Sunday, February 5, 2012

Confessions of a first time home owner

I have always found interior designing fascinating. If I hadn't opted for a career in the field of science, interior design is one of the fields that I would have most likely leaned towards. Not that I have any special talent in it or anything, it's just that I find it intriguing. There was a time when I was hopelessly hooked onto home make-over shows like Debbie Travis' Facelift, Dress my Nest, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Trading Spaces, While You Were Out, My Celebrity Home and The Home Show. But such an overdose of home design began to saturate my brain so I decided to take a break for a while! However, I still enjoy going to home furnishing stores almost as much as I enjoy shopping for clothes, bags or shoes!

These past few weeks, I have been heavily preoccupied with one of the most important to-do things on my bucket list - I've been decorating my own little nest. Ever since I've gotten my own place, my head has been spinning with all the decorating and designing I want done. What wall colors do I choose? Do I paint all the walls or go for accent walls? How about wallpaper? What color should the doors and trim be? Should there be themes for each room? What kind of furniture do I choose? How do I match my existing furniture with the new furniture that I've bought? How do I integrate wood, metal and glass furniture and make it look cool? Do I go for curtains, blinds or window panels? What kind of lighting should I go for? The questions are endless. And if that wasn't confusing enough, when the home owners are a couple, you need to be able to come to a decision that both partners are satisfied with. Sometimes it may be a tug of war between aesthetics and practicality but eventually, a compromise has to be reached.

So, the story is, in October of 2011, we bought a 10-year old 3 bedroom condominium which was previously owned by a Chinese-Singaporean family. The unit was in really good condition and almost impossible to tell that it was a decade old. All condo units in Singapore are sold with wardrobes in all bedrooms, kitchen cabinetry, bathroom fittings and AC units. The previous owners had made some modifications to the condo when they had bought it which were pretty neat - the false ceiling in the entrance hallway, living room and corridor, the large inset mirror in the living room, a concealed storage cabinet also in the living room and floor to ceiling length shelving units in the store room. The condition of the unit, the awesome view it had of the pool from almost all rooms and the proximity to the train (MRT station) were compelling reasons enough for us to make an offer for the condo.

Our home was done up by me and my husband alone. We had a sole contractor who we gave very specific instructions as to what we wanted done. We already had a lot of furniture and knickknacks from our previous rented home but we went about carefully hand-picking other required pieces for our home. The cost of renovation included a complete kitchen makeover, a fresh coat of paint, TV unit in the master bedroom, custom-designed computer table, shelving & fixtures, checking of lights, electric points and plumbing, cleaning of five AC units, installing new toilets in all three bathrooms, mounting the dishwasher in the utility & other misc stuff which collectively came to under 15K Singapore dollars and was completed in approximately two months. In addition to the major work, we also had inconspicuous magnetic insect screens fitted to one key window in each room which was to be kept open permanently so that our home would airy yet critter-free (that's a major pet-peeve of ours by the way!).


This is how our home first looked when we got the keys. This was sometime during mid-January 2012.


We had only about 2 months to get whatever renovation we wanted done, shift all our belongings and settle down. We had to leave to India for my sister's wedding barely 6 days after moving in and we were scheduled to organize the housewarming ceremony (which was to be attended by about 60 people including both sets of parents, relatives and friends) within exactly a month of coming back from India. So, as you can imagine, it was a mad rush to get everything done! In hindsight, I really don't know how we managed to pull it off in such a short span of time.

This post is a melange of the ideas and concepts that I found useful. Although I am not the least bit qualified to give you professional advice, I do spend a considerable time and effort on my research and the best thing about advice is that you can choose whether to take it or not! A practical and easy solution would be to hire a designer but I believe that if you have decent taste and know exactly what you want, you don't really need one. But keep in mind, interior design is very subjective - it is all about your personality, style, comfort and most importantly budget but there are certain rules to be followed which can make your room look like it has been designed by a professional while still retaining elements of your personal style. I used a few home  design softwares (mainly Homestyler and Sherwin-Williams) to put together my floor plan, select wall colors and place furniture in the design to see how it all fits together. I found these websites extremely helpful and would recommend it to anyone interested in designing their home. 

Now let me get started on what I learned as a first-time home owner...

General home decor tips

Painting all your walls white will not make your room look bigger and nor will having tiny furniture in it. Color adds character to a room and choosing the right color brightens up the room and makes it look cozy and inviting. Paint companies like Nippon offer an iColor visualizer which allows you to see how color schemes look in a room. With this, you can preview what your home will look like before you start painting and you can even upload an image of your home and paint it with any color you want. I found this particularly helpful. If you decide on a particular color for your room, try to make sure that the fabrics that you are going to use in that room have elements of that color or are complementary to it. If you are shy of using bright and bold colors on the wall but still want to infuse some color to a room, you can choose an accent or feature wall and/or a few key pieces in your room to provide pops of color. It could be a cushion, a throw, an ottoman, a rug, a lamp, an art piece, tableware, printed curtains or accessories and other decorative items. Wallpaper is a really good way of adding extra dimension and color to a room. Good wallpapers and wall-coverings can be durable and cost effective. If you are confused as to what color will look good, here are some colors that are recommended by the BBC home design section for different rooms in a home. Nowadays with the endless options available, you could select the hue and saturation of the color depending on your preferences.
  • Living room: Orange, Green, Brown
  • Bedroom: Pink, Green, Blue, Lilac, Purple
  • Dining room: Red, Orange, Yellow, Neutral tones
  • Study: Blue
  • Bathroom: Blue, White, Lilac
  • Kitchen: Yellow, White

Ceilings must be considered because they are usually the most neglected surface in a room. Ceiling design is a great way to add character and focus to any room, especially the drawing room. You could go for ceiling medallions, ceiling dome, crown moldings, tray ceiling, stretch ceiling, wood plank ceiling, decorative ceiling lights or a steel ceiling based on what suits the overall decor of your home.

Unless your front door opens directly onto your living area, you can do something with the entrance to your home. A well-presented hallway gives a visitor their first impression of your personality and home so make an impact.  You can use it to set the tone for the rest of your house. Display photographs, paintings, a mirror, a favorite rug or anything else that represents you and your family. The hallway also offers an opportunity for color, particularly as white may often seem stark and uninviting. Do not put any objects that would block your front door. It is important to keep this area clutter-free so invest in some good storage options.

Create a focal point in a room. A focal point should be the very first thing you see when entering a room, the unapologetic "look-at-me" feature that naturally takes centre stage. Here are some great tips for creating focal points:
1. Color contrast - painting the walls and ceiling a beautiful deep color and having stark white trims, window frames and flooring
2. Mantel pieces - A mantel or fireplace is a natural focal point since it is usually located in a good central position in a room. You could place artwork or a large mirror on the mantel along with an informal arrangement of decorative glass vases, books and flowers. Keeping a rustic leather chair adds a lovely touch.
3. A fantastic light - This could work well in smaller areas such as a dining room. A feature pendant light  is an easy way to do this and it can be as dramatic or low-key as you like. With such a focal point, the visual height of the space is exaggerated
4. Art work -  Artworks are also by nature, focal points but they need to be used in an appropriate scale and proportion to make a room feel balanced, comfortable and command just the right level of attention. It is a great way to add personality to a room. It could be something that you or your family/friend have made by hand, represent something you believe in, be a reminder of a special event, be something that strongly represents your culture and heritage or a piece that ties in to the theme of the room. It is a good idea to hang the artwork at eye-level. All the artwork in your room need not be at exactly the same level. You can vary the position a little but the general rule of thumb is not to hang them too high.
5. Bookcase - This is one of my favorites! Organize and style your bookshelves. Group books by subject or even color. There is nothing that reveals more about your personality than the books you read. Stand some upright, and then stack some horizontally to break the monotony. Mix in pieces of pottery, collectibles, shells, or other decorative pieces. Keep in mind that you don't have to cram every shelf with 'stuff'. You could leave some empty so that it has a more airy feel to it.

These two new additions to my home are my most favorite items in my living room. I just love the quirkiness of the buddha statue and the old world charm of the globe 😊

For such eclectic and vintage pieces in addition to fabulous furniture and furnishings, check out Reforma Sthlm

A design idea I am obsessed with is creating a picture wall or gallery wall. It would be a good idea to organize your photos according to a  theme. You could print your photos in color, sepia tones or black and white, frame them with frames that are complementary to your wall color and furniture and arrange them asymmetrically on the wall. You could even alternate between dark and light frames for a quirky touch!

Trying to match all your furniture could end up looking uninteresting. You could pick a few common elements to tie the room together but don't go crazy trying to be all 'matchy-matchy'. The same principle holds good when people go overboard matching their clothes, shoes and accessories. The furniture that you pick reflects your personality. It could be classic, antique, rustic, whimsical, eclectic, contemporary....cleverly integrating different pieces together adds character to a room and shows off your creativity. A mix and match of modern items with classic designs can change the entire look of your home. In the same vein, it is also possible to integrate wood, metal and glass furniture but it has to be done the right way.  The same can be said about matching different grains of wood. I was in a dilemma when I realized that I had to combine furniture that were shades of walnut with those a much darker shade of brown. The key is to repeat the various tones throughout the space so that there is a sense of cohesiveness. Flip through magazines or web pages to look for rooms that have adopted these design ideas and use them as inspiration to translate the same look to your space.

On the subject of rooms with themes, there is quite a bit of debate. Some people think themes are not a good idea because you might get sick of them after a while and it may start to feel outdated but others feel that it just makes a home more interesting. If the rooms are distinct, I guess it is okay to have different decorating styles. I wouldn't mind one room with a theme but I guess I'm not that adventurous to go for more than that. This photo is of one our guest rooms which has a movie/book theme going on and represents our my husband's taste in movies and books.
Personally, I don't like to rely completely on overhead lighting and I dislike white light or fluorescent light. I just find it too harsh. I prefer to have a mix of overhead, ambient and task lighting in warm yellow (incandescent) tones. Right now, statement overhead pendant lights are the 'in-thing' and they can really enhance the look of any room. I bought an adorable pendant with a handmade woven basket design for my dining room. In addition to overhead lighting, using floor lamps and table lamps adds an interesting dash of style to any room and brightens up any dreary corners. Remember to go for low-energy light bulbs so you can make your home more energy efficient. 

Inset mirrors or glass panels on a door can make any room look perkier and brighter. Full length wall mirrors can do wonders for the living room by making it look more spacious and brighter. I am in love with this mirror in my living room. In addition to the esthetic advantage, it also helps me check my appearance before I leave for work everyday!

When it comes to trims (skirting), a crisp white trim against a dark shade of wall color looks stunning. Another point to keep in mind is that painting the trim the same color as your floor, makes the space seem bigger.

I am obsessed with double curtains (day + night curtains) in rooms having full length/french windows. Double curtains not only add layers and texture to a window but they also add functionality. By using sheer curtains underneath heavier fabric curtains, you have the option to allow light flood the room while still maintaining your privacy. I generally prefer plain fabrics in primary colors that are complementary to the theme of the room but I guess prints are fine too as long as they are subtle and have a modern look. Using short curtains looks just as silly as when you wear pants that are too short. Curtains and drapes should just skim the floor. It's okay if they're longer and they puddle a bit, but they should never be shorter. If you like you could add tassels or fringes to your curtains but I cannot stand the sight of them! (it is a matter of personal preference I guess). Panel curtains are another option and they can also serve as room dividers. You can also use blinds to decorate windows. There are several to choose from such as Venetian blinds, Roman blinds, roller blinds and so on. While choosing window blinds, you have to make a balance between the color and design of the window blinds and the room. The window blinds are available in different colors, styles and designs and hence they will allow you to select the color of your blind according to your furniture color. The blinds are available in different materials such as wood, fabric and other materials. These window blinds offer additional charm and elegance to your room décor. When decorating my home, I used both curtains and blinds in different rooms depending on the length of the windows.

A grossly underrated decor aspect that can instantly make a space look better is getting rid of the rats nest of cables from the plethora of gadgets and appliances that clutter a room. Visible ugly cables is another of my and hubby's pet peeve and although I do nothing much about it except maybe grumble, he will go out of this way to ensure that they remain hidden! Thanks to this fixation, there is not one nook or corner of my home that you will be able to see a wire or cable. Cable wrapping bands, sheaths, cable ties/clips/managers, organizers, power tracks are some options to consider to minimize those nasty wires. Using wireless gadgets will eliminate the problem entirely or else cleverly concealing the wires/cables behind furniture will ensure that they are kept at bay.

Coming to the ever important subject of storage - concealed storage is a great option to make your space appear clutter-free. This is something we have incorporated in our home and a concept that I absolutely love!

Nothing softens a lonely corner in a big room like a potted plant. Collect small succulent plants and pot them in an assortment of vintage ceramics. You could line them up on a sunny windowsill. Using fresh flowers for decoration throughout your home can work wonders. You could even get some wicker baskets or nice bowls and fill them with fresh fruits. Add water elements inside your house. A water fountain or aquarium is good for beautifying your house.

Last but not least, remember to keep it simple. You don’t want to clutter your space. A golden rule is that - if it is not useful nor beautiful, just toss it! You want to keep your designing tasteful and interesting without overdoing it.

Living room design tips

  • Buy a good quality sofa. A sofa is one of the main investments you make when it comes to furniture. It is where you spend a lot of time watching TV or entertaining so make sure you pick something that is comfortable, practical and pleasing to the eye. If you don't want to be bothered with cleaning up spills, then go for a material that is easy to maintain. In my opinion, picking a neutral color and plain fabric is a good idea because you can work around it any way you want later on. It can then act as a canvas for colorful accessories such as cushions and throws. Accent  chairs and wicker chairs could also be used to complement the rest of your living room furniture.
  • Try to create conversation areas by positioning you furniture in a way that allows for it. Pushing all the furniture against the walls is not a great idea when you have the habit of entertaining often but make sure that you account for traffic flow so that people can move in and out easily out of the living room without bumping into the furniture.
  • It is a good idea to have a coffee table that is slightly lower than the seat of the sofa and chairs around it and side tables at the same level as the arm of the sofa or chair they are placed next to so that guests can place their drinks on it without having to get up from their seat.
  • Avoid using an area rug that is too small. Tiny rugs in a living room just look wrong. As far as possible, all of the furniture should be sitting on the rug. If not, then at least the front legs of the sofa should be resting on the rug.
  • A hanging chandelier from the ceiling makes the living room look appealing and creates a sparkling effect. Living room chandeliers come in various sizes, types and designs, but you have to choose a particular chandelier that will suit your living room taking into account the space and size of the living room, amount of lighting you need and the overall design of the living room. 
  • If you want to brighten up your living room, then you can furnish the walls of your living room with alluring wall mirrors. The style of wall mirrors also depends on the living room furniture styles.  If you want some light through wall mirrors, then adjust the position of the mirrors so that they will reflect some light in your living room. Mirrors can infuse a feeling of freedom, light, air and space. 

An integral part of any hindu household is the God's room. This is most commonly found attached to the living room or kitchen. Unfortunately we didn't have a separate room to make into a God's room so we had to make to with a wall mounted mantap which we bought from Gokul stores in Little India.

Bedroom design tips

  • I personally feel muted shades of green-grey-brown looks great in the bedroom and gives it a good deal of warmth. You're more likely to create a restful atmosphere if you keep the crazy colors to a minimum.
  • Use warm flooring on bedroom floors like wood and carpet. It is not considered a great idea to use ceramic tiles, marble or granite on bedroom floors because it is not pleasant to get out of bed in the morning and step on a cold floor. If a cold flooring material is already installed, put an area rug beside the bed.
  • The center of attention in the bedroom should be the bed. The bed should ideally be placed at the center of the largest wall. It would be a good idea to balance the room by flanking the bed with nightstands that are the same height and easily reachable from both sides of the bed. Using bed-side lamps of attractive shapes and shades of warm tones makes the room feel cozy. Invest in a headboard. You won’t believe the difference it makes for your bed. Go dramatic with an oversized contemporary choice or choose something more traditional.
  • Invest in a good quality mattress and good quality bed linen. As far as possible, try to use a similar color and pattern for the bed linens that match with the curtains. If that is not possible, you could always opt for crisp white bed linens (you could never go wrong with them). A few plain, printed or embroidered accessory pillows propped against the bed adds an interesting touch.
  • If space permits, you could create a seating area in your bedroom by adding a comfortable armchair where you could curl up to read a good book or a bed bench which you could also use as a storage unit.
  • If the bedroom is where you do your hair and make-up, have a well-positioned dressing table and stool or chair in the room. In front of a window is ideal during the day. Put a lamp on the table for evening use.
  • Hang framed artwork or mirrors to help give your room a new look, but make sure the frames work with your existing decor. Stick with neutral-colored frames such as gold, silver, white, black or wood tone. A picture wall/gallery wall (as I described earlier in the living room section) would work great in the bedroom as well.
  • Add shelves for another quick decorating spruce-up. Collections are great to display on shelves, but don't use items that are too small. If you have too many small accessories, the shelf will look cluttered. Try glass bottles for a minimal look or even use a shelf to prop up framed paintings or photos. Scented candles are also great accessories for the bedroom.
  • Placing potted plants in the corners of the room and decorating your tables using fresh flowers instantly makes a room look beautiful and inviting.

Bathroom design tips

Bathrooms can be quite tricky to design and decorate. Here are some pointers that could help you:
  • Select durable flooring - Ceramic, marble and stone tiles are all excellent durable and water-resistant choices for a bathroom.
  • Like any other room, if your bathroom is too small use a large mirror on top of the sink or the wall - it will make the bathroom look bigger
  • Always make sure that there is adequate lighting in the bathroom. Inadequate lighting will make it feel cramped and gloomy.  In the bathroom, put wall lights on either sides of the vanity mirror. The classic style of placing small wall lamps on both sides of the mirror will give your bathroom a charming and elegant look.
  • Whether you want a shower cubicle or bathtub or both, there are plenty of updated styles to choose from. Tubs come in all shapes and size, from pre-installed Jacuzzi jets to antique styles, so you’re sure to find something that is already in your mind. Installing a curved shower curtain rod with a hookless curtain will add space and style to your new bathroom. Instead of the old frosted glass for your shower cubicle, install new clear glass panels to give the feel of space and a modern feel.
  • Make your bathroom feel like a spa. Buy fabulous towels in a new color. Add a few small candles and light them at night when you have guests.
  • Make sure there is plenty of storage because you will use it. We all need somewhere to put towels, spare loo rolls and other toiletries.

Kitchen design tips

For most of us, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Some may only pop into the kitchen for a cup of tea, but for many including me, it is the room they spend a good part of the day cooking.
  • If your kitchen is small, use light colors like off white, beige etc. but you can accent the room with bright colors if you like to brighten up your kitchen.
  • The three important elements in a kitchen are the stove, sink and refrigerator. Put them in close proximity to each other, with enough work space in between.
  • Invest in good appliances and gadgets. You will be using them for a long time and it makes sense to go for the best you can afford. You can save space if you choose compact ones. As for the color, I prefer stainless steel appliances and think they good in a kitchen but you can go for anything you think goes well with the overall decor.
  • Make sure that the kitchen counter-tops are scratch and heat resistant. Choose the counter-tops so that they complement the back-splash and the cabinetry.
  • Small round knobs for kitchen cabinets look outdated. Replacing them for longer, brushed steel handles will instantly bring your kitchen up to date. 
  • If you are looking to dress-up your kitchen cabinets and bring more light into your kitchen, consider mixing glass in with other door fronts in the kitchen. Glass can bring attention to any design. Glass cabinets also make a kitchen appear larger by bouncing back sunlight streaming in from the windows.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a big kitchen, install an island that works. Beware of placing a bulky cube in the middle of the room. Islands that have an open, airy look are most desirable. Ideally, an island should be unencumbered by appliances, but if you want it to house a dishwasher-sink combo or a cooktop, try to maintain the light look of a leggy harvest table.
  • Aside from the general lighting fixture at the center of the kitchen, put task lights under the kitchen hanging cabinets so that the food preparing areas are adequately illuminated.
  • To eliminate clutter and increase working and storage space, create pull-out and foldaway surfaces. Use the walls for storage like installing wall-mounted racks and shelves to store spices and cutlery. Hang racks and rails from the ceiling (if there is space) or walls for storing pots, pans, and utensils. Find attractive containers for all those items on the kitchen counter. You could use modern canisters or beautiful glass jars.
  • You could accessorize your kitchen by installing a wall mounted clock shaped like a kitchen accessory (I saw a tea-pot shaped clock in an aunt's house once and I've been hunting for one like that ever since!) or you could place a bowl of fresh fruits or vase of flowers on the counter. You could even get your favorite recipe painted/engraved on the wall. Growing an indoor herb garden is easy to do and makes a lovely addition to your kitchen decor.

This is my kitchen.....even though it is small & compact (as with every other room in my home), it has everything I need and sufficient storage space. Beyond the kitchen is the utility area which has a niche for the washing machine & dishwasher and a short corridor that I use as a clothes drying area. Attached to this corridor is a small maid's room which we have turned into a store room and in which I have another fridge that serves as my pantry (darn you Singapore weather!) and a tiny maid's bathroom which right now is probably the most unused part of our home.

I went against the standard design recommendation of choosing light colors for a small kitchen because I always dreamed of a kitchen with dark wood cabinetry and stainless steel appliances. I have a chalkboard decal on the backsplash on which I write the menu on occasions where we have company or cheeky messages when we don't! The only thing missing right now is a Kitchen Aid stand mixer in bright fire engine red which is next on my must-buy list of gadgets.  Update: I now have my fire engine red Kitchen Aid :)

Like I said, I love my chalkboard decal. Earlier I had only white chalk but recently I got an array of coloured chalk so now it looks more colorful, don't you think? :)

The utility area leading to the maid's room (now store room) on one end and the maid's bathroom on the other end.

So that wraps up my thoughts on interior design. I hope these basic tips will be of some use to you if you are in the process of doing up your home and more so if you don't have any outside help. We saved a huge amount of money by not hiring a designer and in the end we were satisfied with how everything turned out :)

It is said that your home should reflect who you are and that if someone were to walk into your home, they should know that it’s yours. The best way to achieve this, is in my opinion, to follow your heart, pick up what you like and look for a little inspiration to make everything work. Whatever you decide to do; at the end of the day, you should feel happy to be back home. A tasteful decor can have a positive influence on our lives. Taking the time and putting a lot of thought into the choices you make for your home helps you in the long run. A little patience, effort and love goes a long way in turning a house into your dream home.

Some words of wisdom as a parting note...

A good home must be made, not bought. 
~Joyce Maynard

Real Living magazine July 2011 edition




  1. Felt happy reading this post :) Love the little details in the design tips which can really improve the looks and convenience :D

    If u had mentioned Lutron for lighting or shading, I would have considered giving you some samples ;) btw after having blackout shades and mood lighting i think there is no going back :D

    Dint Adarsh influence you into adding a recliner in the living room!! :D From a utility perspective would love couple of things: Small convex mirror in the bathroom. A 1/2 flush to save water. In the kitchen sink a long tall faucet along with deep basin with garbage disposal.

    When do we get to see some snaps????

  2. Thanks for reading :) Did u say free samples? Send me....what are u waiting for? hahahaha

    Yeah a recliner would be nice and comfy but I guess it is more an American thing.....not too many Asian homes have one and I guess my blog post veers towards Asian decor.

    Thanks for the additional tips! And u don't get to see any snaps of the house. The only way you get to see is 'live' :D

  3. Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me--I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com

  4. very nice blog. More informative. Thanks for sharingInterior Decorators in Mysore

  5. Hi Megha, Thank you so much for the Liebster Blog Award :-) I'm so happy to receive the first ever blog award!

    Glad to have found your interesting blog! As you can see, I moved from one recipe of yours to another and landed on your Interior Decoration tips! We live in SG too and recently bought an apartment. However, we didn't have time nor patience to do any kind of remodelling back then. Now, after reading this post, I feel we have missed a lot by not adding a personal touch...

  6. Thank u Divya for ur kind words. Don't worry. U can add personal touches to ur home at any stage :)

  7. Superb post on Home Decorating Ideas. I liked the article in your blog post.


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