People rarely think about sprucing up a rental unit. After all, most of them are under the impression that this is just a temporary space and they’ll move out after a couple of years. Others simply can’t be bothered with the endless list of rules and regulations their landlord has in place for redecorating.
Olga, Russian expatriate and owner of @petrushka.home, however, thinks otherwise. We take a tour of her self-designed and refurbished $7K/month rental condo apartment in Novena to find out how and why she managed to turn it into a home that suits her personal style.
First impressions: Traditional oriental decor meets modern chic
When we first get a glimpse into the condo unit she and her family have been calling home for the past two years, our first impression was “wow, there’s a lot going on” – in a good way.
The sight that first greets you when you enter Olga’s apartment.
The very first thing you see when the lift doors open is a Mandarin black console, on which sits one of her children’s stuffed bears and a mini folding screen inspired by traditional Chinese decor of old. Olga tells us that she got said screen from a shop along Keong Saik Road, which sells second-hand items and decor from hotels around the area.
The miniature folding screens thrifted from a Keong Siak store.
These decor combinations sound like they won’t work, but they do, in a very harmonious way. Olga’s apartment is styled with different elements, both child-like and sophisticated, resulting in a refined look that elicits a certain whimsical wonder from us.
The combination of both gives off the impression of the apartment being stuck in a timeless limbo, neither past nor present. This specific theme will later be evident in the decor of the many other rooms Olga has around the house.
Neat, minimalistic living room
Turning left, Olga introduces the living room to us, which has all the basics one would expect: a sofa, TV and cabinets, as well as more seasonal decorations such as a Christmas tree and wreath.
The living room, where the family’s Neva Masquerade cat Kuzya lounges on the sofa.
As for what’s inside these cabinets, well, they range from her children’s toys to bottles of alcohol. In fact, the toys and alcohol even share a cabinet, a happy compromise the parents and children have come to. After all, no one likes unsightly clutter around the house. So out of sight, out of mind.
In the corner of the room sits an innocuous Yamaha piano, which Olga uses for her piano lessons. She shows us some of her notes and tells us that she recently switched to this piano as she felt the sound quality was better than her previous one. We ask her to pose for a photo at the piano, but she takes it up a notch and performs a beautiful rendition of a song she learnt recently.
Olga playing the piano.
Another eye-catching piece would be the Christmas tree, which Olga tells us is a real one. “You must pre-order them in November”, she says, or they’ll be sold out by the time the first days of December roll around. Olga also shows us the ornaments she uses to decorate the tree, which originally belonged to her grandmother in Moscow.
The Christmas tree, with ornaments from her grandmother in Moscow.
Dining room with an antique collection
The dining room is another side to behold, with its black chairs and strong wooden table. They are surrounded by tall black cabinets to give the whole room a candlelit vibe without the fire hazard. A genius move, if we’re being honest. This is Olga’s favourite space in the house, especially around late afternoon when the golden hour’s light illuminates the space and the family reunites for a hearty meal.
The dining room. The shelf on the left is full of various antiques and heirlooms, while the right shelf holds the items Olga and her family use often.
It is here that we get to know about Olga’s little collection of antiques and other knick knacks that give her home character. Including traditional Russian craft sugar pots – a family heirloom, white and blue Russian imperial porcelain tea cups – Olga tells us that TWG sells a few sets, but they can never compare to the quality and affordability of those available back home in Russia, and tiny novelty tea sets – found at a winter market in London, it made a pretty good souvenir.
Olga’s little antique collection.
The shelf is also not to be overlooked, it is actually a custom piece by Originasia. Olga and her husband wanted something memorable as a commemoration for the time they spent in Singapore, so they had no qualms splurging a little on a hand-carved piece. We personally think it’s worth it, plus, it makes for a great display.
Olga shows us a few of the little items her children have collected over the years, including a Chinese fan her son procured for a Chinese New Year event at his school. There is also a matryoshka version of the solar system, which we spent 10 minutes trying to put together.
The Matryoshka solar system.
It is here that we also get to learn more about our lovely host. Olga tells us that she used to work in banking, but due to the difficulty of getting a job in this sector in Singapore, she is thinking of switching careers. Interior design and styling is something that she’s always had a passion for, and this home is her first project.
Olga also believes that interior design should match the outside environment, and Singapore’s black-and-white colonial houses were the inspiration behind the unit’s largely monochrome interior.
In addition to her passion for interior design, Olga also dabbles in flower arrangement from time to time. She gets her flowers from flower markets like Far East Flora, which she says is a lot cheaper than a florist or even supermarket flowers.
She decides on the theme before hauling a whole bunch home, of course. We gather around the kitchen counter to watch her arrange different bunches of green and white, the latest theme she has decided on for the new year.
The final result is a stunning centrepiece for the dining table.
Hotel-inspired master bedroom and bathroom
Channelling the vibes of a cosy bed and breakfast in London, Olga has truly outdone herself with the bedroom and its splendid contemporary decor. Most of the woodwork like the bedframe, bedside tables and cabinets are black. The duvet, however, is a natural, pretty shade of light green, perfectly coupled with her pillowcases with leaf motifs. Olga describes green as calming and also ties into the more natural theme the master bedroom has.
To add to the whole boutique hotel suite vibes going on, the bathroom’s walls facing the bedroom have been replaced by a glass window. Olga says it’s great since she can supervise her children while they freshen up, but it’s the cleaning that really makes the glass window more of a hassle than it’s worth.
The view of the master bedroom from the bathroom.
You may notice the two “paintings” above the cabinets and mirror opposite the bed. Olga tells us that these are actually textiles painstakingly embroidered stitch by stitch by their artist. They also have traditional Oriental hooks attached to their frames, not that they are needed, since the textiles are leant against the wall. The mirror, however, is attached to the wall using a stick-on hook – no drilling of holes, remember?
A cosy, traditionally-decorated nursery
Perhaps the only room in the house that forgoes the dark, woody colour scheme for something more vibrant, the nursery is a literal labour of love from Olga to her children.
While discussing the decor, Olga tells us more about them: her son is four, born in London, while her daughter is two, and born in Singapore. Despite their different birth places, both children hold Russian passports and citizenship.
It was this that influenced Olga’s decor and toys for their nursery: the walls are decorated with characters from Russian folk tales, and various playsets are also inspired or influenced by traditional Russian items.
In a time where her compatriots are hiding and staying away from their roots because of the ongoing conflict, Olga thinks it’s more important than ever that her children acknowledge and respect them. This is especially so since they are growing up far from home and in predominantly English-speaking countries.
A mirror in the nursery, whose design is inspired by Nalichniki, or traditional Russian windows.
A toy teapot inspired by the traditional Russian Samovar.
When asked where she gets most of the furniture in the nursery, Olga says IKEA. However, to make catalogue furniture look more inspired and fun, she paints over them. “Why not simply get higher quality furniture?”, we ask, “like so many other parents do”. Olga tells us that her children will just end up drawing over and making a mess out of them during playtime anyway, so might as well save herself the heartache. We agree, in hindsight.
The IKEA bookshelf, which Olga painted over.
Olga tells us the table in the far corner in the back is from Zara Home, to which we were like, “Zara has a home section?”. They do, not in Singapore though, unfortunately. Olga had purchased the table back in London, and got her friend to ship it over to her here in Singapore when she moved.
Another view of the nursery.
The item that drew the most awed responses from us in this room would have to be the dollhouse. It was actually a present from Olga’s mother to her grandson, and comes with a cute doll family and even a miniature lamp that works. Olga recounts playing with dollhouses being an essential part of her childhood, and wanted to share these fond memories and make new ones with her son.
When asked what she wants to do with this space, since it’s still a work in progress as far as she’s concerned, Olga tells us that she is looking forward to getting a custom-made matryoshka lamp from a friend. She also wants to paint and create an achievement wall for her son. The latter would, obviously, have to be “approved” by her landlord.
The modern home office
This room, Olga says, was the hardest to furnish and decorate. For one, the unique L shape of the room coupled with way too many doors for its small size posed quite a challenge.
Olga seems to have taken it all in stride and made herself right at home though, evident in all the pictures dotting the walls, courtesy of a photographer friend in London. She also painted the closet door black – with permission of course.
The home office.
Olga also had to take into account her husband’s need for a larger desk due to him having to work with two monitors. IKEA and other catalogue shops simply weren’t doing it, so they went for the teak Oscar desk from Soul&Tables instead. This, Olga says, was one of their most expensive pieces, right behind the custom shelf in the dining room. No regrets there, at least.
The spacious work desk.
The thing she and her husband love about the room the most is the giant floor-to-ceiling window right next to the desk. Here, they get ample natural light during the day, and can even rest their eyes with the greenery right outside if work gets too overwhelming.
Spacious, airy balcony
Olga tells us that they don’t use this space that much, despite furnishing it in their original redecoration plans.
The balcony is a pretty good size for one found in a condo – they have space for two chairs – from FortyTwo – and a hammock. The latter of which is a new favourite with their children. Olga says that it’s a good place for chilling on cooler evenings, especially when they’re too busy to make the trip all the way down to Botanic Gardens – their nearest park.
Advice for tenants
When asked if she has any advice for tenants looking to spruce up their rental homes, Olga is pretty candid.
True to her theme, Olga also says that you should try mixing trending decor with vintage ones. Reuse as many items as possible, trial and error is the way to go after all. Also, try as much as possible to DIY projects if you can. Painting over furniture is a good place to start, and also makes mass-market furniture seem more personal.
For textiles and fabrics, Olga recommends using those of “above average” grades, especially for cushions and pillows. That way, your home looks less like an IKEA catalogue and more of an original space with the owner’s personality. Also, try as much as possible to change out the curtains with your own.
Last but not least, organise your storage, that way, your place looks less cluttered and more like those minimalist posts on Instagram. No one likes mess, after all.
Kuzya. “He’s not fat, just really fluffy”.
Most importantly, Olga says, is to treat the place as a permanent home. Yes, we are aware of the rules of non-permanent changes, but take the advice of someone who’s been there and done that. Olga says that shifting this mindset is what makes the place closer to your heart, and has a greater impact on your life.
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Photography by Clement Sim.
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