Melburnian garden landscaper and home stylist Karin Rysgaard wants to help us to connect with our living-spaces in a meaningful way that does the least harm possible to the environment. Reinventing pre-loved furniture is key to her eco-friendly approach, as Verne Maree discovers.
“It’s all about the garden,” says Karin, “and the garden is where we spend most of our time.” Soothing music from her iPod drifts from outdoor speakers placed at intervals along the walls of the wrap-around alfresco area. Standing on 7,000 square feet of land, the 50-year-old, four-bedroom bungalow in Jalan Berjaya is home to Karin and her 11-year-old daughter, Sophie.
It’s hard to imagine that before they moved in three years ago, there was not one plant on the property. Fortunately, Karin’s background in landscaping, gardening and floral design enabled her to transform the house into the exquisite haven it is today.
Its liveable layout features four distinct alfresco seating areas, a cosy indoor lounge that’s adjacent to a more formal dining area “for grownup dinners”, a dry kitchen that serves mainly as a bar and for storage, and an unexpectedly spacious area behind the kitchen that provides generous seating for casual dinners and even workshops.
Did you install this garden yourself?
Yes. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I transplanted many of my trees from my previous place. I also had the pool and the decking put in. Luckily, my Filipina helper, Eloisa, is not only blessed with a green thumb but does much of the maintenance of the house and garden.
What did you do to the house?
Besides repainting, installing chandeliers and other light fittings throughout made a big difference; most of the switches have dimmers. I gave the two bathrooms a partial makeover, including taking out the window glass to create an outdoor-indoor feel.
Where did your love for gardens come from?
It has always been a part of my life. I grew up in the Melbourne suburb of the Dandenong Ranges, and both of my parents loved gardening. My creative, inspirational grandmother was a brilliant gardener, too.
What’s your design background?
About 20 years ago, I found myself in Copenhagen, where I took the opportunity to familiarise myself with Scandinavian design and classic European furniture. On returning to Melbourne, I taught horticulture and floral design at NMIT for a while before moving to Singapore close on 10 years ago.
Tell us how you furnished this home.
Ninety-nine percent of it is second-hand, recycled or refurbished; some pieces are gifts, but almost every item has a story and some kind of meaning to me. I’m a great believer in reinventing pieces through painting, reupholstering or even just repositioning them.
For example, everyone asks about the Indonesian teak cupboard in the living room – but in fact, it’s a pretty generic piece that I simply gave a coat of silver paint. The same goes for the round table that we’re sitting at; I painted it gold. Personally, I like metallic finishes very much. They give us another neutral option. Metallics go well with one another, as they do with other neutrals, and pieces like this are becoming a signature part of my business, Cocoon Styling.
How did you get into the home-styling business?
My first home project in Singapore was for my own landlords, a local couple who were relocating to Shanghai. When I looked at the big bungalow off Sixth Avenue, I fell in love with it. But it required extensive renovation; so I offered to manage the renovation for the owners, and they were extremely happy with the outcome.
That flowed naturally into doing interior and exterior styling projects for friends, which I did on an informal basis for the next five years, while Sophie was still young and needed most of my attention.
Rebuilding a villa in Seminyak, Bali from scratch was my next project. That was a steep learning curve: I’d been to Bali many times, but knowing where to buy a kaftan is a far cry from sourcing tiles and bathtubs! Along with having our own villa there, and having made all the necessary contacts, that led on to other private villa jobs, to the Legian Hotel and to my project-managing the landscaping and some of the interior refurbishment at La Residence d’Angkor in Siem Reap.
I launched Cocoon Styling two years ago.
What’s behind the name Cocoon Styling?
It struck me that newly arrived expats, in particular, really need some “cocooning”, by which I mean help in creating a protective, restorative place for rest and recreation where they can feel at home, safe and happy.
Many of us are far from home, living in properties we don’t own, often in an uncertain time-frame, limited by budgets and restrictions on what we’re allowed to do. Faced with these limitations, some people react by doing nothing at all: they go into a sort of holding pattern or limbo; they settle for feeling generally dissatisfied until it’s time for them to return “home”.
Instead of that negative and unsatisfactory state of affairs, I can help them to proactively make the most of what they have.
KARIN’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LIFE IN SG
Ayana Resort and Spa, Bali
+62 361 702222
Fabulation Event Design
Fine Palate Catering
51 Waterloo Street, 6336 5120
Iggy’s (fine dining)
The Regent, Cuscaden Road, 6735 4588
Level 2, Shop 2C, Sime Darby Centre, 896 Dunearn Road, 9026 7061
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