This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The May 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.
SINGAPORE - When energy trader and interiors influencer Vivienne Shen and her Dutch husband went house-hunting in Singapore, they fell in love with a Joo Chiat conservation shophouse the moment they set foot in it.
"We have always loved shophouses in Singapore. Each is unique and carries a piece of the country's history and cultural heritage. This one has really high ceilings, an open space on the first floor and a courtyard in the middle of the house, which allows us to bring the outdoors inside," says the 34-year-old of the 3,500 sq ft, 2½-storey house, which comes with an attic space and a rooftop patio.
She grew up in China, married a European, has travelled widely and lived in Singapore for 16 years, and her taste in interiors has evolved over the years.
"My eyes were constantly educated by the places I travelled to, the cultures I was immersed in, the materials I touched and the people I found inspiring," she says.
She is "always intrigued by a space that displays a variety of aesthetic eras and textures", and during her travels, she searches for local antique markets and shops. "Nothing beats the feeling of finding a unique piece that touches the heart," she says.
As such, she decided that her home would be designed as a melting pot of influences, housing "an assembly of my fondest memories in life", and featuring a mixture and balance of texture, materials, periods and patina.
For a start, two old-fashioned bicycles form an attractive tableau perched atop the entryway's checkerboard flooring, which features reclaimed antique Carrara marble and bluestone tiles imported from the Netherlands.
A pair of framed 17th-century maps of China and the Netherlands (the couple's home countries) lend period charm, while the glass balustrade and cantilevered wood treads of the minimalist staircase afford unblocked views of the entire ground level.
As a nod to the charming old villa in Tuscany where the couple held their wedding party, she settled on a Mediterranean-inspired living room and courtyard before adding a modern farmhouse kitchen and a colonial-style master bedroom and bathroom to the mix.
The disparate themes are unified by a calming palette of neutral hues - mostly white, with touches of grey, beige and black - and the use of timeless, natural materials such as brass, marble, wood and rattan, accented by the placement of tropical greenery.
An abstract painting in earthy tones and a clean-lined sectional sofa upholstered in grey fabric anchor the living area.
Free-standing pieces such as a sheepskin-covered &Tradition Little Petra chair, a mid-century modern vintage chest and a 13th-century French chair add further depth and texture.
Another focal point is an 18th-century, Louis XVI-style limestone faux fireplace. It is flanked on either side by built-in display niches with a curated assortment of Han Dynasty pottery, a Neolithic Yangshao culture three-legged earthenware vessel and vintage African handicrafts.
A pair of palm trees and lush Monstera plants soar majestically towards the sunlight that illuminates the indoor courtyard, with its rock garden and a Moorish-style wishing fountain that brings back fond memories of past trips to Italy.
This leads to the airy dining area with its whitewashed walls and ceiling, where a flower-inspired Georges pendant lamp casts a honeyed glow over the rectangular pale wood dining table, with Hans J. Wegner CH24 Wishbone chairs tucked in and bookended by its latticed cast iron legs.
A dead corner here has been transformed into a charming breakfast nook with a mid-century modern vintage sideboard and a painting by Zambian contemporary figurative painter Jonathan Wateridge that adds an element of quirk.
This corner has become Shen's favourite part of the house.
"It's very cosy; I have the full view of the house and do everything here: simple meals with my husband, afternoon tea, reading a book in the evening. I sometimes work here too," she says.
Beyond the dining area is the modern farmhouse-inspired greige-meets-luxury galley kitchen with countertops and a backsplash in Calacatta Mediterraneo marble accompanied by pale grey cabinetry with discreet antiqued brass fittings and a Bertazzoni stove.
Heading upstairs, one notes an oil painting on the landing.
"It's a family heirloom from the 1860s, handed down in my husband's family across generations," Shen says.
The family room, with its mid-century aesthetic, serves as a buffer between the ground floor and the bedrooms, and an informal space where the household - including the couple's baby girl Olivia and pet corgi Emma - can chill out together and watch TV.
In the master bedroom, wallpaper by Au Fil des Couleurs featuring oversize black-and-white botanical-style etchings of coconut trees was used to create a dramatic focal point.
A custom-made wood-and-rattan bed by Second Charm, a vintage desk and chair, a piece of 19th-century framed artwork, a rattan lampshade and brass-toned lighting and hardware complete the picture.
Of course, what is a stylish home without a walk-in wardrobe? The all-white space, with its combination of clothing rails, open shelves and drawers, brings about an order that allows Shen to get dressed up in a jiffy.
"I'd describe my sense of style as effortless. I'm always wearing a maxi dress or a pair of wide-leg trousers, made of organic materials.
"I like minimalist designs from The Row, old Celine and Toteme, as well as patterns with French and vintage influence, such as Reformation. I also love relatively young brands such as Cult Gaia, By Far and Nanushka. Their designs make me want to go on a holiday," says Shen.
"When it comes to jewellery, I almost never wear a necklace, but will always pick earrings, often vintage, that go with the outfit."
Her next project involves the renovation and expansion of the attic and rooftop patio. These spaces will, like the rest of her home, feature pieces that reflect individuality and speak about a personal journey.
As Shen says, a beautiful home should be one that "tells a story of the precious memories of the owner. It should reflect the past and also hold the future".
One suspects the house's new look will be one that is best enjoyed with a glass of chilled sangria in hand.