After arriving in Singapore from Jakarta, newcomers Aarti and Amit Lohia needed only three months to fully furnish their expansive five-bedroom black-and-white on Cable Road. The colonial stunner is now the perfect showplace for their outstanding collection of contemporary Asian art and antiques.
When pretty young Aarti pulled back a towering front door to welcome me in, I was caught a little off guard. Having peeked through the window into an incredibly sophisticated interior, I was expecting someone older. I suppose being a member of one of Jakarta’s most prominent families – her father-in-law founded Indorama, the world’s second-largest polyester producer – demands maturity beyond ones years.
“We’ve settled in Singapore to expand the business, and I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “We plan to buy a property in the near future and wanted to get this home furnished quickly, so we could enjoy it while we were living here. The danger in decorating all in one go is that the finished product can look too polished. Luckily, I was able to bring many of my things from Indonesia and India, accent pieces that have been collected over time.”
It also helps that Aarti didn’t rely on a decorator. She put everything together herself, so her refined yet adventurous taste can be seen in every room.
While the Lohia’s permanent homes in Jakarta and London are more European in style, Aarti’s feeling was that a black-and-white should embrace the tropical look with a mix of rustic contemporary and antique Asian furniture. “A lot of the pieces in my family room and living room come from Christopher Noto and Pagoda House Gallery in Tudor Court,” she explains. “I also went to Vanilla Home for accessories, Renaissance Gallery in Dempsey for Chinese antiques, and Double Luck for lamps. It was quite easy to find what I was looking for.”
The only obstacle to creating a perfect interior was the curtaining provided by the landlord. “I was hesitant to go to the expense of buying new curtains in a house that is not my own. But the garish colours took away from the soothing décor, so I bit the bullet and replaced them. It was a little indulgent, but by choosing simple fabric, I was able to do the whole house more economically than I expected. It has made all the difference.”
Indeed, the neutral palette Aarti selected allows the colonial architecture to speak for itself and is an ideal backdrop for the home’s crowning glory: an extensive art collection that includes some of the works of Asia’s most prominent contemporary artists. “One of my favourites is the Affandi in the foyer,” she says, pointing it out. A mid-century Expressionist, Affandi was one of the first Indonesian artists to gain international acclaim.
Hanging next to it is another prized piece: a small, colourful canvas from M.F. Husain, who, according to Forbes magazine, is considered the “Picasso of India”. With subjects varying wildly from Hindu goddesses to Bollywood stars, his paintings have fetched as much as US$2 million at auction.
“My most recent acquisition was a massive painting for the living room from Indonesian artist Putu Sutawijaya,” continues the aficionado. “I saw it at a Sotheby’s auction and its aspirational subject matter really spoke to me.”
It seems Aarti’s eye is caught by bold colours, unconventional subjects and political undertones, and thus her eclectic art collection is more than decorative – it’s engaging, providing lots of fodder for conversation and creating a striking atmosphere that juxtaposes modernist and old-world décor.
In addition to paintings, Aarti also has a fondness for dotting Indian and Turkish silver around her home, which adds an elegant shine. “Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find good silver in Singapore,” she notes. “Most of mine is from elsewhere.” Fresh-cut flowers also add warmth to what could otherwise be an imposing atmosphere. Aarti works with florist Peter Rose, who regularly supplies her with beautiful bouquets and orchids.
With so many rooms to choose from, where does the family of three spend most of its time? “We do a lot of entertaining in the living room and outside by the pool, but if it’s just us, then my husband, my three-year-old daughter Aria and I hang out in the upstairs den,” she says. “Amit and I also use our office frequently for work and family administration.”
When they’re not at home, they enjoy hiking and cycling through Singapore’s many parks, dining out at restaurants such as Da Valentino’s and newly opened Kha in HortPark, and going to the movies.
“We love life in Singapore so far,” she concludes. “We will always have a connection to Indonesia, but I prefer the lifestyle here. There are so many social and leisure opportunities to take advantage of. Now that I’ve settled in and the house is more or less finished, I look forward to really enjoying what the city has to offer.”
The Living Room
This formal living room is a cavernous space with high ceilings and French doors that lead to the pool. It’s a great place for entertaining. The dark neutral tones of the furnishings contrast nicely with crisp white walls and edgy contemporary art. To spice up the monochromatic palette, Aarti played with pattern on the chairs, cushions and ottoman.
The sofas, coffee table, and end tables are from Pagoda House Gallery. The altar table behind the sofa is from Renaissance Gallery.
The Music Parlour
The intricate Indian Madhubani folk art is a connection to Aarti’s home country, and the coral fan on the table is an homage to the couples love of scuba diving. “Your home, even if it’s temporary, should reflect your life,” she feels.
The white stools are from Christopher Noto. The silver candle-holder is from Vanilla Home.
The Dining Room
This bright and airy dining area is a harmonious blend of ethnic, contemporary and colonial styles.
The lamp on the side table is from Double Luck and the fabrics for the chairs and curtains were selected by designer Janet Mcglennon.
“I chose a partner’s desk for the office so my husband and I could work in here together,” says Aarti. “I love the antique Indonesian chair; the weaving and carving is so intricate. It’s a delicate display piece, so I probably shouldn’t be using it as my everyday desk chair!”
The antique Chinese desk and shelving units are from Renaissance Gallery.
For the master bedroom and her in-laws’ suite, Aarti ordered refurbished antique beds from India. These four-poster works of art would overpower a smaller bedroom, but they are stunning focal points here.
For the bedrooms, except Aria’s, Janet Mcglennon selected fabrics, many from Jim Thompson, to customise bedding for a sleek, individualised appearance.
The Family Room
The second-floor den is the heart of the Lohia home, where the family watches movies and spends time together. An array of family photographs, including a large portrait of the threesome, give the room a casual, homey feel.
The chenille lounge and chair are from Christopher Noto and the stone-topped side tables are from Pagoda House Gallery.
The Baby’s Wing
Three-year-old Aria, who attends EtonHouse preschool, has an entire wing to herself, including a large bedroom and playroom. The colourful curtains, bedding and artwork from Christopher Martin – available at Journey East – make this room the ultimate child’s retreat and the ideal space for hosting Groovy Kids, the toddler playgroup Aarti founded recently through the networking website Meetup.com.
“I was looking for like-minded moms who wanted to socialise and entertain our children in productive ways,” says the pro-active mother. “The group grew quickly to about 80 members, and recently The Disney Channel asked me to audition kids for a new show. I couldn’t believe it! We meet about once a week for fun things such as painting, reading and swimming. This is the perfect house to host activities like this.”
The furniture and storage units in Aria’s room are from Pottery Barn in the US, but similar versions are available in Singapore at shops like Design Intervention, ni-night, Mothers Work, and the Shophouse. Refer to page 80 for more inspired ideas for kids’ bedrooms.
It’s rare to find this much outdoor living space in the centre of town, so Aarti considers herself very lucky. This garden features a beautiful swimming pool, an outdoor kitchen with mosaic tiling, which Aarti has adorned with some of her signature silver, and plenty of seating.
Aarti kept with her rustic Asian theme behind the house, but on the side terrace, outside the dining room, she used wicker with tropical floral cushions for a colonial look.
Pagoda House Gallery
Janet Mcglennon Interiors
Renaissance Antique Gallery
The Raj Company (Mumbai)
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