At the risk of stereotyping, Russian women do tend to be blessed with striking good looks. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of compensating for the freezing temperatures they must endure. Jenya McWilliams is certainly no exception, and shares an equally stunning Grange Road apartment with her Australian partner, Stephen.
When 33-year-old Jenya moved into Cliveden @ Grange 18 months ago, she was given the opportunity to unleash her interior-design goddess. Her efforts have culminated in something simply gorgeous. The place is immaculate – there are clearly no pets on the premises!
“Actually,” says Jenna, “Stephen’s daughters, Amy and Erin, who live nearby and stay with us at weekends, have a Bichon Frisé called Twilight; but she’s not allowed to stay until she’s house-trained.” As I cast my eye over the exquisite carpets and sleek furnishings, I can’t say that I blame her.
Jenya is originally from Vladivostock, but left her hometown in 2009 for a posting in Tokyo where she worked as a translator for an automobile company. It was there that she met and fell in love with Stephen, who had been living in Singapore for more than a decade and was in Japan on business.
Now fluent in Japanese, Jenya misses her former adopted homeland, especially the food. “The Japanese are so passionate about their cuisine and there is big competition between the different restaurants,” she says. I ask if she’s found anywhere in Singapore that measures up: “No I haven’t found anywhere I particularly like, but then again I haven’t been looking very hard as I still travel to Japan frequently.”
Seldom do we encounter an oriental-carpet collector who isn’t thirsty for knowledge about the provenance and history of their purchases. According to Jenya, Stephen is passionate about the ancient art of carpet-making, having devoured many books on the subject. But finding the right carpets for their home proved quite difficult, and they visited numerous shops before discovering The Orientalist. “Amin let us try out the carpets first, and had one of our existing carpets cleaned – not one of theirs – for nothing. Should we get bored with any of the carpets in the future, he said we can upgrade or swap,” says Jenya.
Having covered the floors, we move on to the walls, and these are a different matter altogether. “Stephen might be the expert on carpets but I’m the one who knows about art,” she jokes.
As a trailing spouse, Jenya isn’t working, but she has taken the move in her stride and spends her free time in pursuit of other interests, including the arts. “I’ve always been keen on painting but I’ve never really had the time before. Now I go to an art class once a week and I’m really excited about creating some artwork for the apartment,” she says, nodding at the bare walls.
When I ask her how she would describe her design style, she shrugs. “I’m not really sure, but everything we buy has a function and is here for a reason. As you can see, there’s no crazy fountain or statue in the middle of the house. The apartment was brand new when we moved in and since we didn’t have much furniture, it was easier to buy things that worked in this space.”
The circular dining table was designed and custom-made by Castilla. Jenya selected a solid walnut top to complement the other types of wood in the apartment. “I was given the very good tip that using different textures of wood adds more depth to the overall look.” The advice was right: the beautiful floor-to-ceiling dresser from John Erdos is a lovely contrast to the dark walnut table.
Jenya, what do you like about living on Grange Road?
It’s walking distance to Orchard Road and there’s easy access to the CBD, where Stephen works.
What has surprised you most about Singapore?
I thought everyone would speak perfect English and that I’d be able to improve my own; but I didn’t know about Singlish, and now I have to stop myself from saying “lah” after every sentence.
What don’t you like about living in Singapore?
In Japan everything was very efficient, but that’s not always the case here.
Do you have any shopping tips?
I’ve learnt that shopkeepers are more willing to negotiate if you don’t have the appearance of someone wealthy, so I always dress down and I always ask for their best price.
Is there a large Russian community in Singapore?
Yes, I think so. I’ve met a lot of friends through the Russian Club on Facebook. Sadly, many of them have left, but that’s the life of an expat.