We take a look around the eclectic home of interior designer ISABELLE MIAJA and ask her why she chose this Clementi house, and what she loves about Singapore and her work.
How does an interior designer design her own home? Isabelle has experience in designing interiors for all types of residential homes, five-star hotels, superyachts, private aircrafts and villas for royalty, amongst other projects. There’s an array of art, a blend of colours and textures, and some one-of-a-kind furniture and décor here, all of it seeming to tell stories from afar.
Isabelle’s three bedroom (“plus a den”) house certainly has lots of talking points, as you might expect from an interior designer. She told me more about herself – and her home – over a delicious coffee and some buttery croissants.
Isabelle, where are you from, when did you move to Singapore, and what do you do here?
I’m half French and half Spanish, and I’ve lived in Singapore since 1995. I’ve been running my business, Miaja Group, for almost 26 years. I’ve lived in my current home for the past 16 years, and raised my three children here.
Do you identify with your French or Spanish roots more?
I have aspects of French in some areas, and Spanish influence in others. My French accent is much stronger than my Spanish, but when it comes to my cooking, I like a lot of Spanish flavour. I guess my personality has also been influenced by the US, as I lived in New York and Los Angeles for around ten years.
Tell us about your creative design process when you’re reimagining a client’s home.
I wear so many hats in my design business, but I definitely enjoy the creative part best. I love walking into a place and visualising the end result. I can imagine the finished look in my mind. I actually enjoy seeing all the potential of a space, and noticing the “lesser” details; visualising how to make them a potential, too. When I walk into a space, I create a vision for the home and make “flaws” into assets.
Obviously, there’s a whole process with building a connection with the client, understanding their vision, managing expectations and delivering the final outcome. I really believe a home deserves the space to express its own vibe. I’m just the catalyst that translates everything into the final look.
How much of your client’s personality shows up in the final design?
I need to get to know my clients and assess who they are and what their personalities are all about. So, when I work with residential spaces, I need to marry and blend both the client’s vision and personality with the vibe of the space.
What attracted you to this place so much that you’ve never moved out?
I always wanted a landed property with great views. I love that our home is surrounded by jungle and greenery – I love the blend of indoor and outdoor living spaces. The setting was super important to me, as I’m someone who loves nature; if I don’t have nature around me, I struggle.
So, I had this home go under a “grandfather renovation”, whereby I kept certain aspects of the original structure and built more around it. Over the years, I’ve renovated here and there.
It’s interesting to see how a designer designs their own home. What inspired you with your own interior?
I could have made it a little bit more avant-garde, but I also thought, “My children are living here and it’s not a museum.” I wanted the kids to feel comfortable at home.
What do you love most about it?
The moment I walk through the front door, I can just put my bags down and have an emotional and physical sense of ease – a feeling that I can just “let go”.
For the décor, the items I like most are the artworks and sculptures. The furniture is there to complement and provide a background to all those things.
If there was a fire (touch wood!) and your family, pets, computers and other critical things were rescued, what one item would you save next?
Oh, goodness; that’s very difficult to answer. I guess I’d say the glass sculpture by Frederik Hart. There’s a beautiful story behind how I acquired it. When I was 22, I went into an art gallery in Los Angeles, and I saw this piece. It was super expensive, so I asked if I could buy it and pay in instalments. They said, “No, we don’t do that.” After I had moved to Singapore, I randomly walked into an art gallery near Raffles, and there stood the same sculpture! I asked if I could purchase it and pay in instalments, and they said yes! It took me maybe six months to pay for it in full. That’s what I would save in a fire.
There’s an interesting blend of eclectic storytelling in the design, yet it still feels homely. Let’s start with your kitchen; tell us about the design there.
I wanted a “working kitchen” because I love cooking. We eat mostly outside in the garden, though I like to use our kitchen table when it’s raining heavily. We also use the table to lay out a buffet. So it’s almost like a professional type of kitchen, where I can see everything and find whatever I need.
Your dining room has an elegant feel with carefully selected statement pieces, and a grand circular table. What did you imagine for this room?
I was keen for the dining room to have more of an Asian feel – even the wallpaper has an Asian-inspired pattern, though there is also artwork here by Italian, Australian and Iranian artists. I have items that are reminiscent of travelling. For example, the long pipe I bought when I climbed Mount Everest. Those pipes are used to send signals and communicate with people on other mountain peaks.
When I walked into your living room, I felt like a kid in a candy store! There are so many incredible items in this space. Do you spend much time here?
Let me share what happens on a typical weekend. I spend time with my dogs during the day; so, they are my priority. Then, in the evening, the dogs are out of the house, and I shift my focus to my cat. So my cat and I will relax in the living area. Sometimes, if I want to read a book in the afternoon, I’ll come to the living room and leave the dogs outside, so my cat can come in. It’s like a dance between the animals and me.
Where do you source your furniture from?
Most of my furniture is custom-made or imported from overseas. For example, the circular dining table I had made in Indonesia. My kitchen table was imported from the Philippines. My sofa is from XTRA and the fabric from Bode Fabrics, and my outdoor furniture is from Dedon XTRA. I also have some vintage furniture that came with me from the US. Since my style is eclectic, I have quite a few go-to furniture stores that I like, including Space, XTRA and W Atelier.
Tell us about the striking mobile in your living room?
I’ve always wanted to install a floating mobile at home. This piece is by a French artist who specialises in mobile installations. But not many people understand the beauty of such a piece – many don’t see it as an artwork. Your bedroom opens out to a balcony facing lush greenery. What do you love about this space? I’m ever so fortunate to wake up to this incredible view of nature every morning. It’s like a canvas of greenery, so I rarely close my balcony doors. The décor in here is a real mix: feminine, Asian, European, and even an influence from my American journey.
What do you love about Singapore and the region?
Asia for me is like a big backyard. When you appreciate the intrinsic intricacies of each and every ethnicity and nationality, it’s a very exciting place to be. I love Singapore because this is where I became myself, and experienced a great personal discovery process.
Favourite restaurant: Solo for Italian and Mi Casa for Spanish
Favourite place for coffee: I love my local kopitiam!
Favourite hairdresser: Sybil and James at Kim Robinson (I’ve used them for 15 years)
Favourite touristy thing to do: Visit all the beautiful nature reserves
Favourite place for breakfast: Carrot Sticks & Cravings
Favourite place for cocktails: Atlas Bar for its ambience and for being surrounded by art sculptures
Best hike: Mount Everest, but for now I’ll settle for Bukit Batok!
Favourite clothing brand: Dries Van Noten, and Inès de la Fressange (a collaboration between French designers and Muji)
This article first appeared in the April 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!