Beyond Black & White

Historic Singapore Apartment Tells a Story


For architect Anjali Mangalgiri, it wasn’t love at first sight that led to the purchase of her current Singapore apartment—she hadn’t even laid eyes on the historic unit before placing her winning bid. “[These apartments] don’t really become available often,” she says. “We’d seen another, similar apartment on an upper floor two years back. We bid for it, sitting in New York, without even actually seeing it.”

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Sumptuous wood finishes give this historical apartment a timeless feel. A Scanteak daybed with a natural finish adds a touch of modernity to the living room. Repurposing vintage pieces—like the opium bed in the living room and door-turned-mirror in the hallway—nod to the apartment’s past. Repeated patterns like the Uzbekistani pomegranate motif keep the rooms cohesive.

The apartment was built at the turn of the twentieth century in a British colonial style referred to locally as a “black-and-white.” Usually appearing as bungalows with sprawling gardens, the black-and-white apartments of Singapore are beautiful pieces of craftmanship—and at the time of Mangalgiri’s purchase, notoriously difficult to snag. Interested buyers must compete in an open-bidding process facilitated by the government.

When the architect and her husband saw the unique apartment up for bid, they had to act quickly. Mangalgiri is the founder and principal of Grounded, a sustainable architecture practice based in both Singapore and her former home of Goa, India. She is a passionate proponent of green development and design, which made this well-built apartment a near-perfect fit.

“The architectural bones are very, very strong,” says Mangalgiri. “We have twelve-foot ceilings—which you don’t find in Singapore anymore. We have wraparound balconies for every room . . . which shades all the openings. We just get so much light throughout the day and there’s a lot of cross ventilation. We actually don’t use air condition[ing] at any point, and there’s no need for any artificial light during the day . . . Then, they didn’t have the pressure of real estate and space was not so expensive, so they could really build a building that responded well to weather patterns.”

To better fit her family’s lifestyle, the architect knocked down several walls to open the kitchen into the living room, creating a large, loft-like space reminiscent of Mangalgiri’s time studying and living in New York.

“As an architect,” notes Mangalgiri, “I love this open-plan sort of living, where it’s very interactive and our family can just really be together and not in separate rooms.”

The expansive space is framed by nearly floor-to-ceiling windows—an original feature that maximizes the frequent sunlight of Singapore and spotlights Mangalgiri’s decor. The apartment is a living scrapbook of the family’s adventures, with pieces sourced from all sections of the globe.

“I think my stuff is very global,” says Mangalgiri. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to ever finish a space and just say it’s done. [My space] constantly evolves. I don’t like to have stuff in storage—whatever I have is out. And these are very cherished things that I really loved and couldn’t help buying.”

In the entryway, an antique Indian door has been repurposed into a mirror. The live-edge dining table was made in Indonesia, while the rice-paper light fixture above it traveled from India to Singapore in Mangalgiri’s luggage. Antique boxes from Jaipur, figurines from a Vietnamese street vendor, traditionally woven cushions from Uzbekistan—all accent pieces that make the apartment feel collected yet comfortable.

Perhaps most noticeable of Mangalgiri’s finds is the striking opium bed in the living room, which doubles as a daybed and framing focal point. “I love daybeds over couches,” says the architect. “I feel like a couch is a really good space-saving piece of furniture, but daybeds are just so much more comfy. You can actually put your feet up and just kind of sink into them. My kids like rolling all over them and . . . they’re very maintenance friendly.”

Throughout the home, Mangalgiri used simple, durable fabrics that make family living a breeze—sometimes literally. Sheer curtains in the living room and gauzy Japanese noren in the main bedroom dance in the apartment’s natural ventilation.

“I wanted to keep everything very neutral and kind of an ode to the black-and-white spirit of the home, but I wanted pops of colors,” says Mangalgiri. Nowhere are colorful additions more apparent than the main bedroom, where several Japanese- and Indian-inspired pieces feature splashes of red. In addition to the noren in the doorway, the vibrant color peeks through in the block-printed bedding from India and antique bedside tables.

Even amidst such global sourcing, the apartment retains a sense of place with special homages to Singapore—including plenty of greenery. “Being right next to the equator, we have a lot of biodiversity here,” notes Mangalgiri. “All of the pressed samples [in the bedroom] are from Singapore. It’s lovely to have a reminder of how beautiful Singapore is.”

From fellow expats to locals to potential clients, Mangalgiri’s home invites others into her family’s story. Amidst the high-rise condos so prevalent in the area, this apartment tells a unique narrative.

“Your furniture and your accessories, your artwork—they should be conversation starters,” says Mangalgiri. “So when people come into your home, each of those things should have a personal meaning, a personal story, to tell the visitors a little bit more about you, your family, your personality.”

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Whenever possible, Mangalgiri emphasized the apartment’s original architectural elements. “What’s lovely is that it was built using kind of the best knowledge of architecture and responding to the weather that was known at that time,” she says. Built in a way that maximizes ventilation, the apartment often enjoys a light breeze—sending the rice-paper light fixture and curtains throughout the home into a playful dance. Natural light from the tall windows adds to the airiness.

Deborah Farmer


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StarLight Realty