A VISIT to Michael Lim's home is much like visiting a chateau in France but without having to endure a 12-hour long flight. The European experience starts right at the compound gate, where a pair of larger than life centurion statues stand guard.
Like with most chateaus, this one, off Holland Road, comes with an immensely long driveway, before a two-storey mansion with elaborate columns, a steeply-pitched roof, and a water fountain right up front, comes into view.
"When you look at the house, you think you are somewhere in Europe rather than in Singapore," quips Dr Lim, medical director at the Singapore Heart, Stroke & Cancer Centre, who drew up the design of his home after visiting several French chateaus and the Palace of Versailles for inspiration. "I am someone who loves art, and wanted my home to have the same European architecture."
Indeed, the mansion is very much a conversation starter. Throw open the doors and a grand marble staircase with ornate floral balustrades, and topless nubile female statues on both sides, greet visitors.
Working with an architect, Dr Lim designed the home to have plenty of voluminous space, "so as to not feel boxed in", he explains. "A spacious home also makes you feel more relaxed."
The ceilings are all two-storeys high, and the presence of numerous marble columns in the home create that visual height. The home, which also comes with an attic and basement, is definitely big enough for the 53-year-old Dr Lim, his wife, Wendy Huang, the centre's CEO, and their five children, aged from five months to 25 years old.
Dr Lim is clearly lord of the manor. "Wendy prefers a modern kind of home, something which needs less upkeep," he says. The family has domestic helpers, but the annual cleaning is outsourced to a cleaning company.
The staircase is not the only wow feature of the home. Dr Lim is especially proud of the formal dining room located at an adjoining wing. The room is expansive, with crystal chandeliers, an ornately decorated ceiling, and gold curtains with silk tassels. Should a count or countess in period costume walk through, no one would bat an eyelid. The area comes alive during festive periods, when Dr Lim has family and friends over. "Once, we hosted over 100 people, and there was still plenty of room for everyone," he says.
When it comes to furnishing the home, it was only natural to have pieces that would complement the European architecture.
Each piece was personally selected by Dr Lim. "Since I sketched the design of the home, I knew exactly what pieces I would need and where to place them," he says. The home took three years to build and furnish.
"I like pieces which show artistic effort, such as the wooden hand carving on the back of a chair or the fine detailing on the edge of a mirror," he says.
One of his precious finds is a 100-year-old grand piano made from malachite with gold embellishments. Dr Lim's youngest plays it.
Dr Lim prefers to keep the bedrooms private, but will gladly take visitors to the attic, where he has his "art room".
One wall is lined with watercolour and oil paintings of scenes in Singapore, all painted by him. "Painting is one of my hobbies," he says, and the Singapore Watercolour Society invites him to showcase his pieces at its annual exhibitions.
On the opposite wall is a collection of artworks by Chinese masters including Xu Beihong, Fu Baoshi and Wu Guanzhong. "The pieces belong to Wendy, and they have been in her family for years," says Dr Lim.
Apart from painting, Dr Lim's other love is collecting ceramics. That's evident from the display shelf holding Chinese ceramics, such as vases and bowls that date back to the Han and Ming dynasties. His favourite Chinese ceramic pieces, however, are kept under lock and key, in his room.
On the other side of the room, are "Western antiques" - including a collection of gold rimmed crystal glassware from Moser which in the old days, supplied to French royalty. Another gem is a jewellery box from French label Tahan, which also supplied pieces to French royalty. "I appreciate the work that goes into making these intricate pieces," says Dr Lim.
When it comes to buying antiques, he has some advice. "Don't buy thinking that you can make money from it, otherwise you'll regret it," he says. "Ask yourself if it is worth the price, because you must enjoy what you buy."
Apart from the art room, the karaoke room in the basement displays less of an European touch. It's modern for a reason, as Dr Lim explains. "There was no such thing as a karaoke room in 19th century."
Dr Lim takes pride in knowing that his home is vastly different from the typical glass homes in Singapore. "The architecture is different, but yet the home is functional, and I always look forward to coming home."