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AFTER living in the same apartment for more than 20 years, Cecilia Tan decided she needed a change. "My tastes had evolved," explains the 50-something businesswoman.
Describing the previous interior design scheme as "cosy, country and colourful", the look at the time was perfect for a young mother of two girls, who together with her husband, Daniel, was working hard to get their business of selling road safety products going. If there was a bit of clutter and mess, it did not matter as much. It even added to the shabby chic.
But with the business now firmly established, and her own stature as a successful working woman also raised, Ms Tan felt a home makeover was required. To reflect this, she decided her home should be "simple but tasteful". So the three-bedroom apartment was gutted and the furniture, which had been upholstered in cheery Designers Guild fabric, was gotten rid of.
In its place came furniture in decidedly grown-up hues of ecru and taupe from smart, high-end furniture shops such as Xtra, Space and Dream. She had no qualms spending five-figure sums on key pieces like the sofa either. Rationalising the extravagance, she says: "I work very hard - 14 to 16 hours a day - and I am otherwise not much of a spendthrift. I know there are women who will buy a new outfit every month, but not me. I even have clothes that are 15 years old!"
Perhaps more important is that the clutter is all gone too, or stored out of sight behind concealed storage and cupboards. For instance, what looks like a headboard for the bed in the master bedroom is actually storage for clothes and accessories including full-length evening gowns (for her formal functions). And whatever else that could not fit into her single wardrobe was given away to the Salvation Army.
However, while Ms Tan wanted simplicity in her life, she did not want sterility. "I want my home to be simple but not minimalist. I wanted it to convey welcome," she adds. So apart from the many framed family photos that line the walls, adding an immediate sense of congeniality, Ms Tan also found an ingenious way to display her precious collection of Chinese teapots. This was achieved with the help of Kelvin Bing from Renaissance Planners & Designers.
The approximately 1,400 sq ft apartment, which had to fit three bedrooms, a living area, family room and a dining area did not have very much extra space for display cabinets so Mr Bing incorporated a display cabinet into the partition of the family room, artfully designed to look like a Chinese étagère. He even managed to create a smaller version of this for the master bathroom suite by replacing the conventional door to the toilet with a pivoting display cabinet that doubles as a door. Here, Ms Tan displays her treasured collection of sand (in little labelled bottles) from around the world, including places such as the beaches of the Maldives and safari trails in South Africa.
A lot of attention was also given to the kitchen, Ms Tan's favourite part of the home as she likes cooking for friends and family. Again, the designer was called in to address the issue of a lack of space. And by annexing a part of the laundry area, Mr Bing was able to create a tiny wet kitchen where there was not one before and he even created enough space for two ovens in the dry kitchen because as Ms Tan puts it, "one roast chicken is never enough to go around".
With a bit of creative space planning, Mr Bing also managed to carve out a small study area and an even smaller guest powder room that measures just 1.3 by 1.3 metres. The powder room does, however, have luxurious travertine walls and a high-tech, automated toilet so there have been few complaints from guests so far.
One of the bigger challenges the designer had to deal with was actually in an area that does not get noticed much at all - the ceiling and the air conditioning unit that has been concealed in it. Because of condensation that can occur around the air conditioning ducts and subsequently create ugly stains, Mr Bing had to design the ceiling in the dining area to accommodate the ducts such that there were no kinks or bends - areas where condensation usually occurs.
"We managed this and were still able to maintain a three-metre high ceiling for the living room," he adds.
Another tricky detail in the home was the feature wall in the dining area which has a large backlit mirror with words etched into the back. Not only was the etching complicated, care also had to be given to how the mirror could be ventilated to reduce over heating of the mirrored glass.
Over the dining table hangs another feature of this home that is hard to miss - the chandelier made of real deer antlers. It is perhaps the only concession that Ms Tan has made to her "wild side". "If I wasn't who I was today I would probably be more artsy," she adds. The chandelier was designed with Mr Bing and made in the US by a company Ms Tan found online.
She also co-designed the two-tiered coffee table with the designer after her husband outrightly rejected the coffee table she had chosen from a furniture shop. The custom-designed table took some time to perfect because one of the marble tops had to be cantilevered over the other just so. "A woman knows what she needs and wants," adds Ms Tan.