Families go big with nature for Chinese New Year decor

From impressive displays to simple arrangements made from sentimental items, here are four families who have decorated their homes for Chinese New Year

Although they live apart, for this year's Chinese New Year, a pair of sisters have decided that their homes would have the same festive theme: plants, plants and more plants.

Between them, they have created more than 10 plant arrangements integrating Chinese New Year motifs such as firecrackers, mandarin oranges and Chinese gold ingots.

Cheryl and Iris Wee have always found typical festive decorations too garish.

Iris, 50, a housewife, says: "In the past, I did only minimal decorating because I don't like big, bright red decorations. They are just too much for me. But I am fine with plant arrangements. I like to be surrounded by nature - plants, flowers, trees - as it lifts my spirits."

Iris lives in an HDB executive apartment in Tampines with her shipping executive husband, 56; two daughters, aged 25 and 21; her mother-in-law, 94; and an Indonesian maid.

In the past, I did only minimal decorating because I don't like big, bright red decorations... But I am fine with plant arrangements. I like to be surrounded by nature - plants, flowers, trees - as it lifts my spirits.

HOUSEWIFE AND AVID TREKKER IRIS WEE on why she and her sister Cheryl have chosen a plant theme for their Chinese New Year decorations

Her sister Cheryl, a 53-year-old housewife, lives in a condominium unit in Jurong East with her husband, 52, who works in the finance industry; and three children aged 25, 21 and 16. She meets Iris once a fortnight.

At Iris' place, the most prominent arrangement is a pot with a pineapple, three types of orchids, wood landscaping and artificial mandarin oranges as ornamentation.

Another plant arrangement is a platter laden with pineapples and decorated with ferns, pumpkin, garlic, artificial mandarin oranges, chillies and peach blossoms.

On one of the living room walls are air plants arranged with pink coral vine flowers. On the table is a vase of purple pussy willow and fresh cherry blossoms.

Many of these are joint creations - done together when Cheryl visits - and make use of their self-taught landscaping skills.

Iris, an avid trekker, says: "When you are frequently exposed to nature, you naturally develop an eye for what looks good."

Cheryl, who volunteers with Cosy Garden, a community garden in Bukit Batok, adds: "Through the arrangements, we try to create a sense of balance and calmness in the home.

"We also get inspiration from my fellow volunteers and Pinterest."

The sisters, who have another sister and two brothers, have been interested in plants from a young age. Their late grandmother kept plants in her backyard and their late father was a bonsai enthusiast.

Most of their plants are bought from local nurseries, which the sisters frequent.

Iris' succulents, ferns and air plants, for example, come from World Farm in Bah Soon Pah Road and her orchids come mainly from Song Orchids in Choa Chu Kang.

The plants cost about $300 altogether, but Iris says: "It is a small amount for the joy these plants have brought us."

About 25 members of their extended family will be at Iris' place today, as her mother-in-law lives there. Iris says: "We bond, catch up and, of course, exchange ideas about plants.

Six porcelain fish are mounted on a wall near her living room window, a reference to the auspicious Chinese saying "nian nian you yu" (which means "abundance year after year").

Bought from a home furnishing store in Guangzhou, China, for less than $100 altogether, they were put up last year.

Iris says: "The fact that they are not bright red also means we can put them up for the rest of the year - another advantage of not being too gaudy."

Mr Zoyd Teo, his wife Clarissa and one of their three children, daughter Zelle (above), with the decorations in their home. ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Roosters galore

Chickens are roosting on Ms Clarissa Choh's sofa. Well, soft toy versions of the creatures, anyway.

Peppered around the living room are nine of these stuffed animals that come in different shapes and sizes. Two actually go "cock-a-doodle-doo" when you hug them. On the shelf are three lion heads.

Ms Choh, 41, says she went big on the rooster theme because her son Cayden, 11, was born in the Year of the Rooster. She owns a clothing business and is married to stockbroker Zoyd Teo, 43.

They also have two daughters - Zea, 12, and Zelle, nine - and the family live in a three-storey bungalow at Shepherd's Hill Estate.

The stuffed toy display started last year when Ms Choh bought monkey toys to welcome the Year of the Monkey for Zea.

As to why she included the lion heads, she says: "We used to hire a lion dance troupe to perform at our home during the festivities. But this year, there was no time to plan as Christmas and Chinese New Year were just too close.

"But if anybody wants to perform an impromptu dance with my lion heads, he is very welcome to do so," she says with a laugh.

Her decorations, planned a year in advance, usually has a colour scheme. This year, it is yellow and magenta. "Yellow is my elder daughter's favourite colour and not commonly used for Chinese New Year. I think that makes it unique."

Six yellow cushions, with matching floral designs, sit on the couch. On a table is a yellow table runner. Even the pussy willoware dyed yellow and magenta.

She says: "To me, details are important. I treat the decorations like my own passion project and hope they make every Chinese New Year special for my guests."

Primary school teacher Eunice Liuu with her sons, Noah (left) and Nathan, with the festive display in their home. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Sentimental touches to decor

Before she had children, Ms Eunice Liuu did not decorate her home for Chinese New Year as she usually spends the festive occasion at her grandmother's place.

But now that she has two sons - Noah, three, and Nathan, two - the 37-year-old primary school teacher decorates her five-room HDB flat in Punggol even if nobody comes to visit.

"The decorations are mainly for my children. I want to create a festive atmosphere and remind them of their Chinese roots."

While simple, her decorations are charming and creative. The centrepiece is a 45cm-tall white metal birdcage with two stalks of artificial peach blossoms.

Two long-tailed birds - one red, one yellow - stand on the branches and three butterflies are nestled among the blooms.

Ms Liuu made this herself. The birdcage, which was bought for $20 from a shop in Bugis in 2012, was originally part of her wedding decorations when she married engineer David Lee that year.

She says: "During our wedding dinner, we placed the birdcage next to a display of our family photos as part of a 'memory lane' showcase. After the wedding, I did not want to throw it away because of its sentimental value."

She kept the birdcage in the storeroom. But since three years ago, she has been bringing it out every Christmas and Chinese New Year.

For Chinese New Year last year, she filled it with Mandarin oranges. During Christmas last year, she filled it with gold, silver, red and blue baubles.

She says: "I prefer putting together my own decorations as they are more meaningful and the birdcage is very versatile."

For this year's design, she bought the flower stalks for $5 from a shop at the nearby Punggol Plaza earlier this month.

She also bought the birds ($8) and butterflies ($5) at another shop in the mall.

She recalls: "At first, I was not sure how many birds to buy. But at the store, the owner told me that a woman before me bought three birds because she had three children. So I bought two birds because I have two sons."

Setting up the birdcage took 11/2 hours and Ms Liuu secured the stalks to the cage with cable ties.

"I wanted the flowers to look like they were growing out of the cage and it took a few rounds of trial and error to achieve this effect."

The birdcage is not the only sentimental item in her decorations.

Holding the pineapple tarts and chocolate squares is a 38-year-old circular plastic container with a beaded design, a gift from a relative to celebrate Mr Lee's birth. It has been used to hold snacks every Chinese New Year.

She says: "Many people like to have new things for Chinese New Year. But my family prefers to hold on to things that others gave us because these are meaningful gifts."

Rounding up the decorations are wall decals, a platter and basket of oranges as well as tins of Chinese New Year snacks.

"Our decorations are simple, but they really reflect who we are as a family."

Dover Crescent resident Mark Tham (above) designed this festive display at the lift lobby outside his flat. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Riot of colours at lift lobby

Take the lift to the 19th storey of Block 28D Dover Crescent and an impressive display greets you in the lift lobby.

There are seven rooster figures, including the popular Looney Tunes chicken character Foghorn Leghorn. Pots of fresh flowers, pussy willow and artificial plants surround them.

On the right, three rooster figures are on the wall. Six discs line the columns on the left and there are banners with Chinese New Year greetings.

This is the creation of resident Mark Tham, 68, a retired director in a food and beverage company. He lives on the floor of the festive lift lobby and puts the display together with the help of his neighbours.

Since moving in six years ago, he has been decorating the lift lobby for Christmas and Chinese New Year every year.

For his Chinese New Year display, he dedicates three hours on weekdays and six hours on weekends, and spends about $1,000 on props a year.

He lives in a four-room flat with his wife Julia, also 68. They have two sons, aged 43 and 38.

On why he started doing this, the grandfather of four says: "When I first moved in, I had time on my hands and wanted to start this project to get to know my neighbours. I want the display to encourage neighbourly bonding and kampung spirit. At least it gives us something to talk about and contributes to the festive atmosphere."

He usually plans his designs a year in advance. Whenever inspiration strikes - at church or when he is listening to music - he writes them on paper. A drawing block in his room also has "blueprints" of his designs.

He says: "When I do something, I want it to be the best. So I plan properly and work hard."

For his Chinese New Year display, he cut the chicken figures out of plywood with an electric saw, spraypainted them and applied a coat of protective lacquer.

The six discs are the coverings of pails, but are spraypainted and pasted with images of chicken characters. His materials are bought locally and in Johor Baru.

Mr Tham, who has no training in art, says: "Everything I know is self-taught. I love to D-I-Y. It is hard work, but seeing the final product and my neighbours' smiles warms my heart."

Over the years, his neighbours have also contributed to the set-up. One woman, for example, handmade 14 lanterns using red packets for this year's display and they now hang from the ceiling.

His neighbours on the same floor appreciate the decorations. One of them, university student Ong Chu Feng, 24, whose father contributed fresh plants, says: "We are glad to help contribute to the festive atmosphere and, every year, he comes up with a beautiful display. Many people, even those in other blocks, often visit our lift lobby."

Ironically, there are no festive decorations in Mr Tham's flat. He says: "I want to concentrate on the lift lobby. If the decorations are in my home, who will get to see them?"

A look at Mr Mark Tham's Chinese New Year decorations. Go to http://str.sg/decor

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Going big with nature'. Print Edition | Subscribe