BY AMY BROOK-PARTRIDGE | PHOTOGRAPHY MICHAEL BERNABE
We find out from WTP The Furniture Company director NAAZLI SOMJEE why she joined her mother and founder of the family business, Mimi, and what she loves about her job.
Did you grow up here in Singapore?
Yes, I’m fourth-generation Singaporean; my family came to live here over a century ago. My schooling followed my family’s path – I went to my mother’s old primary and secondary school, the Methodist Girls’ School, then I went to the Anglo Chinese Junior College, which my grandfather attended. I like the fact that this is an experience I share with my grandfather, even though we’re a generation apart.
What did you study at university?
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain what I wanted to do. I did have a leaning towards child psychology, however, so I went to the US to take a double degree in economics and psychology. I also really wanted to go to England, so in my third year I attended the University of York on an exchange programme. I made so many friends with whom I’m still in touch, and it’s a beautiful place. It was such a good experience – and not just the friendship thing; it really showed me that you can’t run away from your problems, they always follow up, so it makes you deal with them!
Did you join the family business when you returned to Singapore?
I honestly didn’t have an inkling of going into the family business at that point. Instead, I moved into private banking, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t the job for me. Then the recession hit and I realised I was lucky to have a job at all at that time, so I stuck with it for two years.
I left that position when we knew that my father was dying, and I spent the last month or so with him. After a while, I started another job for the National University of Singapore’s development office, raising funds for bursaries, which felt a lot more meaningful.
Unfortunately, my mother then fell ill, so I tried to pick up the slack at WTP by spending my weekends working there; but I soon realised I couldn’t handle both jobs and so I started full time at WTP in October 2010. My mother continues to work, more so within the back office, but she’ll never retire. She’s one of those people that needs to be active – she has lots of personality and energy.
Did you have an interest in interiors at the time?
I must have imbibed some knowledge from my family, as I had a good feeling for fabrics and woods, and my colour sense is also pretty good. My family and I love property – the whole experience of walking into a house and doing some spatial planning – so I just think it’s been in my DNA.
I started at WTP in a sales position, and I also spent time learning about materials and furniture styles; then my role evolved into actually designing pieces, as well getting involved in the buying. I love what I do because I have friends who started out as clients, and it makes a huge difference when you realise how much they love their pieces; it’s a thrill to know you’ve made a difference to someone’s life and created a memory for them to keep. What style trends are you seeing? Although we predominantly carry evergreen furniture, we do add in style trends as well, and we also try to keep abreast of colour and fabric trends; for example, blues are very much “in” at the moment. Next year’s colours will still be blue, but lots of yellows and oranges as well – navy with peach is just beautiful.
How would you describe your own home style?
Do you know the saying “the tailor’s children have no clothes”? Let’s just say my sofa has had a hole in it for a while! My style is very quirky – just to give you an example, I have an antique Peranakan brass bed, a Minotti-style sofa, a slightly rustic stool inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and an uber-modern jewellery cabinet made of leather and stainless steel.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I don’t have a lot of time to myself, but when I do I love spending time with friends and their children; I have a godson who is just adorable and I love spending time with him.
I’m part of a recently formed group of international girls – from Austrian to Dutch, and Indian to Australian – and we meet once a month just to de-stress and chat. I’m an “introverted extrovert”, so I find it easier to connect with people I already know.
I’ve also been enjoying walking in the evenings; it’s been good for me. I don’t think I could do it at any other time of the day, though!
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