The first thing you notice about Teo Jia En and Federico Folcia’s house is, well, there is not much house that is apparent from the road. Foliage—thick, wild, jungle-like—shroud the fence, and the beanpole trunks of palm trees stretch skyward, totem-like. Lower down, the widespread leafage of chunkier species sieves the morning sunlight.
Unlike some gargantuan, glassy McMansions clamouring for attention in the verdant and quiet residential neighbourhood, this house courteously blends into the land. Painted an ebony shade, it recedes into a shadowed backdrop for greenery and family life to flourish. It is a lovely setting for the couple and their three daughters—Ella, Ines and Eva who are eight, six and three respectively—sequestered from prying eyes on elevated terrain. At the end of the cobblestone driveway, the garage—chock-a-block with stacks of ceramics and other objects—snapshots the entrepreneurial duo’s intertwined work-and-home life.
Aside from starting boutique digital transformation consultancy Powerhouse, Folcia also founded Crane, a kind of modern-day community centre connecting members through co-work facilities, and hospitality, retail and wellness events. Teo manages its offshoot lifestyle products arm Crane Living while running a private investment firm. Previously, the husband and wife team conceived technology travel company Roomarama before Airbnb’s advent.
The effable Teo sails ebulliently through the main door left askew, atop a flight of pebblewashed garden steps flanked by rocky parapets. She escorts me into the first room, where expansive windows bestow abounding light onto wooden bowls, candles, bronze vessels and lamps among other paraphernalia from Crane Living. “There was space near the entrance of Crane at Robertson Quay so Fede (referring to her husband) came up with the idea to create a little shop,” shares Teo. The spontaneous idea took on a life of its own after she started posting images of the merchandise on Instagram in 2020, with consumers eager for home improvement during lockdown. “We were literally driving around delivering products during the circuit breaker,” she recalls. There is now a comprehensive online inventory alongside four brick-and-mortar boutiques.
“My parents built this house more than 20 years ago when I was in university. I didn’t grow up here although I had a room and came back all the time”
Teo is adamant that, like Crane, the products are accessible and inclusive. “Beautiful things need not be expensive. The things we brought into Crane Living started off being used to furnish Crane, so now you are able to bring that Crane feeling home,” she says on the outlets’ cosy, eclectic interiors. It is the same philosophy she applies to her abode, which has an overall homely and lived-in feel. Where we are at used to be the playroom. Last year, she converted it into a studio for Crane Living and relegated the playroom to the former master bedroom overlooking the swimming pool. The couple moved upstairs into another room closer to the girls’ bedroom.
The house is well attuned to tropical living. There are large windows with vantages of the lush garden, deep roof overhangs for shade and shelter from rain, as well as terraces and balconies perfect for outdoor dining and enjoying the breeze. Water bodies divide the rooms but glass walls connect them. “My parents built this house more than 20 years ago when I was in university. I didn’t grow up here although I had a room and came back all the time,” Teo recounts. She met Folcia in New York while working at Bloomberg, drawn to his striking good looks and he to how “intelligent and un-boring I was”, she says, laughing at her husband’s description. After marriage, they resided in a smaller house until her parents moved and invited Teo to reside here. “It’s an amazing house and we couldn’t refuse,” says Teo. The house was designed by her father together with architect Cheong Yew Kuan of AreaDesigns, who is behind many Como resorts for hospitality and retail magnate Christina Ong, as well as her home and houses for the likes of Donna Karen and Keith Richards. “The house was designed in a modern Balinese style with a lot of stone and heavy wood. We loved the large windows, how open the house is, and the surrounding greenery that is more jungle than landscape. But when we moved in, we updated some of the materials and elements to make the house feel lighter, more contemporary and easier to maintain in the tropical climate,” shares Teo.
The couple’s aesthetic choices channelling industrial-rustic loft living vibes were also largely impacted by their time in the Big Apple. Marble floors were swapped for more durable painted concrete to Teo’s parent’s chagrin. “I’ve always loved white floors. The trade-off is that you will get scuff marks,” she highlights. But the patina is part of the house’s charm. The exterior was painted black—perfect for hiding weathering stains—with some original elements, such as stone-clad walls and door knobs in reptilian and folk figure forms, left as vestiges of the house’s former life.
“I’ve always loved white floors. The trade-off is that you will get scuff marks, but the patina is part of the house’s charm”
This morning, Folcia is away at a meeting and two of the girls are at school. The home is quiet save for the chorus of stridulating insects and birdsong, as well as the dialogue between Ines and her Mandarin tutor at the dining table. The formal dining room used to be segregated from the dry kitchen with a wall, but now the two spaces are one harmonious zone suited to the family’s casual way of living, and the comings and goings of active young children. A monochromatic patchwork of hexagonal tiles set into the concrete floor lends conviviality to the expanse of grey.
“We have friends and family coming over quite often. When it’s not too hot, we like to have our meals outdoors by the pool. Otherwise, it’s in our dining room where most often, Fede will be cooking while we chat and eat,” says Teo. Food is Folcia’s love language, and his family is the lucky beneficiary. “One thing any of them will tell you is that I have never repeated a single recipe. I am an emotional cook, so I cook whatever I am inspired by, and by ingredients I find in the fridge or the market. That said, my kids love pasta so I try to cook that for them at least once a week,” shares Folcia later.
Cooking is an established father-daughters activity. “In fact one of the first tasks I made all of them learn was how to use the Nespresso machine to make me an espresso in the morning,” Folcia gleams. His gastronomic passions resulted in Fork in the Jungle—private dining sessions combining Italian cuisine with local produce—whose activity has ebbed due to Crane’s busy expansion to outlets on Arab Street and Joo Chiat Road.
“One of the first tasks I made my children learn was how to use the Nespresso machine to make me an espresso in the morning”
Dessert and coffee will typically be in the adjacent living room, accessed via a slope doubling as a scooter or bicycle ramp. A magnificent pitched ceiling caps the voluminous living room. Twin Wireflow lamps from Vibia hang almost invisibly from the exposed rafters. “Because the ceiling is already so beautiful, we wanted lamps that would complement rather than compete with it. We didn’t want to overpower the upper line of sight and we needed fairly large lamps to match the proportions of the large living room,” says Teo on the choice of the minimalist luminaire.
To mitigate the scale of the space, a tall library shelf was added. The television is camouflaged among mementoes and books that reflect the family’s interests. Cookbooks are aplenty—Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota and Cocina Nikkei by Luiz Hara are two—alongside tomes by Zadie Smith, Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Haruki Murakami, and an occasional addition by the children such as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Casually strewn rugs from Morocco colour the pale floor. “We love carpets and kilims. You’ll find them all around the house and also at Crane outlets. One of them is new and smelling of cow or donkey so I’m guessing that was its mode of transport before it got on the plane to Singapore!” Teo muses.
Objects collected and gifted over the years give the space character. On a low table, a large round mirrored tray and hammered silver fruit bowl from friends add shine, and two tree bark sculptures left behind by Teo’s father anchor corners. There is art—beloved rather than hallowed. Two light box bathtubs by British artist Sarah Pager purchased from a friend’s former gallery in London stand insouciantly behind the grey and mustard sofas, accompanied by a large Benoît Platéus piece and woven works by Santi Wangchuan purchased from Yeo Workshop.
“We have three kids and a dog—all of whom do not listen to instructions on cleanliness—so our home definitely reflects that. There are mismatched cushions, stained sofas, and artwork and photos that lean on our walls because we’ve been too busy to hang them,” chuckles Teo. The house is far from kid-friendly, she notes. “There is a pool, several ponds, many stairs and hard floors,” says Teo. However, fencing was added after Eva fell into a pond.
Travel was a big part of the family’s lives pre-pandemic, and the spoils fill the home. “We have hand-painted jugs and bowls from Naples and Lisbon, tables from Egypt, tapestry from Bhutan, carpets and kilims from Istanbul. But by far, the best souvenirs would be the photographs that Fede takes of the places and the family, which we frame and hang up,” enumerates Teo.
“By far, the best souvenirs would be the photographs that Fede takes of the places and the family, which we frame and hang up”
Along a corridor, a set of photographs leaning against the wall below a Tracey Emin print shows a kneeling Teo and Folcia. “We were in Seoul in the dead of winter; we visited a hanok and took these photos of each other,” Teo reveals. In the former master bedroom’s foyer is a dedicated gallery. There is a photograph the couple used for their wedding’s Save the Date cards, enlarged and framed. “We were in Cassis with our dog Pato [who has since passed away]. My family crashed our holiday, and I think my mother or sister took the photograph,” discloses Teo.
She contributes another tale of a photograph of the pair in Istanbul. “We were originally in Sardinia, but the weather was going to be awful so we decided to find a place with better weather we could fly to easily. We ended up in Istanbul just as the riots were happening there eight years ago. This was just a shot we took in passing as tourists in a pivotal moment in history.”
Growing up in a small town in the Lake Maggiore area in Northern Italy meant Folcia’s childhood years was defined by impromptu trips around Europe. Being based in Singapore for so many years, he misses the broad cultural exposure and four seasons. “We do get the best seas in Southeast Asia but not the mountains! So I guess a big thing for me is a desire to share this life with my kids,” he says on his wanderlust.
While he might not be able to bring them to the mountains on a whimsy, the house compensates by immersing the family in nature. The children love nothing more than to run barefoot around the compound and swim on the weekends. Busy as bees, the couple sometimes misses dinner with the children. Ice cream dates make up for that. And several times a week, Folcia buys Kinder Surprise eggs and hides them for the girls to hunt. With its lush environment and multifarious nooks, the house is a perfectly suited setting for this charming family tradition.
Photographer Sayher Heffernan
Styling Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair and Makeup: Angel Gwee using Chanel Beauty and L’Oreal Professional