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 www.harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The September 2021 issue is out on newsstands now.
SINGAPORE - The home of Ms Astrie Sunindar-Ratner is every bit as charming and impeccable as one would expect of a person who champions the refinement of qualities that are little seen but deeply felt.
Wide double doors open to an entryway lined with the Indonesian etiquette consultant's collection of straw hats picked up from her travels.
The foyer leads to a spacious, open-concept living area with floor-to-ceiling windows that run the entire length of the room, flooding the space with light and offering stunning views of Orchard Road from 23 floors up.
At one end of the living area is a cosy family corner and a suite of bedrooms. The other end houses the kitchen, dining area and another two of the apartment's six bedrooms.
"I fell in love with this place because of the space and layout," says the 41-year-old founder of A - The Etiquette Consultancy.
"Our previous apartment had two levels, which was nice, but I wanted a one-level. Here, I can always see the kids or hear them. At our old place, I was always wondering or worrying about them. And with windows like these, the views and the light are just amazing."
With so much uninterrupted space in the centre of the home, the mother of three - daughter Myla, 11, and two sons Noah and Neal, who are 12 and 4 respectively - has carved it up into sections.
A hulking table piled with flowers and books divides the room into a sitting area with big cream couches and soft grey armchairs, and a cocktail corner with a wooden bar cabinet, low-slung armchairs and a brass-and-marble table.
"When I host," she says, "it's usually afternoon tea, so we'll have a casual set-up in the sitting area.
"The bar is where we have aperitivos and then we move to the dining area, where I get to do my table settings. I love creating beautiful tablescapes."
The elevated dining area is anchored by an ornate chandelier, and surrounded by art that both harmonises and contrasts with her flower-filled table settings.
On the wall above the sideboard, Ms Sunindar-Ratner has hung a series of lush paintings of plants and fruit. On one side of the kitchen door is a triptych of an old map of Paris and, on the other, a giant drawing of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a 19th-century shopping arcade in Milan.
"Paris is my mother's favourite city and Milan was my late father's, so I've put them side by side," she says. "The way I decorate, I like to have things with meaning all around the home."
In an apartment filled with art, her favourites are the ones done by her children. A small selection hangs in one of her best-loved corners: a small nook off the dining area with a grand view over the city. She sits here in the mornings to plan her day.
The bulk of the children's work is in the family area - a cosy space anchored by a plush, creamy sectional couch and decorated by black-and-white family portraits.
"This is where we spend the most time as a unit," says Ms Sunindar-Ratner, who is married to British-Swiss-American consultant David Ratner, 41.
"There's a little library, so we sit and read here before the kids go to bed. We have a projector, so we watch movies here as well. My younger son would sit in his little tepee on movie nights.
"The art wall is an ongoing project. We're constantly adding more pieces. It's so interesting when we look back at them over the years."
Her children's needs guide her interior design. "With three children, comfort definitely comes first," she says.
But "it also has to be chic", she adds. "Chic, to me, is something that looks effortless. It's that beautiful look you get when you don't look like you've tried too hard."
Ms Sunindar-Ratner says her approach to both interiors and fashion are one and the same.
"When it comes to fashion, it's about being effortless as well. That comes from knowing what looks good on you and feeling good in it. Some people look absolutely amazing and chic in just a white tee, like (British fashion designer and entrepreneur) Victoria Beckham. It's the way she carries herself."
She is a huge fan of Maria Grazia Chiuri, the Italian creative director of French luxury house Dior.
"I love it because it's so feminine," she says. "(Former creative director John) Galliano was, at times, a bit over the top for me. But now, I know I can walk into Dior and find something beautiful."
She has been collecting the brand's Bar jackets recently. "I want one in every colour. It's a timeless investment piece, something I can imagine passing down to my daughter."
Her love of Dior extends beyond fashion. "I also have this beautiful jewellery cabinet by Dior that I love so much," she says. "It's so rare, it doesn't even have it here. I had it shipped from Paris."
That is another thing she will be passing down to her daughter, including the precious pieces inside - along with her collection of Hermes bags, some of which were handed down from her mother.
"I actually like my mum's old bags much more than the ones I recently got," she says. "The quality is just different and I love that very vintage look. It's so chic and French."
After her mother kick-started her passion for fashion from a young age, Ms Sunindar-Ratner pursued it by studying fashion design at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
Back then, she was into the American greats like Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera.
"They're very traditional designers, but create really beautiful basics and staples that last forever. I have had a Ralph Lauren sweater since I was 14 and I still wear it today. Carolina Herrera's white shirts are a must-have and Oscar de la Renta's ball gowns are just a dream."
As much as she loves fashion, it was her other field of study that drives much of what she does today. "I did my undergraduate studies in child psychology, but I think I'm far too emotional," she admits. "I'd probably cry in all my sessions, which wouldn't be good for the children."
And so, she found another way to work with children: by cultivating good manners in them.
"Etiquette has been a lifelong passion. I went to boarding school in Switzerland, where it was part of the curriculum. But it was mostly my parents, especially my late father, who really instilled in me the importance of good manners," she says. "I didn't quite get it then, but it has helped me in everything I do."
She brings up table manners as an example of how something people take for granted can actually be of the utmost importance.
At her first job interview, she recalls: "I was so nervous about sitting down to lunch with my potential boss, but I felt confident because I knew how to eat properly and I think that extra confidence helped me get the job."
She believes good manners is the basis of a good human being.
"Etiquette," she says, "is about being thoughtful, kind and polite. It's about how you make other people feel and I love that you're always trying to think of the other person - it's not just about you.
"I think good manners should be the first and most important thing parents teach their children. Good etiquette will take them far in life.
"You can be the most successful person in the world, but if you don't have manners, it's just so off-putting."