No excess bag-gage for designer

Bag designer Grace Guo has a collection of totes that would be the envy of many fashionistas. 

Behind a built-in wardrobe in her master bedroom are shelves displaying about 30 bags that are neatly stacked or hung on the clothes rod.

While most of them are from her own label Gracious Aires, she has a couple of special carriers from other brands, too, such as a Louis Vuitton bag which was a birthday present from her husband Jimmy Lim, 42. He is a management director with the company.

Her wardrobe is not big enough to hold her entire bag collection, so Ms Guo keeps about 60 bags in her office in Lorong Ah Soo. All these bags, which she sometimes gives to friends, are her favourites from her label. There are also "test bags", such as an apple-green clutch made with fish skin that has yet to be sold in her shops.

The 38-year-old says: "I'll do a swop every two weeks or so to get new looks. I arrange them this way in my wardrobe so I can see easily which bag will match my clothes."

This meticulousness applies to her clothes too. Just 12 pieces of clothing are hung on the clothes rack. After two weeks, she takes out a new set of outfits, which she keeps folded in boxes, and switches them around.

"It takes me a few hours to change my wardrobe, but I'd rather do this because I don't have a lot of space. If I cram everything into that small space, it will look messy."

The Chengdu-born Ms Guo, who came with her parents to Singapore when she was seven, lives in a cluster house in Kovan with her husband and their two teenage children, aged 14 and 13. Mr Lim's mother also lives with them.

The family used to live with the 71-year-old in a four-room HDB flat in Lorong Ah Soo. Three years ago, they moved to their current house, which has three floors, a basement and an attic.

Ms Guo put her skills as a former interior designer to use when decking out the house. She left her interior design job in 2004 to launch her own bag label, which started at a pushcart stall in Raffles City. She now has two shops - one in Raffles City and the other in Plaza Singapura - which sell leather bags priced from $200 to $500.

She added mirrors to the dining area, which shares space with the living room, to make them look bigger because these are areas where the whole family often hangs out. Personal touches include family pictures along the staircase, which are framed and hung on the wall.

She opted for timber flooring instead of tiles on the second and third floors as well as in the attic. The outdoor terrace on the rooftop was fitted with a chengal-wood deck. The wooden flooring gives the interiors a country look and a cosy vibe.

But Ms Guo did not shy away from bold colours. For example, a couch in loud tangerine stands out in the living room, while her daughter's room is painted with stripes of hot and candy pink.

"People are often worried such colours are hard to match. My friends were shocked when they heard I bought such a couch. But I like vibrant colours as they really stand out."

All the family members have their own private space in the house. The couple share the second level with Mr Lim's mother, while the children have their own rooms on the third floor. Even the family's eight birds have their own "pets' room" - a small nook between the children's rooms where their cages are placed.

But the family loves hanging out together, especially on the roof deck, where they can lounge on the couch or have a barbecue. Across this outdoor area is the attic.

Kitted out like a self- contained apartment, it has a pull-out bed, a toilet, a television set and a fridge. Ms Guo often has her staff over and invites them to sleep in the spare room.

Mr Lim says: "Sometimes we sleep with the kids here after our barbecue sessions... all four of us in one room. I worry about the children doing their own thing, so we try to hang out and bond together. It's like us camping out."

This article was first published on July 12, 2014.
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