Mixing the old & new

Mixing the old & new

Furniture store owner Padmaja Rajagopalan is not one to shy away from bringing up the past.

The Indian national, who lives in a 2 1/2-storey shophouse in Cairnhill Road, loves mixing new furniture pieces with those that are decades old - some date back more than 100 years - and in various styles.

Ms Rajagopalan, who runs Artful House in Tan Boon Liat Building, says: "Some people are scared of blending old furniture in their house with new items, but if there is an old piece that you like, it's best to experiment. Classic furniture is built to last through the ages and it makes homes look cosy."

Ms Rajagopalan, who is in her 30s, lives in the three-bedroom shophouse with her banker husband. The couple, who have no children, moved to Singapore from London three years ago for work. She used to work for an international company doing investments in the energy sector.

Her home is a showcase of furniture styles from yesteryear. For example, she has a marble-topped British colonial mahogany table in her living room from the mid 19th century and two Ceylonese opium beds from early 20th century in her attic room. The hallmark of the beautiful teak beds are the four tiles on the sides of each bed, which originally feature flower motifs.

She pairs them with new pieces, such as the sofas in her living room. Her contemporary dining table by a serene koi pond also has new chairs, which are modelled after a classic style and are each fitted with a Peranakan tile, which she found in Malaysia.

When decorating her home here, she sourced for furniture from regional countries such as India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. This helped to beef up a collection of antique furniture which she started collecting during the two years she was living in London.

There, she furnished her house with items that she picked up from antique stores around town. The furniture was mostly European- style pieces. Ms Rajagopalan, who lived in New York for five years previously, says: "I've always had an interest in decorating and living in London got me interested in period furniture. I liked that no two pieces are exactly alike.

"I used to go to the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum for their exhibitions and shows to get inspiration and do some research before I bought furniture."

Prized finds, which she shipped over, include a classic French bed and vanity set made of oakwood. The set is painted white and is in her master bedroom.

Her love affair with the old carried on when she moved to Singapore. She intended to work, but ended up starting a furniture business after friends saw the pieces she had accumulated and asked her to source for colonial furniture for them. Items in her store range in price from $650 for a recycled wood cupboard to $7,000 for a four-poster bed frame.

Her attraction to recycled wood pieces is clear. Her master bedroom is home to a television console from Indonesia, which had its paint stripped away, revealing a teal hue. A green cupboard stands in the landing between the guest room and the master bedroom.

She loves these items as "they are stronger than new factory-made pieces".

"The wood has been seasoned through the years. Newer wood sometimes cracks easily because it is not as solid. Also, as I strip away the paint, it reveals the history of the piece and you can see how many layers have been painted over."

She also reworks old pieces and give them a new lease of life. For example, an old door is now a dining table, and a tired-looking window has been turned into a mirror.

"There's potential in these pieces. While they can't be used for their original purpose, it's a waste to throw them. I could use them again in some other way."

She travels every four to six weeks to pick up pieces for her business and works with a network of dealers around the region who tell her what is available. But it can be a challenge to find fresh pieces, given that the supply of old furniture in salvageable condition is limited.

"Also, as time passes, the trade of craftsmen who know how to restore these pieces is also dying out. It does get harder to find them."

As such, she wastes no time when deciding on when to buy an item. "If I see it, like it, can afford it, I don't think twice."

natashaz@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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