A home is a reflection of the owner’s personality. The very first thing I notice almost as soon as I enter Shen-Tel Lee’s home is the very brightly coloured playpen in the living hall and the pitter-patter of soft footfalls.
“My house looks like a little day care”, she jokes, as though reading in my mind. Holding her littlest in her arms and attending to her energetic toddler all at the same time she continues: “you will probably find things belonging to the kids in every corner. I tell you, they have taken over this place.”
From the living area to the kitchen counter, books, toys and all manner of bric-a-brac that would appeal to her young sons have indeed taken up the residence throughout the duplex apartment.
Furniture corners and sharp edges are covered in bumpers, which further indicates the homeowner’s intention of creating a child-friendly environment with tasteful grown-up touches. In fact the overall design and decoration of the house appropriately reflect the personalities and preferences of both Shen-Tel and husband Bobby Ting.
Naturally, the choice of fittings and furnishings as well as the general layout falls on the man of the house who happens to helm Elica Sdn Bhd, a property developer specializing in high-end luxury condominiums in East Malaysia.
With a taste for simplicity and practicality, he opts for a generous amount of white surfaces and built in cabinets; the whitewashed scheme broken only by horizontal wood panels for walls.
On the whole, the neutral palette successfully makes the open-plan space feel airier. And it lays the foundation for Shen-Tel’s decorating style, which is whimsical, playful and mostly driven by colours and patterns.
For the mother of two – who is better known as a graphic designer and the co-founder of the business under The Playground Borneo – it would be hard-pressed to find her home without these two elements.
“Bobby and I are totally opposite. While he is a minimalist, I always feel the need to fill up any surfaces with junk. I’m terrible,” she laughs.
She has, over time, amassed a collection of items she totes home from flea markets and thrift stores located in the least glamorous areas such as Chinatown and Amcorp Mall.
Shen-Tel attributes her exceptional thriftiness to her mother who shares a similar decorating style. “If only you could see our house in Sydney where I grew up in. It is a museum!”
As if to prove a point, Shen-Tel directs our attention to the vintage China wedding vases that line the shelves of the living room. “They are gifts from my mum who bought them from an antique dealer in Kuching. We carried them one by one here over the course of three to four months.”
And just like her mum, the lady of the house is never one who buys into stylish brands with hefty price tags. More often than not, she chooses to believe in her own heart and what catches her eye.
This resulted in a rather eclectic aesthetic which is apparent in her dwellings, featuring a mishmash of items all artfully displayed – old-school typewriter, Annushka Russian doll, paper garlands, to name but a few of the odd bedfellows.
“Don’t overthink it,” Shen-Tel reveals her number-one trick. “There really isn’t much that goes into the process. It’s about what I personally would like to see within the space I spend my time in.”
And she is more than happy to see her children playing with any of her trinkets, knowing they are largely inexpensive. “There are more than enough things to keep them entertained.”
When the kids are sent to bed at the end of the day, Shen-Tel usually retreats to her workplace she calls her “evening nook”. A custom work desk is placed between open shelves occupied by books and other knick-knacks.
“As a designer, I need stuff around me for me to create. This space inspires me.”
If you are into bright colours and whimsical patterns, this Dolce & Gabbana x Smeg refrigerator will fit your personality and space.