This article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The July 2021 issue is out on news-stands now.
SINGAPORE – With her art history background and past experience assisting at the South-east Asian Paintings department at Sotheby’s Singapore, it is little wonder Ms Malissa Desmazieres has such a refined appreciation of the stories and past lives of spaces and objects.
That comes through in her home – a two-storey black-and-white colonial semi-detached house nestled in the verdant Wessex Estate – and in the treasure trove of objects which fill it.
“I’ve always loved heritage houses. I think they’re such an integral part of Singapore’s landscape and history. I love living amid so much nature,” says the 39-year-old painter and freelance decorator.
“When I have friends over, they like to linger because they say it feels like they’re on holiday somewhere else. The house includes all the different elements of my cultures – from my French-Laotian heritage to my Thai connection (she grew up in Thailand). I call it a neo-Indochine style, a mix of Indo-Chinese classical elements and a bit of French and European flair.”
That has resulted in a house that is at once rich, eclectic and warm. Unbounded by decorating rules, regions, cultures, eras and movements collide freely, united by the artist’s love of colour, print, texture and patina.
“I’m a maximalist,” she says. “I could never have a zen, minimalist home. I was very influenced by my mother being a collector. She decorated with a lot of rattan, dark woods, beautiful jewel-toned fabrics. That’s very much reflected in my home.
“I love animal print. I think it always adds an element of exoticism and it’s so chic. More than anything, I’m interested in different cultures. I think a Chinese chair is just as beautiful as Burmese lacquerware or a Portuguese marble table from the turn of the century.”
Her dual heritage and love of different cultures are woven and embedded into every surface, nook and corner of her home.
The Portuguese marble table – carved with dolphins that resemble Chinese dragons – was bought while she was on vacation in Lisbon, and now anchors the dining corner of the cool and spacious outdoor patio.
Inside, two Thai side tables with gold-leaf lacquer are paired with Italian tole lamps from the 1960s – both flanking a Burmese Art Deco settee that has been refreshed with upholstery by Jim Thompson, a mainstay of Thai interior design.
A Louis XVI chair that once belonged to Ms Desmazieres’ great-grandparents has beenreupholstered in Pierre Frey textiles. Its twin is in her bedroom upstairs.
“It’s like having part of my French family here in Asia,” she says.
A 20th-century Japanese screen takes centre stage in the indoor living room, its delicate ornateness a foil to the hulking antique taiko drum nearby.
“I always think about how one thing would work with another. It doesn’t have to be in an overt way, but there must be a sense of harmony when one collects so many objects,” Ms Desmazieres says.
Price is no qualifier when it comes to her approach to stylistic harmony. “I give the same aesthetic value to an object that didn’t cost a lot as one that did,” she says. “I like it when something isn’t too serious, even though it’s precious.”
When it comes to what she wears, she is equally unpretentious, freely mixing costume jewels with fine jewellery and heirloom treasures.
“I love gold costume jewellery, especially when it is a little unexpected,” she says. “I think it’s fun. It shows a lot of personality. It’s chic when it looks like you haven’t tried too hard. I like vintage handbags too. I like when things have a certain age to them – I think it adds character. And it’s a lot more elegant wearing something that has a story to it.”
Some stories are closer to the heart than others. A couple of her most beloved pieces carry with them tales of love.
The first item is a ring from her mother, which has at its centre an ancient coin depicting the mythical griffin. “Our family crest is a griffin, so this is a link to my mother’s family,” shesays. “As a granddaughter of the last ruling prince in the south of Laos, I think it’s nice to have something that represents the strength of our family.”
The second is a vintage Bvlgari bracelet from the early 80s – a gift from her 53-year-old German husband, Mr Michael Voigtmann, co-founder of Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, for their 10th wedding anniversary. They have a seven-year-old son.
Like how she dresses her home, Ms Desmazieres fills her wardrobe with colour and character – with a clear preference for French fashion at its most exuberant.
“I love vintage Kenzo, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix. The prints and colours were amazing back then and the silhouettes timeless,” she says effusively. “I really love that period in French design, so I try to find pieces from then and team them with something more contemporary.”
As for newer loves, Loewe ranks high on the list for “the way it’s reinterpreting heritage and pushing craftsmanship”.
As she does with her wardrobe and interiors, Ms Desmazieres takes an eclectic, freewheeling approach to what goes on her walls.
Her art collection comprises pieces she has bought and inherited over the years – classical portraiture and traditional paintings intermingle with contemporary still lifes, expressive nudes and abstract landscapes.
In recent years, she has grown beyond an admirer and collector of art to become a practitioner as well. Still-life painting with a tropical flavour has become her calling card.
“There’s a timelessness to still-life painting,” she says. “It also ties back to my home because I collect a lot of objects and create a lot of vignettes. When things are put together thoughtfully, the whole thing tells a story.”
When it comes to a good story, she cannot get enough. “In South-east Asia, there are so many amazing stories with all the history, the heritage, the diverse cultures, the exquisite craftsmanship we have here. Collecting these objects is, in a way, preserving all these traditions.”