How to decorate your home tastefully for CNY

PHOTO: How to decorate your home tastefully for CNY

Spring is in the air

WITH less than a week to go to Chinese New Year, if you're panicking because the only festive-related decor you have is the dead kumquat tree from last year, don't fret.

Several florists and designers we consulted say that all you need is a little red around the home to do the trick.

Don't succumb to a full-blown display of lucky scrolls or snake emblems. With a bit of imagination, your home could well have relatives looking for another reason to come visit.

How to decorate your home tastefully for CNY
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: BT, Karen French, Barbara Fritsch)

Less is more

"Practise restraint. You want your home to still feel like a home and not a shopping mall," says Ivan Sim, florist and owner of Blossom Floral Design, who also offers styling services.

Do start by decorating the main door, since visitors will see this area first. "Have a floral display on the coffee or dining table, put up a few wall decorations and have a pot of pussy willow by the corner. This will suffice," says Mr Sim.

Interior stylist Mike Tan, who owns the Egg3 chain of stores, says that it is better to have a bigger display in one area of the home, rather than have small displays everywhere to "avoid the house looking cluttered".

Using his newly opened Egg3 Patisserie as a backdrop, Mr Tan did up a display in the centre of the cafe as an example.

It's beginning to look a lot like CNY at this Joo Chiat home
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Western style decor

This year, Blossom's Mr Sim is introducing topiaries, which he shapes using artificial red and pink peonies. "Topiaries are rather Western, but still look good for Chinese New Year," he says.

He suggests getting a pair and placing them on both sides of the front door, or at the ends of the TV console. If you prefer a more Oriental touch, then tie a red fabric ball around the pots. "You can remove the fabric ball after Chinese New Year and still display the topiaries for the rest of the year - they will not go out of style," he says.

10 home taboos to avoid during CNY
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AFP, Reuters, ST, TNP, BT, My Paper, Shin Min, Berita Harian)

Reuse and recycle

If your Christmas decorations are within easy reach, then pull them out. Many people think they need two sets of decorations, but interior designer Yeow Chuen Chai, founder of YStudio says, by reusing and recycling, you can stretch one set of decorations over two festivals. Mr Yeow suggests a DIY piece, using a Christmas wreath and gluing on artificial flowers such as peonies and cherry blossoms.

Mr Sim has new uses for Christmas baubles. He found some discarded tree branches, and hung sequined Christmas baubles on them. "Hang the red, pink and gold ones for a more Oriental touch," he advises. The branch ornaments can then be mounted on the wall as a decorative piece.

Single shade of red

Interior decorator and designer Barbara Fritschy is Dutch, but that has not stopped her from decorating her home for Chinese New Year. "As a decorator, I take any excuse to decorate my home," says Ms Fritschy, who owns interior design firm Asian Dock, and Make Room, a home furnishings store.

Since red is a must have colour for Chinese New Year, "go for red accessories in your home. Do make sure it is one shade of red and not all different shades," says Ms Fritschy, who suggests grouping a whole set of nice red vases together. "To add playfulness, get different shapes and sizes."

Other shades of colour

Besides red, gold decor - such as lanterns - works well too, "and they can be left during the year", says Mr Sim.

Tangs' assistant vice-president for visual merchandising Cindy Tong suggests matching "red with pastel colours and/or lime green or blue for a more modern twist." Fuchsia and orange are great alternatives to red.

Snakes ahead

As the Year of the Snake is imminent, some people may want to have decorations with snakes on them. If you do not mind jostling with the crowds, the Chinese New Year bazaar in Chinatown has snake-motif decorations such as cushions and wall stickers.

But there is no hard and fast rule to say that you need to have snake decorations this year.

Mr Sim prefers hanging a pair of fish ornaments in the home. "Fish is also considered auspicious and they look prettier," he says. Fish is symbolic of the Chinese saying "nian nian you yu", which means to have abundance year after year.

Auspicious blooms

Flowers are an instant way to add cheer to the home, and traditional favourites include chrysanthemums and the pussy willow.

The flowers and pussy willows come in long stalks, but Ms Fritschy says, "don't be afraid to cut them up and make them smaller and divide them over nice small vases."

English floral designer Karen French moved to Singapore in 1994, and fills her home with auspicious blooms every Chinese New Year. She displays lucky bamboo and chrysanthemums around her home. "Other auspicious plants to look out for this Chinese New Year would be azalea and peonies," she says.

According to Peter Cheok, Far East Flora's sales and marketing director, popular blooms for the season include Phalaenopsis orchids because they resemble butterflies. "Butterflies are linked to spring, which signify a new beginning," he says.

Another bloom is the Japanese begonia, "which have flowers that range from scarlet, pink or white," says Mr Cheok.

Regardless of type of plants, Mr Tan advises not to go overboard, but to stay focused by having one type of plant at the corners of the home. "Don't display more than two types of plants otherwise the room looks too messy," he says.

Table decor

For those who want to keep things really simple, skip the wall decorations, and consider table decor instead.

"For example, place mandarin oranges in an Oriental red basket as the centrepiece," suggests Egg3's Mr Tan.

Or consider placing red plates on the table to add to the festive mood. Local retailer Aussino carries a range of them.

All in the family

IN the lead up to Chinese New Year, hordes of people shopping in Chinatown is a common sight, so are stories of home chefs baking up a storm late into the night. But marketing manager Brenda Loke remains cool as a cucumber, and is all ready to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Her three-storey intermediate terrace house in Joo Chiat has been decked out in red for the past three weeks, well ahead of Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 10.

It's beginning to look a lot like CNY at this Joo Chiat home
Click on thumbnail to view

"I am kiasu lah," she says. "I packed away the Christmas decorations after the 12 days of Christmas, rested for a week, then the Chinese New Year decor was up the following week."

Her decor for Chinese New Year starts from the outside, where Ms Loke hung a red cloth over the entrance with a row of fire crackers by the side and a pot of kumquat on the ground.

On the main door, she stuck a red paper cutting with the 12 animals from the Chinese horoscope, and the word, fu, meaning prosperity on it.

"Usually I would hang scrolls with auspicious greetings on them, but this year, I decided to do something different," she says. "The red cloth and paper cutting are to welcome spring."

How to decorate your home tastefully for CNY
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Growing up in her parents' home, her mother would deck out the home for Chinese New Year every year, and Ms Loke is following in her footsteps.

She began decorating her home five years ago when she had her daughter, Olivia, and now does this every year. "Once you start decorating, you cannot stop," she says.

Olivia and her three-year old brother Anthony know what to expect during Chinese New Year.

"Mummy, there should be candy here," says Olivia excitedly, pointing to a gold ingot container on the side console by the door.

To welcome wealth into the home, Ms Loke always places two gold ingots by the door, which she later fills with candy.

A pot of pussy willow in a corner also welcomes wealth. Pussy willows are usually white, but Ms Loke prefers the ones which have been dyed red. "I like the vibrant colour, and it is a great contrast to the white walls," she says. Each year, she ropes in the kids to hang ornaments on the pussy willow.

Mandarin oranges are a must to display in the home, so there is a bowl of Mandarin oranges on a side table, with a red packet, bearing the family surname, Lee, on it. Ms Loke is married to IT director Lee Wee Chong.

"It is not good to display an empty red packet, so I put $10 in it," says Ms Loke. The oranges are placed near the door, so that when guests come visiting, "they serve as a reminder for me to exchange oranges with them", she says.

As Chinese New Year draws closer, Ms Loke will add more fresh flowers, such as chrysanthemums in yellow and pink and red orchids, to her home. "The brighter the shades, the better," she says.

There is one last important item which Ms Loke must display by the eve of Chinese New Year. It is a pomelo surrounded by gold ingots, longans, with four red packets on it, each representing a member of the family. The display which has significance behind it, is another tradition that Ms Loke learnt from her mother.

The pomelo, because it is "round, soft and sweet, is supposed to bring the family closer together", says Ms Loke.

The surrounding gold ingots are for prosperity and luck, while the dried longans are to ensure that the couple have many sons. "I'm not going to have any more children, so I may not add that," says Ms Loke with a laugh.

She will place the pomelo under the stairs, which seems like an unusual place. "We had a fengshui master come to the house, and he identified this spot as the heart of the house, so the pomelo display must be here," Ms Loke explains.

Most of the display is done by Ms Loke, but she tries to get the children involved too, so that "they will continue the tradition when they are older and have their own families". For example, she takes the kids along and has them pick out the Mandarin oranges.

Mr Lee does his part by sending his wife to the Chinese New Year bazaar in Chinatown. "He doesn't like crowds, so leaves me to do the shopping," she says.

The decorations are limited to the ground floor of the home, as "this is where the family and guests spend the most time".

Apart from the decorations, goodies are another must-have for the family. "We always have pineapple tarts and bak kwa," says Ms Loke, who orders her pineapple tarts from a home baker.

New clothes for the first two days of Chinese New Year are also a must. And ever efficient, Ms Loke has already gotten new notes to fill the red packets. "I have a record of how much I give each person, so I won't forget the next year."

On Chinese New Year's Eve, the family will head to a relative's home for dinner. "My parents and their siblings take turns to host the reunion dinner, and this year, we are going to my second uncle's home."

It is a potluck affair, with dishes such as abalone, steamed fish, char siew made by Ms Loke's mother, and cabbage with fa cai (black moss), for the family of 30.

The next morning, the traditional breakfast is nian gao fried with sweet potato which Mr Lee cooks, before the family head out to visit relatives.

The children are prepped to present oranges and to say gong xi fa cai, shen ti jian kang to their elders.

On the third day of Chinese New Year, Ms Loke welcomes cousins and close friends to her home.

Some people choose to go on holiday during Chinese New Year, but Ms Loke doesn't consider that thought.

"Chinese New Year is about family bonding, and I want the children to learn tradition," she says.