Tuesday, March 6, 2018



This Chinese New Year, Zessie Li of Yuan Design suggests flashes and splashes of red that requires minimal time and maximum impact.

Millennials are prone to minimalism which require minimal maintenance. Elaborate, intricately carved wooden screens, mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture and exquisite jade carvings are visually impressive but can be ‘dust collectors’ without a maid.
On the other hand, slouchy sofas, chaise lounges, day beds and armchairs make for instant gratification as you can just jump onto them. Impossible with stiff, ornate high back chairs.

“After a hard day’s work filled with stress, you just want to release tension when you return home by relaxing into a well-padded sofa or settee that requires little or no care. Just mop the leather with damp towel once a week!” enthuses well known interior designer Zessie Li of Yuan Design. 

“Even if you live in large bungalow and enjoy entertaining, once dinner is over at the formal dining table, guests prefer to unwind in comfortable and plush, cushioned sofas rather than sit upright in traditional Chinese chairs.”

Zessie Li is the answer to the minimalist prayer as she specialises in sleek, modern interiors. Not for her heavy, baroque or rococo style so beloved of French kings at Versailles.

“We must move with the times as I believe black is the perfect base colour for upholstery as it is neutral. So are white, cream, brown and silver but black is easiest to maintain as it hides a multitude of faults!” laughs Li. 

“Black is the ideal palette, the best foil to add touches of colors to dramatise a room. For example, add red cushions of identical or various sizes on all black upholstered furniture and the effect if dazzling! After a few weeks change to golden cushions for a different look and you can always play with cushions to even give the impression you have changed furniture.

“Contemporary padded leather furniture are forever young as they look clean, cool, calm and comfortable! Too much wood is overwhelming and adds sense of heaviness.
“Flowers or green potted plants also look fresher and brighter amid black furnishings!”

For Chinese New Year, Zessie Li suggests wrapping red silk banners, buntings and bouquets to door arches, cabinets, walls and staircase railings. Or even let them dangle languidly from chandeliers or flap from lanterns ala Dream of Red Chambers.
“You can even fold and tie red silk to form rosettes which are very pretty and auspicious,” adds Li. 

“Wrap red silk around vases, figurines or fruit bowls. The main idea is to give your home a festive, Chinese new year feel quickly, easily and on a budget while enjoying yourself. Let your creative juices flow and you might surprise yourself. You don’t need to hire professionals and everything you do can be removed and stored in no time after Chap Goh Meh.

“Unless you plan to spend thousands of ringgit, I advise to use cello-tape or double-sided tape to stick decorations on walls. Never hammer nails into walls or damage the house structure. This being the Year of Dog, it is fun to hang images of your favorite breed of pooches!”

Traditional flowers and plants of fortune like peach blossoms, peonies, pussy willows and tangerines are alien to our shores and are best shown in artificial form. Just plonk them into vases and you are done! No watering, fertilising and wondering if they are getting too little sunlight. Those without green fingers may opt for faux tropical plants like lucky bamboo or kuanyin plants, Phalaenopsis orchids, flamingo lilies, cockscombs, celosia plumes resembling phoenix tails or money plants.

Potted kumquat plants cultivated and induced to ripen into auspicious gold fruits during Chinese new year is always a great idea. When the plants wilt, you can always squeeze the sourish fruits into tea or warm water!

Designing interiors has been Li’s passion and indeed obsession since a child when she would re-arrange her parents’ furniture. “By adding or removing a few things, the entire appearance can change dramatically,” she observes.

Trained in Singapore, she started her own business in 1991. She was only 23 and now boasts 23 years of experience. “I had a staff of 3, including myself,” she recalls with a grin. “Today I have a fulltime staff of 6 interior designers plus 2 architects!

“Like all designers I dreamed of doing big bungalows and grand mansions which would allow me maximum creativity as it is very hard to decorate a 1,000 sq ft home compared to a 1,000 sq ft living room! In land-scarce Singapore it was very difficult to find clients with 5,000 sq ft to 15,000 sq ft houses. In Singapore a 1,800 sq ft house is considered big!

“So I looked north---to Kuala Lumpur! I had a few friends whose bungalows I decorated and they were so enthusiastic I decided to open a KL branch. In Malaysia, a big standalone house is common compared to Singapore. Malaysians are also more receptive to new ideas. Malaysia has the potential to grow and grow as there is so much land and natural resources.”

From a small office she quickly opened a big showroom in SS2 and within a few years it was a reversal of role. Her branch in Kuala Lumpur became her flagship headquarters and her Singapore main office became a branch!

Two years ago she purchased a big plot of land, tore down the old bungalow and built a 14,000 sq ft double storey bungalow cum showroom.

“The new showroom is now open for business but will be fully functioning after Chinese New Year,” beams the proud owner. “My success is testimony of Malaysia Bolih concept.”

From the start, Li was adamant hers would be a one-stop shop. 

“We do everything---from demolishing the old bungalow to designing your new dream house to decorating the interior and landscaping the garden, pool, gazebo and installing the audio system! This is why we have 2 architects as we love working from ground zero on empty piece of land! Literally from the floor up, be it marble, terrazzo or carpet!”

Another specialty which is part of her winning formula is her cabinetry and furniture. “While it is easy to buy a cupboard to put there and a DIY shelf to place here, nothing increases the value of a house more than permanent, customised built-in shelves, cupboards, cabinets, display areas and showcases! 

"A readymade cupboard can fit into a designated area but it will not be a perfect fit. However a made to measure cupboard can occupy an entire wall from floor to ceiling so you get maximum space for display and storage of goods. 

"I can even make it look like it is part of the wall. This is useful for bedroom wardrobes, dressing room areas and bathrooms as floor to ceiling cabinets enhance the ambiance for a stylish, ‘finished’ look compared to mis-matched bits and pieces. Curtains are also very important for that final, finishing touch.

“Clients show me pages from interior magazines with costly Italian furniture and ask me to make something similar. This is easily done as Yuan Design has a furniture factory in Sungai Buluh. We can make something similar at a fraction of the price. Maybe the Italian set costs RM 200,000 but we can do something similar for RM 15,000 to RM 20,000!”

“First I discuss with my client his/her requirements and lifestyle. Is entertaining a regular event? Are there small children who like climbing everywhere? Or teenage kids? Big dogs? An aviary? Swimming pool with hidden ‘submerged’ living room with windows so you can see who is swimming outside? A 15-ft chandelier or modern lighting system that swivels? An art gallery or specific walls and annexes to display sculptures? An altar perhaps? 

"I had a client with 20-ft tall Buddha in living room which was the main focus and everything else had to be designed with this statue in mind. I am happy to co-ordinate with houseowner’s feng shui master.”

Once the paper layout and 3D space planning are completed and the concept accepted, a quotation is given. As everything is bespoke and made to fit your house’s dimensions, the price ranges from RM 100,000 to many millions!

As for the name Yuan Design, she explains, “Yuan or renmimbi is China’s currency and when I started, yuan was a restricted currency but I knew yuan would eventually be a major world currency. ‘Yuan’ has been a lucky name because it means money!”

Mind you, by a fortuitous coincidence, yuan is also part of her name Hui Yuan Li!

www.yuandesign.asia 03-7931 9411



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