Everything about Lynda Talbot whispers impeccable style, from her 1920s jewellery and vintage Hawaiian dress to her stunning 1930s-built apartment in Evans Road. Style, and a quiet confidence in her own unerring taste. Verne Maree pops in for coffee… and tea. (And cake.)
Torn between coffee’s caffeine fix and the yummy-looking pot of ginger, cardamom and lemon tea that’s already waiting, I accept first one and then the other: just like greedy Winnie the Pooh blurting out “Both!” when Kanga offered him honey or condensed milk on his bread.
The espresso is from a retro-looking Galatea machine, made by the guy who invented the espresso machine, I’m told. And my hostess has baked a delicious olive oil, lime and yoghurt cake.
How would you describe your style?
It’s continually evolving. As a kid, I was always dragging furniture around; even now, I never feel that I’ve finished a house.
At 20, I could roll down to the markets in the morning, buy three things off the vintage rack, put them together that afternoon and look great. When you’re in your forties, you can’t do that anymore; in my case, I’ve given away a lot of my beloved vintage stuff to my gorgeous niece. And as your personal style of dress evolves, so does your home, too.
As you get older, you buy better – you develop the skill of detecting good quality in fabric and workmanship. You can tell the difference. You want your home to be just right; and you may now be in a position to afford what you love.
What are you wearing?
A vintage dress from Hawaii, bought online. I tend to buy a bigger size, and have garments like this tailored in to fit me. I use Julie on the ground floor of Peninsula Plaza in Coleman Street.
Speaking of personal recommendations, if I had the right kind of brain for it I would set up a website called “I’ve got a guy”. These are the most precious words that newcomers should listen out for: “I’ve got a guy” who does tailoring, gas, ice, waitering, fixing computers or whatever – get your notebook out and write it down!
How did you get to where you are now: style maven and co-owner of Verandah Living homeware store?
I still think of myself primarily as a buyer, actually, though I got into buying relatively late. I’d started two degrees and finished neither, I’d done an enormous amount of drifting and travelling around the world and I’d bought and renovated a couple of houses – winning an award for one of them.
But when I walked into the David Jones buying office in Sydney, I knew I’d found what I wanted to do. Being a homewares buyer involved everything I liked: renovation, sewing, home décor, travelling. At 30, I was by far the oldest assistant buyer; but within 18 months I was the soft furnishings buyer, travelling all around the world. I loved that job!
My next position was homewares buyer with Freedom Furniture, which at that time had 76 stores in Australia. I visited New York, London, Frankfurt and Paris; China, Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan: wherever it was necessary to go to find the products we needed and have them shipped to Australia.
That’s how I developed a keen commercial sense of what people want.
It taught me how to stay on top of the trends, thinking ahead to what people want next year.
Who leads home décor trends?
When I first started, it was the garment industry that set the trends. If tweed was in fashion one year, tweed would feature in home furnishings the next year.
That’s no longer necessarily the case, and what’s more the process of buying has changed completely. We used to have to fly all the way to the UK and take covert photos in Harrods; or we’d look at products in India and then three weeks later be sent a big, heavy photo submission. Now I talk to my suppliers on Skype!
How different is it buying for your own store compared with buying for a retail giant?
As a department store buyer, I was part of a team that worked together on whatever themes we might have agreed on together: African, South American or whatever. One of us might be buying candles in India, another buying fabric in Thailand, or ordering prints from an artist in Byron Bay, and it all worked together synergistically. It was a fantastic experience, and I learnt a lot.
The way I buy for our own store is different, though; it’s an extension of how I furnish my own home. What I love about having our own business is that I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s tastes – I can ignore contemporary style, for example. Our tagline best expresses my design ethos: Verandah Living is where tropical chic meets grand hotel style.
The custom-made furniture and re-upholstery side of the business has grown dramatically over the last year; it’s very rewarding to give new life to furniture you love.
How did you approach the furnishing of your home here in Singapore?
I wanted to incorporate a tropical element into the Art Deco furnishings that I’ve been collecting since I left home at the age of 21… but I could not find one thing here that I wanted to buy. There was Ikea, there was top end classical furniture, there was a lot of very contemporary stuff and then there was rustic.
There’s nothing at all rustic about me or my style. I do love natural materials like shell, rattan and timber, though, which can be very elegant and sophisticated depending how you put things together.
I also struggled to find the vibrant prints I needed to complete my vision of tropical chic. Many of the available fabrics were either too dull or they were inappropriate for the climate: they just didn’t gel with how I wanted to live. Velvet and other plush material don’t work in tropical surroundings, and neither do synthetics.
When I found cotton blankets, they were in yellows, blues and pinks; I wanted white linen and cotton on my bed. Every time I travelled, I came back with a bag full of candles, linen, even soap dispensers. You could drive round for Singapore for days looking for an attractive, nice soap pump, probably in vain. And this comes from a buyer who prides herself on being able to find anything, anywhere!
There was nothing for it but to start a business to meet the obvious need; and when Eleanor Craig, my wonderful business partner with a background in accounting, came on board, Verandah Living was born.
What is your favourite item of furniture?
Our burlwood sideboard in the dining room, a French piece that I bought in a Sydney antiques shop. I had to have it, so I sold my car and caught the bus for six months in order to pay for it. But you can point to anything you see in my home and there’ll be some kind of story, whether the item is new or vintage.
Does your husband share your passion for Art Deco furniture? Do your tastes coincide?
He does, very much so; though he has a day job, he’s involved in the store and likes to help out on the weekends. But he’s a lot more practical than I am. He would never have sold his car to buy a sideboard.
Where is home for you?
Home is where your things are – your favourite things, your books, your memories. That’s why, for me, creating a home is very important: I’m not a Buddhist – I love my material possessions and I need to have them around me.
What’s more, I believe that the expats who bring their stuff with them tend to settle better here. Maybe that’s because they’ve made a commitment – physical, emotional, financial – to the move.
Some of the customers who come into my shop seem a bit lost and uncertain. They may be staying in a furnished place, and feel can’t buy furniture because they don’t know how long they’ll be here. In that case, I tell them to buy some art, some cushions, some books – things of their own, things that they love. I say to them: “Make the place yours; introduce your own personal touches; if possible, paint the walls a different colour.”
Any final words of advice?
If you only buy stuff you really, really love – and buy it with the same eye: don’t be influenced by the last person you spoke to – it will all work together.
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!