Tay Suan Chiang
Mon, Dec 24, 2012
The Business Times
CHRISTMAS is a traditional affair for Nikki Hunt and her family. "I believe in creating memories for my children," says Ms Hunt, founder of interior design company, Design Intervention.
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That means using the same decorations each year to seal the images of a family holiday in the minds of her two teenagers. Ms Hunt, whose husband works in the finance industry, says she wants them to look back fondly and think, "No one does Christmas like my mum and dad. Hopefully they will return each year - no matter where they may be living in the future, and eventually with their own families to enjoy Christmas with us."
As the couple hold an annual party for friends, colleagues and clients on the first Friday in December, their house off Bukit Timah will be decked out by then.
The decor is confined mainly to the living area on the first floor - stretching from the foyer through to the dining and family rooms, as well as the verandah.
A wreath hangs near the ceiling in the foyer while dark red velvet fabric drapes hang from the second floor. In the living room, gold ribbons are draped across the ceiling, giving the room a luxurious touch. An Art-Deco inspired chandelier which Ms Hunt designed herself has battery-operated candles on it to create a romantic mood. As Ms Hunt believes in the more the merrier, the candles are surrounded by red flowers, berries and acorns.
Even though the Christmas tree stands in a far corner of the room, it calls out for attention with its red, gold and silver baubles and ribbons. Decorating the tree is a family affair and because it is the same year after year, "sometimes we end up hanging the same ornaments in the same spot", says Ms Hunt.
At the verandah, garlands of ribbons and baubles line the window frames. Red ornaments provide a contrast to the black and white striped furniture. The verandah looks out onto lush greenery of the estate, and with the windows slightly misty thanks to the afternoon rain, plus the warm light from the candles, exudes a cosy cottage feel.
In the formal dining room, the table is set up with plates that have red and white motifs for the festive feel. A large round candle surrounded by mistletoe becomes the centrepiece.
When the children were younger and believed in Santa Claus, the family would leave cookies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph. "Perhaps my favourite memories are of the kids jumping on our bed, early, on Christmas morning, screaming, "Mummy, Daddy, Santa has been here"," says Ms Hunt.
The kids are now older, but Christmas is no less special. The adults get to sleep in a little longer, but "we still sneak around, trying to fill stockings without getting caught," she says.
After breakfast on Christmas Day, the family gathers around to open presents. Each member receives more than one gift and they take turns to open them up. The gift opening lasts till lunch, when on the table would be traditional Christmas fare such as roast turkey, ham, Brussel sprouts and Christmas pudding.
Then there are more gifts to open, and the family bond over games or watching a Christmas movie.
"This day is strictly spent at home and with family," says Ms Hunt.
AS a floral designer, it comes as no surprise to see that only fresh flowers will do for Karen French when it comes to Christmas decorations. Apart from pots of poinsettias that dot her home off Yio Chu Kang, she also uses amarylis, alstroemeria, hydrangeas and gloriosa, for their long lasting qualities in the local climate. You find the blooms in pretty table arrangements brightening up the living and dining rooms, as well as the outdoor patio.
But while the blooms are pretty enough on their own, she gives them an extra boost with accessories. "Flowers are not so special on their own," says Mrs French. For an amarylis arrangement, she adds candles, ferns, faux snowflakes and berries to give it a lusher look.
Mrs French typically uses classic Christmas colours, such as red, gold, and green in her decorations. But she varies them each year. "One year it could be red and gold, another year it was just gold, another time I did red and green, and I've also used green and gold," she says.
"It is more efficient and less costly to have an idea of what you want before you buy, otherwise you may end up with lots of different things but using only a little of each," she advises.
For her floral arrangements, she sketches out the design, before she starts making them. While most of her decor is traditional, Mrs French says that she likes to create contemporary floral arrangements too. This year, she used pom pom chrysanthemums wrapped in green and purple cordeyline leaves together with pink and purple baubles. "If you don't have enough of the same coloured baubles for the Christmas tree, use them in an arrangement instead," she says.
She starts decorating her home about 10 days before Christmas, but she says she is already in the zone by November. "I love shopping, so as soon as the malls and wholesalers are stocked, I head there to browse," she says.
Each year, she collects different ornaments. One year, it was baubles that looked like grapes, another year, it was faux jewels, and another time, it was flying Santas, "because they are so cute".
She adds that, "over the years, I've collected many festive baubles, so there is no mad panic to start too early." Her ornaments, baubles, tinsels and ribbons are coloured-coded and stored in different boxes making them easy to find.
On New Year's Day, the Christmas decorations are taken down. "I start thinking about Chinese New Year then," says Mrs French.
MIX AND MATCH
WHEN she first decorated her home for Christmas several years ago, former flight stewardess Salinah Baragwanath found herself with bags and bags of ornaments and not knowing what to do with them. "But now I'm better prepared," she says. The decorations at her Bukit Timah home have been up for a month now.
Over the years, she has built up a large collection of multi-coloured baubles. Each year, Mrs Baragwanath picks a different colour theme - this year, traditional red and gold.
The Baragwanaths' live Christmas tree is filled with baubles of different finishes, such as frosted, sequined and shiny ones. There are also copper star burst ornaments, bells and flying angels. But there is one ornament that Mrs Baragwanath must have - butterfly-shaped ones because, "I love butterflies."
In other corners of the house, Mrs Baragwanath has put together arrangements using silver ornaments. "I like to mix and match," she says. The staircase handle also gets the Christmas treatment with silver and blue checkered print ribbons and more butterflies on it.
Mrs Baragwanath shows that Christmas decorations don't always have to be elaborate. On a side table, acorns dress up a flower stand, instantly adding a festive touch to the home.
The alfresco bar does not escape notice, topped with a mini faux tree decked with silver baubles.
Mrs Baragwanath also hangs dangling crystals and tea light holders on some of the trees in the garden.
When Christmas comes round, she takes out a special set of Christmas candles to display around the home. "These have reindeer or Christmas tree prints on them."
The Christmas decorations take two days to put up. "There is always something new to look forward to every day," says her husband Paul.
When the nurseries start shipping in their live Christmas trees, the couple are usually among the first customers. "Paul wants me to decorate the tree immediately, but I tell him to give me a few days to think how I want to dress it up," says Mrs Baragwanath.
"It can be a quick job if you do it anyhow, but I like to think it through."
YE OLDE ENGLISH FEEL
IN all proper English homes, especially those which make Dickens' A Christmas Carol mandatory holiday reading and observe every festive tradition from mulled wine to mince pies, the decoration of the family tree is not to take place on any day except on Dec 6.
The Heah family is not British by birth, but that doesn't stop them from being Anglophile to the core, at least where Christmas is concerned. Forget about early bird discounts before Nov 30 on Christmas trees at the neighbourhood nursery - in their well-appointed bungalow off Holland Road, no bauble touches any tree before St Nicholas Day. For those not privy to legends, St Nicholas was a jolly old bishop upon whom Santa Claus was modelled upon.
Indeed, it is with great fanfare that the trees - not one, but two - are decked with baubles and tinsel, a family operation that involves colorectal surgeon Heah Sieu Min, his wife Caroline Low, their two teenagers and three live-in helpers.
The two trees are because they have amassed so many decorations that even a 7ft Noble fir can't hold them all. Playing a supporting role, then, is an artificial tree set up in the living room.
"You can smell the scent of fir immediately when you step into the home," says Dr Low, an anti-ageing doctor, referring to the live monster that's heaving under its weight of gold and maroon baubles, reindeer and fairy ornaments and countless maroon ribbons draped around its branches. As is tradition, it is Dr Heah's duty, as head of the household, to place an angel on top of the tree.
The second tree - one that has been in the house for 20 years, gets a slightly different decor theme comprising red and gold baubles, and ornaments in the shape of fat Santas, the same ones that the family has used for over two decades as well.
The trees are not the only festive focal points. The staircase railings have sprouted an instant forest of faux fir, poinsettias and acorns, while the mantelpiece over the 'fire place' fairly erupts in Christmas greens studded with fake berries and mistletoes. There is barely enough space for the kids' stockings, shaped like flat snowmen awaiting fattening like the Christmas goose. Speaking of goose, it would be remiss if the dining table wasn't equally festive. In this case, a centrepiece made of real pine, holly and orchids does the trick.
"Christmas is about traditions, such as decorating the home only on Saint Nicholas' Day," says Dr Low.
Such a stickler is she that she insists on a homecooked Christmas dinner - which she cooks herself. On Dec 25 itself, some 40 extended family members come over to feast on her efforts - smoked salmon mousse and turkey liver pate; ham and two turkeys with side dishes such as roast parsnip, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, and glazed carrots. Oh, and she also makes her own apple and cranberry sauces.
The meal ends off with a buffet of desserts - Christmas pudding, mince pies, cherry trifle and chocolate mousse. All washed down with mulled wine, naturally.
"What we do is all very English," says Dr Low. She and her husband had both studied and lived in the UK, and their love for all things English extends to the home decor too. "Since we don't live in England, we bring England back here," she explains. The home is constructed from mustard colour-stone imported from Chipping Camden, a distinctive English manor-like structure which looks imposing outside but so welcoming on the inside that you enter half-expecting a cup of tea waiting for you in the drawing room.
Well, not quite drawing room but they do have the next best English thing - a conservatory two floors high, decorated Victorian style, with black and white floor tiles, light green printed wallpaper from Colefax and Fowler paired with striped curtains from Jim Thompson, and upholstered chairs made by Dr Low's patient, Debbie Brooke, an interior designer.
The presence of the Christmas tree and other ornaments notwithstanding, the living room gives off an elegant Georgian air. To complete the look - Singapore weather be damned - there is a fireplace, albeit a non-working one. There is a chimney though, and it works: "The smoke from our BBQ grill goes up the chimney."
There are other little English touches. Instead of a coffee table in the living room, there is an ottoman, with a silver tray on top of it. "Very typical in English homes," says Dr Low. In the dining room, the exposed wooden beams on the ceiling is reflective of the Tudor style. "In England, they use oak beams but here we used local Chengai wood." Inside a sideboard is a collection of old fashioned Waterford handcut crystal glasses, handed down to Dr Low by her mother-in-law.
A stickler for details, "I started ordering items when the foundation of the house was being built," says Dr Low, referring to accessories she needed to get from overseas because the local versions were not English enough. She ended up importing patterned wash basins and brushed nickel taps from Kohler, curtains and wallpaper, and even a weather vane.
The couple's bedroom is done Georgian style, because Dr Low prefers a clean look. The children chose the interiors for their own rooms. Daughter Elizabeth's room is in shades of beige and teal, "very New England", says Dr Low. Son Nicholas' room is deeper-toned, with glow-in-the-dark stars embedded in the ceiling.
Another distinguishing feature would be their collection of stained glass windows, each made by a local glass maker and personalised for every family member.
A human colon is featured on one such window - it would be more unusual if it wasn't a reflection of Dr Heah's specialty. Dr Low's pick is a stained glass window of a house, "which is very much like how this home looks, except that the house in the window has a thatched roof," she says, adding that "I really wanted to have a thatched roof, but had to settle for Scottish slates on the roof for safety reasons."
Despite their Anglophile leanings, the family is proud of its Penang heritage. On display are jade sceptres that belonged to Dr Heah's grandparents, Peranakan porcelain ware that belonged to Dr Low's mother and mother-in-law, which is still used to serve tea to the elders during Chinese New Year.
Friends who come by have commented that they are instantly reminded of their student days in England.
Her choice of interiors could make this possibly the only English home in Singapore, and Dr Low says she cannot see herself living in an all-glass modern house. "A house is for yourself, not to show people."