You are here
Nestled inside Telok Kurau estate is what appears to be an old house, still untouched by the wave of contemporary re-building that's common in many an older neighborhood. Except that this isn't just an old house - it's One Kind House, quirkily named by Calvin Soh, former vice-chairman and chief creative officer for Publicis in Asia. And unlike private homes, you're more than welcome to walk right in.
It's what Mr Soh calls "a 21st century kampung" designed to revive the community spirit in this day and age.
The house belonged to his grandparents and it's been in the family since 1969. His uncle and brother still live there, while Mr Soh lives in an apartment five minutes away with his wife, kids and mother.
His mother, Helen, initially wanted to sell the place, but he convinced her to turn it into One Kind House - named for his mission to promote kindness in Singapore. He grew up in a kampung where neighbours were always open with each other and he wanted to rekindle that spirit.
Hence, the doors of One Kind House are always open. To make it more self-sufficient, he spent about S$250,000 turning the 2,000sq ft house into an organic farm, cooking school, art gallery and multipurpose space all rolled into one.
He laments the way society has progressed from being an open community to such a closed society today. "How did we become so disconnected with nature?" he asks.
The front and back yards currently flourish with edible plants: blue pea flower, papaya, kang kong, snake gourd, ladies' fingers, arugula and chilli. Some are grown in the ground, while others sprout from recycled wood planters; others, like basil, are grown hydroponically.
"There is more than enough to feed the family," says Mr Soh, 50. The horticulture is organic, including the fertilisers. Pests are kept at bay by visiting birds, otherwise the family uses a natural spray made using vinegar and chilli padi. He's even hoping to rear chickens for eggs.
Inside, a gallery has been set up to showcase the works of Mr Soh's uncle, artist Ng Yak Whee. Mr Ng has a workshop at the back, and his artworks are also for sale.
A few steps from the gallery is an outdoor kitchen, where Mr Soh's mum, better known as Mommy Soh, holds cooking lessons twice a week. Her repertoire includes blue pea flower tea and a kedongdong pesto, all made with ingredients from the garden. It's also a way for the 74-year-old to stay active and pass on her cooking knowledge to a younger crowd, says her son.
Mr Soh also opens the kitchen to other mums and young chefs who may want to conduct their own cooking lessons. He lists the classes on Facebook, as well as on Airbnb Trips.
The cooking lessons are a hit with expats, tourists and Singaporeans. "For tourists, coming here changes their perception of a sterile Singapore," says Mr Soh. "The locals are surprised that they can grow their own food."
Meanwhile, on the second floor, one bedroom serves as a multipurpose space, which can be rented out for activities such as kids' coding lessons.
"Who knows? Maybe One Kind House could be a prototype for the community centre of the future - where the elderly can keep busy with activities, and the young have an incubation lab of their own," he says.