The Chic Home: D-I-Y design

As the home owner’s wife has a large handbag collection, he picked those with tapestry and vibrant prints for display in this nook.
As the home owner’s wife has a large handbag collection, he picked those with tapestry and vibrant prints for display in this nook. PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINES; ART DIRECTION: KAFFY TAN
The entertainment room has two sound systems: one for movies and another for music.
The entertainment room has two sound systems: one for movies and another for music.PHOTO: SPH MAGAZINES; ART DIRECTION: KAFFY TAN

Much of the furniture in this apartment has been jazzed up with accessories, thanks to its home owner

Mr Desmond Lee is a jack of all trades. He not only runs Thelonius Interior Concept & Design, but is also the main contractor for other design firms.

In his three-bedroom condominium apartment in Loyang, he is the handyman of the home, upcycling bits of furniture in his spare time.

For the renovation of the 1,873 sq ft apartment, Mr Lee, who is in his 50s, retained elements that were in fairly good condition - such as the television console and kitchen cabinets - so he could modify them.

To give the home a more European look, he added brass-finished handles to the kitchen cabinets and installed herringbone floors in the bedrooms. The balcony features diamond-shaped tiles as well as powder-coated steel folding doors.

There is an Oriental touch to the space he shares with his wife, who is in her 50s, and their two daughters, who are in their 20s.

To bridge the two themes, he relied on colour: Black and white tiles give a colonial and French look, while teal - a hue often used on antique, Eastern-style furniture - was his primary choice of colour.

He paired this with both antique and modern furniture to stay true to the overall aesthetic, while keeping the space vibrant.

The two-month-long renovation cost $130,000 and the family moved in in December 2017.

What inspired the design of your home?

We have lived in many different homes with different styles, but our recent trips to London and Paris, where my daughters studied design and fashion, inspired a European twist to our home design - French, in particular. We also like the Oriental look and we have included a number of pieces from our previous homes.

You are quite hands-on with accessorising. Why?

Sometimes, I feel the furniture is either too contemporary or plain, so I would order brass decor tacks and corner caps to enhance them.

I would also buy earrings and tassels from Chinatown to hang at interesting places such as on the chandelier, lamp holders and wardrobe handles - this creates an Oriental look.

Recently, I painted black borders around the paintings we have on the walls. These frame them better.

You acoustically treated the entertainment room by yourself. Tell us about that.

I am an audiophile and a CD collector, and my interests span music like rock and jazz to Blu-ray movies. As it is almost impossible to soundproof a room in an apartment - unless you have money and space to spare - I have acoustically treated this room as best as I could.

My window is double-glazed, but I have sealed it and the walls with mineral wool, as well as a 5cm timber panel.

I have tested it - you cannot hear anything on the first floor and there have been no complaints so far.

I used styrofoam cubes to create an uneven surface on the ceiling, so you will not get much of a sound reflection that will distort the music.

What tips do you have for owners who want to design a home on their own?

An element may not look outstanding on its own, so you have to mix and match well.

For instance, my wife initially did not like the teal laminate for the master bedroom console.

However, after I paired it with brass handles and designed the wardrobe, she was impressed with the outcome.

And with upcycled or antique furniture, it is all about finding the right spots and proportion.

I usually try with affordable items. If something does not work out, at least it can be changed without burning a hole in your wallet.

• This article first appeared in the March issue of Home & Decor, which is published by SPH Magazines.

• Get the May and latest issue of Home & Decor (above) now at all newsstands or download the digital edition of Home & Decor from the App Store, Magzter or Google Play. Also, see more inspiring homes at

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'D-I-Y design'. Print Edition | Subscribe