Faced with Singapore property prices, one option may be to build your dream house just a short hop away – across the causeway in land-rich Malaysia. One professional expat couple we know did just that – and then called on British interior designer Elliot Barratt to make their new house a home.
Anna and Peter* chose the East Ledang development in Nusajaya, Iskandar as the location for their new home in Malaysia: a double-storey, five-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot house with its own pool on 8,600 square feet of land.
What most attracted them to this particular development, says Peter, was that UEM was the developer. They also felt that it offered the best choices for landed property in Iskandar.
Since moving house in December 2014 the couple have found themselves in “a real community”. Though it’s made up mostly of expats, they say, they’re enjoying the kampung spirit and the way the neighbourhood kids run in and out of one another’s houses.
“We love it,” says Anna. “Weekends seem very long and restful once we’ve left busy Singapore behind us.”
Even the commute is not a problem, especially as they have their own business and work flexible hours. “We’ve found a real sweet spot: leaving home at 9am gets us to the office in Orchard at 9.30am; and leaving the office at 8pm gets us home 40 minutes later.” Leaving at 6am, however, for a morning gym session in Orchard, means a commute of 45 minutes.
Having bought the house off plan, the couple called in Elliot Barratt (of Elliot James design consultancy) about four months before completion and handover. The house was still just a shell, he recalls.
“We sat together and went over my portfolio, the fee structure and some ideas on how to use the various spaces. I came up with a few mood boards to express what I had in mind, and after that they were happy to let me run with the project. Whenever I presented them with options, they were very decisive about what they wanted. It was a real pleasure to work with them.”
Though the electrical wiring and power points had been installed by the time Elliot started work, as usual the developer’s generic lighting and power plan wasn’t nearly sufficient. For example, he says, a room might have just one central light fitting; and the kitchen area – which had to be designed from scratch by Elliot – had been provided with a solitary plug socket.
To go with the light-brownish marble flooring that had already been laid, they went for a mix of taupe, grey, black and white. “We’ve kept the palette fairly simple,” says the designer, “and the colours mainly light. Most importantly, we haven’t overfilled the house with things.”
Though the couple didn’t bring much furniture with them, they did have a number of special items that they wanted incorporated into the design. For starters, the front door is a massive carved affair bought on holiday in Bali; they also brought with them the lovely, big wooden dining table.
Anna’s old Chinese cabinets look great against a simple white wall, either topped with one strong ornament or paired with a striking painting. Each piece is allowed to speak in its own right, as Elliot says, rather than having to compete with too many other distractions.
Creatively displaying personal items is a sure-fire way to inject individuality into a home. Anna’s striking Filipino chinaware is a case in point – not only adding subtle warmth and colour, but reflecting her cultural heritage.
“To showcase the chinaware,” explains Elliot, “we installed three imposing black plinths in the foyer, exhibition-style; and nearby, close to the dining table, we fitted a couple of floating shelves with LED lighting to display some of her beautiful plates.”
The design company sourced almost all the larger items such as sofas and rugs, and also helped with options for bedding and so on.
Pressed to divulge some of his favourite suppliers, Elliot says that they vary, depending on the style of the project. “Modern Eclectic Living is good for formal but relaxed furniture; Bungalow 55 is amazing for accessories; Curio Home at Dempsey is another favourite; and Jenny Lewis at Bode Fabrics has fantastic, well-priced textiles from all over the world.”
He also deals with a couple of local art dealers, such as The Artling. In addition, Elliot James has its own line of products, including furniture, accessories, artwork and lighting, all available from its online shop (elliotjames.com). “We’re trying to offer some options that wouldn’t otherwise be available in Singapore,” he says.
For one of the two living areas, the man of the house wanted a big TV and a comfortable couch where he could kick back and relax; the other is more formal, for when they have guests.
For the master bedroom, he asked for a nice big walk-in wardrobe; and so it is. But it pales in comparison with Anna’s magnificent dressing room, achieved by knocking two of the guest bedrooms together. All back-lit with LEDs, its wall-length shoe-racks, capacious handbag shelving, masses of built-in drawers and voluminous hanging space left this writer speechless (for once) with envy.
Another enviable feature is the outdoor pool terrace, for which Elliot designed the neat decking, landscaping and a versatile all-weather pergola.
Having studied product and furniture design, and worked in graphic design before following his love for interiors, Elliot believes his varied design experience is a real advantage when it comes to serving a wide mix of clients. Though his company does “a lot of residential projects”, many (but not all) of them for expats, he has also won tenders for the design of offices and retail spaces – and even Tourism Board hospitality suites for the F1.
He describes his style as “muted contemporary sophistication”, and likes to think that it is classic enough to stand the test of time. “After ten years, it should still look good.”
*not their real names
This story first appeared in Expat Living’s March 2015 issue.