces they have include two 1960s vintage Dutch cupboards and a coffee table they picked up from a friend who was clearing out his late grandmother's apartment. The table was missing a leg and had a worn top. The new owners replaced the leg and had the wooden table sanded down and polished. It now takes pride of place in the living room.


A pared-down palette of white and concrete walls – from the living areas to the kitchen (above) – complements the home’s array of vintage wooden furniture. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Ms Koh says: "We love retro pieces, so that was how we wanted to decorate the apartment. We picked up pieces when we were travelling or salvaged items here and there."

A quirky piece is the balcony's roller shutter separating the space from the dining and living areas. Such shutters are more commonly used in stores in malls, but the home owners chose it as it was cheaper than foldable wooden doors. "Every morning and night, it is as if we're opening and closing a store," Ms Koh says with a laugh.

She enjoys being part of the Eastville Apartments community and has become good friends with her neighbours. One of them, entrepreneur Simon Wong, has even done a voice-over for one of her documentaries.

She says: "We look out for one another and get together when we can. It's hard to find a community like this elsewhere."


Cosy pad with wood accents


Wood is a key element of this home, from the floor of the living room (above) to the slim table and selfmounted mirror frame in the kitchen. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

A quiet simplicity rules in this bachelor pad that is sparsely, but tastefully decorated with knick- knacks collected from around the world by its well-travelled owner.

The first-floor 1,000 sq ft unit is home to Mr Simon Wong, an entrepreneur who moved into Eastville Apartments in 2006.

The 43-year-old, who is creative director of a design agency, is the current chairman of the estate.

He is a permanent resident here who was born and raised in the United Kingdom. He moved to Singapore in 1999 for work.

Sticking to a simple colour scheme of white walls and brown wood floors, he had some walls removed to create a long living room.


Wood is a key element of this home, from the floor of the living room to the slim table and selfmounted mirror frame in the kitchen (above). ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

At one end stands a floor-to- ceiling bookshelf, which is filled with books and has an alcove for the television. Meanwhile, a roomy sofa and a coffee table centre the space.

The home is filled with lots of vintage accent pieces that Mr Wong bought on trips to China.

Mosquito net hooks with intricate metal work are used as decorative elements, while a framed calligraphy piece, painted by his father, who lives in Hong Kong, is propped up against a wall.

A few chunky vintage chests, in various styles and dark tones, can be found around the place too.

He bought one of them, a dark brown chest flanked by two Louis Ghost armchairs in the living room, in Macau. A working rotary dial phone sits on the chest, while an old map of Singapore hangs above it.

In keeping with the vintage theme, he also has an antique safe from Indonesia that sits near the front door. It took four men to get the heavy piece into the apartment.

To jazz up the kitchen, Mr Wong used wine crates and a wooden plank to create a slim table that fits perfectly in the kitchen's narrow space.

He then roped in his neighbours to help mount the heavy wood-frame mirror above the table.

He says: "It was an easy space to decorate because it has no odd corners. Both the building and the apartment have an old charm that feels cosy."


Mix and match for eclectic vibe


While the living and dining room (above) resembles a New York urban loft, the kitchen is inspired by Peranakan design. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Consistency goes out the window when it comes to the interior design of this home - but only to accommodate the owner's eclectic tastes. Instead of a single unifying style, each room has a different look.

The living and dining room resembles a New York urban loft with its exposed brick wall as well as metal and wood accents. On the floor, wood tiles are laid out in a herringbone pattern, while the dangling lamps above the dining table are in a brassy hue.

The space is cheery, with lots of sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Retro floor tiles, reminiscent of vintage Peranakan prints, create some drama in the kitchen. In the middle of it is an island, where friends often congregate instead of at the dining table.


While the living and dining room resembles a New York urban loft, the kitchen (above) is inspired by Peranakan design. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

Mr Nicholas Longstaff, 38, shares the third-floor apartment with his partner, who works as a newproducts manager for a bank.

Mr Longstaff says: "Having a uniform style limits you. We have items that we've collected through the years which don't match one another, so having eclectic interiors doesn't make any piece stick out awkwardly."

Working with an interior designer, he had some walls removed so that the kitchen and the two toilets could be expanded.

Mr Longstaff, who has been in Singapore for 10 years, heads a relocation services team which helps people move to and from Singapore.

He looked at five other properties before he picked this one. "We really wanted a shophouse or an older condominium. Newer condominiums have areas such as bay windows that you can't really do anything with. Older places are spacious and have good bones too."

He loves the estate's community spirit. Previously, he rented homes around Singapore, including an HDB flat in Yishun and a condominium unit in Bedok Reservoir, but never had such friendly neighbours.

For example, when his apartment was being renovated last year, his first-floor neighbour, Ms Sandra Ong, brought them cookies and water as she knew they did not have a functioning kitchen yet.

"It's a diverse community, but it's tight-knit. You just feel this pocket of warmth living here," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Neighbours with perks'. Print Edition | Subscribe