Article by Mabel Tan
A rising trend of homeowners who are choosing the colonial-inspired monochrome design theme – interview with design-and-build lead, Nicole Kow of Nic & Wes Builders.
Most Singaporeans would know of specific enclaves in our island nation where the government continues to manage approximately 600 black and white colonial bungalows harking back to our pre-war history as part of the British Commonwealth.
The Ridout saga in recent past has also shown how popular these original black-and-white houses are with expats and C-suite professionals.
More astute observers, however, would have also seen a rising trend of private homes that are designed and built with this theme of distinctive black-and-white. Rather than rent these colonial houses from the government, many have opted to have this theme incorporated into their own homes. The monochrome colour scheme is a defining feature of colonial-inspired homes, with white exteriors and black accents, such as shutters, doors, and window frames.
What inspired these modern homeowners to choose such a classic style of design? We spoke with Nicole Kow, a second-generation leader of Nic & Wes Builders, on the appeal of such black-and-white colonial-inspired home projects that the family-owned design-and-build firm has done.
Uniquely Singaporean Blend of Colonial Past and Multi-Cultural Present
H+L: “So, why are more home owners opting for this distinctive style of design?”
Nicole: “It’s the historical significance of our colonial past which merges the East and West, and it is very representative of Singapore and a period of cultural and architectural heritage. By embracing this style, home owners can connect with the past and pay homage to a significant era… people just seem to gravitate to this nostalgic charm. This is now one of our more requested themes in recent years.”
H+L: “How do these home owners come to you?”
Nicole: “Some of our clients actually called us up and said that they’ve seen our black-and-white housing projects and specifically asked for us to design their own monochrome themed house.”
Laughing, Nicole added, “Some had even rang the doors of our clients and asked where they had gotten their house designed and done, in order to find us!”
Versatility across Different Housing Types and Personality Styles
H+L: “What explains for the rising popularity of the black-and-white colonial theme at Nic & Wes?”
Nicole: “For each home owner, based on their land size and requirements, whether it is a make-over or a full re-build, we will customise the black-and-white theme and infuse their personal style as part of the holistic design of their homes.”
Further on why the versatility in extending the black and white colonial theme to the individual personality and style is very much what appeals to Nicole and the family-owned Nic & Wes Builders, Nicole explained that the local firm was “born out of her parents’ experience with building their own homes, where the difficulty of getting the right engineers, getting the right architects, getting the right builders, and all these various components of just project-managing it” for the right theme and style inspired them to an “all-inclusive design-and-build consultancy that starts from conceptualization to construction and interior design.”
Nicole: “Nic & Wes specialize in bespoke homes, where it is tailored around the homeowner. This is our specialty because we want to understand the lifestyle and personality of the homeowner – that’s where Nic & Wes shines as our concepts embody and reflect who they are.”
Nicole’s conviction is that the enduring charm to the black-and-white design will continue to grow. Its understated elegance and neutral palate yet allows for flexibility and creativity for different adaptations and styles. Nicole is confident that this timeless allure will remain.
“The black-and-white becomes a canvas for diverse possibilities; from minimalistic black-and-white monochrome style, to the infusion of rich Peranakan opulence. The theme’s versatility ensures that there is no clash but makes possible a complementary contrast. It creates this balance of harmony and yet allows for their personal reflection and style to be incorporated into their homes.” – Nicole
Distinctive Eclecticism for Boldness and Style
H+L: “What is the profile of these homeowners who are drawn to this theme?”
Nicole: “People who like black-and-white are not afraid; they’re bold. They like to try different things such as an emerald green kitchen against the monochrome scheme. The exterior aesthetics of the black-and-white would remain, but the reflection of the owners’ taste is injected by the particular accents and interior designs within.”
“Each home owner has their own taste; some would tone down with a simplistic gate for an elegant appeal, another would infuse in more colonial feeling and warmth with wood, for example. This is often paired with their own furniture for their distinctive style and taste to shine through.”
How the black-and-white colonial theme can be extended differently through the frontage wall and gates of homes – from the classic, to modern and retro accents.
Nicole elaborated further, “So, for our home owner who prefers modern, we would design the house with clean lines. For the art deco home owner, we may do a geometric mural feature wall with metallic accents, so that it’s a bit more glitzy and opulent. So there’s a lot of creative space to play with the black-and-white home design.”
Each black-and-white theme is translated into differing home owners’ personalities and styles – from modern country (top), to oriental fusion (bottom).
She is confident that the fusion of old and new will keep the style relevant, as the theme is one that allows for the balance between the nostalgic and the modern.
“Even though the theme is nostalgic, you can still add in technological advancements and include sustainable elements and innovative materials that introduces contemporary twist while still preserving the overall black-and-white colonial aesthetics.” -Nicole
Contrast of home owners’ styles as seen through the kitchen design and furnishings – from minimalistic modern, to colourful lime green to functional country black-and-white.
When asked to describe who these black-and-white clients are like, Nicole remarked that they are representative of the design theme, “they tend to be 2nd-time home owners who are confident in who they are, who are creative and bold enough to want a home that is more adventurous and different from the masses.”
Nicole : “They are therefore, very detailed in what they want for the interiors and exteriors, and they will pick colours that are out-of-the-norm; they are also not shy of patterns and will try them out.”
Colonial-Peranakan Hybrid that’s truly Singaporean
H+L: “What stood out in many of your black-and-white home projects is also the infusion of the Peranakan style, why is that?”
Nicole: “The design theme allows for the ease with which the uniquely Peranakan culture of Singapore can be fused in as a statement of what it means to be Singaporean!”
Nicole enthused, “It is the defining Singaporean identity for our melting pot of cultures; where East meets West through the colonial and local feel, and especially since the Peranakan is the mix of our local Malay and Chinese too! This is so distinctively Singaporean.”
All Peranakan but yet distinctive from each other – black-and-white Peranakan tiles makes for the central feature of the living space (left); or used with its classic hues as outdoor steps (top right); or infused with modernity for indoor stairs as stand-out statements of what Singapore is.
Black-and-White Colonial Theme for Apartment Homes
H+L: Would smaller apartment home owners be able to incorporate this distinctive style?
“Oh yes, by taking the signature exteriors of white-washed walls with black accents and lines to the interior design instead,” Nicole replied confidently.
Nicole: “There are simple things you can do, for example, line your windows with black rims, your door frames, and add in vertical black-and-white blinds for the same effect. Even for flooring, having the orange clay terracotta tiles at your entrance, coupled with plants and greenery, would be very effective.”
Use the signature terracotta tiles and black-and-white blinds for your balcony (left); or include the design theme with a feature wall (top right); or infuse interior wall accents within your apartment (bottom right).
The design latitude offered by the unique Colonial-themed black-and-white is truly expansive. Between the creative and stylistic space afforded in the balance between old and new, modern and retro, understated and bold, we hope this has given you ample ideas for how to bring your own signature personality statement into your home design.
Please write in to us if this article has inspired you and how you have been able to infuse this design theme. We’ll love to hear from you!