When energy trader and interiors influencer Vivienne Shen and her Dutch husband went house hunting in Singapore, they fell in love with a Joo Chiat conservation shophouse the moment they set foot in it.
“We have always loved shophouses in Singapore. Each of them is unique, and carries a piece of the country’s history and cultural heritage. This one has really high ceilings, an open space on the first floor, and a courtyard right in the middle of the house, which allows us to bring the outdoors inside,” says the 34-year-old of the 3,500sqft, two-and-a-half storey house, which comes with an attic space and a rooftop patio.
Having grown up in China, married a European, travelled widely and lived in Singapore for 16 years, Shen shares that her taste in interiors has evolved over the years. “My eyes were constantly educated by the places I travelled to, the cultures I was immersed in, the materials I touched, and the people I found inspiring,” she expounds.
Shen further shares that she is “always intrigued by a space that displays a variety of aesthetic eras and textures”, and that wherever she travels to, she’s always “thrilled to search for local antique markets and shops; nothing beats the feeling of finding a unique piece that touches the heart.”
''As such, she decided that her home would be designed as a melting pot of influences, housing “an assembly of my fondest memories in life”, and featuring “a mixture and balance of texture, materials, periods and patina”.
Two old-fashioned bicycles, perfect for exploring the neighbourhood, form an attractive tableau perched atop the entryway’s chequerboard flooring, which features reclaimed antique Carrara marble and bluestone tiles imported from the Netherlands.
A pair of framed 17th-century vintage maps of China and the Netherlands (the couple’s home countries) lend period charm. The glass balustrade and floating wood treads of the minimalist staircase afford unblocked views of the entire ground level.
As a nod to the charming old villa in Tuscany where the couple held their wedding party, she settled on a Mediterranean-inspired living room and courtyard, before adding a modern farmhouse kitchen, and a Colonial-style master bedroom and bathroom to the mix.
The disparate themes are unified by a calming palette of neutral hues — mostly white, with touches of grey, beige and black — and the use of timeless, natural materials such as brass, marble, wood and rattan, accented by the placement of tropical greenery throughout.
An abstract painting in earthy tones and a clean-lined sectional sofa upholstered in grey fabric anchor the living area. Free-standing pieces such as a sheepskin-covered &Tradition Little Petra chair, a mid-century modern vintage chest and a 13th-century French chair add further depth and texture to the space.
Another focal point of the room comes in the form of an 18th-century, Louis XVI-style limestone faux fireplace that’s graced with an 18th-century, Louis XVI-style gold-plated mirror frame on its mantelpiece.
It’s flanked on either side by built-in display niches with a curated assortment of Han Dynasty pottery, a Neolithic Yangshao culture three-legged earthenware vessel, and vintage African handicrafts filling the shelves.
A pair of palm trees and lush Monstera plants soar majestically towards the sunlight that illuminates the indoor courtyard, with its roc garden and a Moorish-style wishing fountain that brings back fond memories of past trips to Italy.
This leads to the airy dining area with its whitewashed walls and ceiling, where a flower-inspired Georges pendant lamp casts a honeyed glow over the rectangular pale wood dining table, with Hans J. Wegner CH24 Wishbone chairs tucked in and bookended by its latticed cast iron legs.
A dead corner in the dining area has been transformed into a charming breakfast nook with a mid-century modern vintage sideboard — decorated with a head-shaped vase (“from our honeymoon in Sicily”) and a vintage turntable accompanied by a retro-looking Marshall speaker — and a painting by Zambian contemporary figurative painter Jonathan Wateridge that adds an element of quirk.
This corner has become Shen’s favourite part of the house. “It’s very cosy; I have the full view of the house and do everything here: simple meals with my husband, afternoon tea, reading a book in the evening. I sometimes work here too,” she says.
Must-haves when the couple entertains? “Organic ceramic tableware with French linen napkins, complemented by arrangements of wild flowers,” says Shen. “My husband is a wine lover, so we always enjoy sharing our wine collection.”
Beyond the dining area is the modern farmhouse-inspired greige-meets-luxury galley kitchen with counter tops and a back splash in Calacatta Mediterraneo marble accompanied by pale grey cabinetry with discreet antiqued brass fittings and a Bertazzoni stove — all sitting comfortably upon reclaimed Burgundy limestone floor tiles imported from France. A large arched steel-and-glass French door at the far end frames a view of the backyard’s sun-dappled greenery.
Heading upstairs, one notes an oil painting that punctuates the landing. “It’s a family heirloom from the 1860s, handed down in my husband’s family across generations,” Shen explains, adding that “there’s a similar painting in Rijksmuseum (the Dutch national museum)”.
The family room, with its mid-century aesthetic, serves as a buffer zone between the ground floor and the bedrooms, and an informal space where the entire household (there’s also their baby girl Olivia and their pet corgi Emma) can chill out together and watch TV.
Olivia’s room, with its dusty pink and white walls, adjustable Stokke crib, Ligne Roset sofa, and wall-mounted Fiona Walker stuffed toy animal heads evoking a subtle safari theme, is proof that a baby’s room can be a calm, elegant space.
Shen, wearing her own Valentino dress and vintage jewellery, in the master bathroom, with wallpaper from Hello Circus featuring motifs of swaying coconut trees.
Wallpaper by Au Fil des Couleurs featuring oversize black-and-white botanical-style etchings of coconut trees was used to create a dramatic focal point for the Colonial-themed master bedroom.
A self-designed wood-and-rattan bed custom-made by Second Charm, a vintage desk and chair, a piece of 19th-century framed artwork, a rattan lampshade, and brass-toned lighting and hardware complete the picture.
To drive the design point home further is the master bathroom, where an oval bathtub, half-height white shiplap wall cladding, and Hello Circus wallpaper featuring motifs of swaying coconut trees reinforce a tropical vacation vibe.
Of course, what’s a stylish home without a walk-in wardrobe? The all-white space, with its combination of clothing rails, open shelves and drawers, brings about an order that allows Shen to get dressed up in a jiffy.
“I’d describe my sense of style as effortless. I’m always wearing a maxi dress or a pair of wide‑leg trousers, made of organic materials. I like minimalist designs from The Row, old Céline and Totême, as well as patterns with French and vintage influence, such as Reformation.
I also love relatively young brands such as Cult Gaia, By Far, and Nanushka. Their designs make me want to go on a holiday,” says Shen, who also collects vintage handbags — she has quite a few Hermès ones. “When it comes to jewellery, I almost never wear a necklace, but will always pick earrings, often vintage, that go with the outfit.”
Her next project involves the renovation and expansion of the attic room and rooftop patio. These spaces will, like the rest of her home, feature “pieces that reflect individuality and speak about a personal journey”.
As she says, a beautiful home should be one that “tells a story of the precious memories of the owner. It should reflect the past and also hold the future”. We suspect the house’s new look will be one that’s best enjoyed with a glass of chilled sangria in hand.
This article was first published in Harper's Bazaar Singapore.