For years, Steven Chai and Christine Loh used to be hesitant about inviting family and friends over to their home during Chinese New Year, but not anymore.
Since they renovated their three-bedroom apartment in 2014, they have been regularly inviting friends over, regardless of whether it is the festive season or not.
"Renovations were completed in March, so it was past Chinese New Year, but last year, we wasted no time hosting friends, and even had a reunion dinner here," says Ms Loh, a retail operations manager.
This upcoming Year of the Monkey will be no different. With only a few more days to Chinese New Year, the couple have decorated their home, with help from their good friend, Mike Tan, who runs the Egg3 chain of homeware stores. Incidentally, Mr Tan also designed the 117 square-metre apartment.
Ms Loh says: "We don't like decorations that are too garish, but there are certain items that we always like to have."
Florals top the list. A must have is a pot of pussy willow which is displayed near the dining area. This year, the couple have included table arrangements such as azaleas, which symbolise harmony and smoothness of flow in life. Another table arrangement comprises bamboo plants and artificial fronds. "We like to use a mix of real and artificial flowers so that the blooms still look fresh till the last day of Chinese New Year," says Ms Loh.
Other decorative items which Mr Tan places around the home include figurines carrying banners that say Gong Xi Fa Cai, hanging ornaments, pineapple print cushions and chocolate in the shape of gold ingots. And of course, a monkey plush toy is in order too.
"You want to have items that you can use year after year, as well as items that are seasonal," says Mr Tan.
Decorative items aside, Chinese New Year goodies are a must. The couple's favourites include pineapple tarts, bak kwa, and love letters. Some are bought from the stores, while others are home-made by their neighbours.
Friends and relatives who visit are often wowed by the apartment's transformation. The home was last renovated more than ten years ago, and "it looked dated", says Ms Loh.
This time, they've opted for a mix of eclectic and industrial look. Mr Tan created an indoor garden which for now is empty, but the couple have plans to put in some artificial turf.
To let light into the apartment, Mr Tan knocked down some walls and replaced them with sliding windows. The dining table is placed right by these windows and eventually, the couple will be able to have breakfast and look out into their garden.
Their long working hours mean that the couple seldom cook. Mr Chai, who runs his own wine distribution business, usually heads to his mum's home which is nearby for dinner. Ms Loh has dinner outside before returning home.
With this arrangement, it meant that the couple didn't need a big kitchen. First-time visitors may wonder where the stove is. That, and the pantry are hidden away behind black sliding doors for a neat look. "We've recently bought an air fryer and we have so many pots and pans so we will try to cook more often on the weekends," says Mr Chai.
Walls were knocked down in the rooms to create a bigger bedroom for the couple. A feature wall, made of marble-like vinyl, separates the sleeping area from the walk-in wardrobe. "For the bathroom, I told Mike that we wanted to make it look like those in hotels," says Ms Loh. That was done by putting in dark coloured tiles and warm lighting.
The house-proud couple are naturally looking forward to the festive period when they will have friends over. "We are heading to Japan for a holiday during Chinese New Year, but we will definitely have a party in our home before we fly," says Ms Loh.
This article was first published on February 6, 2016.
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