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All dressed up
YOU WOULD THINK THAT with three kids under the age of four, three dogs, five cats and two turtles to take care of, Amanda Leong, would leave Christmas decorating to the professionals.
The full-time mum and former beauty queen says she did toy with the idea but decided against it in the end. ''I love hosting and keeping myself even more busy doing up the house,'' says Ms Leong, 28. She was named first runner-up in Miss Universe Singapore 2011, and her other pageant titles include Miss Cosmopolitan International 2011, Miss Singapore Tourism International 2011 and Miss ASEAN 2013.
Home is a sprawling two-storey bungalow plus basement in Bukit Timah, where she lives with her husband Lionel Lau, a venture capitalist, and their three kids - Liam, four; Amelie, one; and threemonth- old Lucius.
As a child, she remembers Christmas parties at her aunt's home, and that sparked off her love for entertaining. ''Lionel and I both love hosting, and we would have friends over every month,'' she says.
If not for Covid-19 and the limit set on visitors to a household, the Laus would be throwing their annual Christmas party for 70 people. This year, however, the parties will be smaller. Ms Leong is planning for three - two during the week before Christmas for friends, and the third on Christmas Eve for ''my single friends, and expat friends who might not have family here,'' she says.
But despite the smaller parties, the decorating of the home is still as lavish as in past years. The work begins after Halloween, and by the first week of November, there is a festive feel in the air.
''Not every corner in the house makes for a good photo spot, so I consider where the decor should be,'' she says.
The foyer is a must, since it's the first thing guests see, and in the daytime, the space is naturally lit. Taking centre stage is a round table laden with potted white blooms, candles, and designer gift boxes. On the floor, she laid out Liam's first toy train set and a couple of reindeer figurines. A small Christmas tree, adorned with silver and gold baubles stands next to the table.
This year, the family decided to go big with their main Christmas tree in the living room ''We used to have a smaller live tree, but we decided on a change,'' says Ms Leong, of her two-storey high artificial tree, that required a tall ladder for the star and baubles to be hung on top.
She's chosen the classic gold and silver theme here too, using baubles and large ribbons that she purchased from Tangs. ''We do repeat some of the decorations, but each year we can't help buying more to add to the collection.''
And rather than try to hide the kids' toys, she makes them part of the decor, such as a rocking horse, and kids-sized Jeep and Range Rover. ''This year's theme is Toy Wonderland,'' she declares.
Ms Leong, who is the pianist in the family, has also dressed up the grand piano tastefully with potted poinsettias and hanging wreaths. She also decked out the cigar room upstairs with a fancy table setting. ''The adults like to adjourn here after dinner,'' she says. The annual Christmas party usually begins in the late afternoon, and goes on till 4am.
With 70 people in the house in previous years, the food was usually catered. But this year, Ms Leong plans to cook. The menu stars burrata honey truffle salad, tomahawk steak, roast chicken, honey baked ham, lamb soup and beef bourguignon. ''I can't handle cooking for 70 people, but I can for the smaller parties,'' she says.
The gift exchange will also be a smaller affair. Ms Leong usually organises a secret Santa gift exchange. ''I tell the gifter to check out the recipient's Instagram account to see what they like,'' she says.
With less than a month to Christmas, Ms Leong confesses that she has yet to start her own shopping. But she already knows what she's getting for the kids, namely something educational like books. ''Lionel is the one that spoils them with toys,'' she says.
Her group of close girlfriends are getting silk pyjamas, because ''they are the uniform for 2020,'' she says with a laugh.
Her girlfriends may also be in for an added surprise. During the circuit breaker period, Ms Leong started her own jewellery label, Candy & Carats, which she is launching soon. ''The collection includes rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. They make good gifts,'' she says.
Because she and Mr Lau have been together for a decade, and married since 2017, ''our presents for each other are usually something that we talk about only on Christmas day itself,'' she quips. Her present last year was a family ski trip to Niseko, the first time that the family went away for Christmas. ''We enjoyed it so much that we wanted to return this year, but of course that isn't happening,'' she says.
Ms Leong says Christmas Day itself will be a quiet affair. ''We usually stay home, the kids open their presents, and we all tuck into leftovers.''
She will be busy again on Jan 1, for that is when the Christmas decorations come down. ''It is the start of the New Year, so I like things fresh,'' she says.