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Home tour: Interior stylist Anita Mackenzie’s eclectic Newton apartment

Home tour: Interior stylist Anita Mackenzie’s eclectic Newton apartment

By Aditi Gaitonde Fernandes

Move aside for a moment, minimalism. We’re swooning over Singapore-based home stylist Anita Mackenzie’s signature style of eclecticism and colour-happy design. Founder of Plum Chutney, a deliciously named styling and design studio, Anita’s aesthetic celebrates chaos, travel and blending of influences and cultures from around the world.

When we caught a glimpse of her pattern-heavy, hue-loving rental apartment on Instagram, we simply had to get a closer look. Join us as we explore Anita’s 2,700 sq ft, 4 bedroom condo in Novena that’s filled to the brim with character.

At a glance

The proud residents: Interior stylist Anita, her husband Alistair and their two children Siya (8) and Rishi (6).
Who designed it: The interiors are all by Anita.
The property: Rental condo in Novena with 4 bedrooms and 2 balconies.

Boulevard loves

Home stylist Anita Mackenzie is unafraid use to bold colour: her pattern-on-pattern and eye-popping chaos is genuinely inspiring. But what we love the most about this home is that it doesn’t follow the “latest trend”. Yes, it’s highly Pinterest-worthy but without riding on the templates of a passing fad. Instead, Anita put together a space that reflects the personalities of the people that live here. Look around and you’ll see hints on India, UK and Singapore along with precious finds from places her famiy has visited and their shared love for vintage and local art.

In conversation with home stylist Anita Mackenzie

How and when did you find your calling in design?

Anita Mackenzie: I was born and raised in India and moved to the UK to work in 2005. I met my husband Alistair there and ending up adopting Britain as my second home. I have two lovely children and we recently moved to Singapore because of my husband’s work.  

I’m an MBA and for 11 years I worked in brand management and marketing, mainly with Unilever. Interior design has always been a passion and it found expression only in my own home while I managed a busy corporate career in Bombay and then London. But when personal circumstances led to a move out of London and to giving up my job with Unilever, I figured it was an opportunity to turn my passion into a career!

How did you go about setting up your own studio?

Anita: I got a diploma in Interior Design from the National Design Academy in Nottingham in 2010 and Plum Chutney was born later that year. As it happens, Plum Chutney’s original avatar was an online boutique of beautifully crafted yet quirky homewares that showcased my love for the chaos and colours of India. I ran Plum Chutney in Britain as an online store for eight years. I had developed a unique insight particularly into the use of colour in homes, new global trends around mid-century design and a travel-inspired aesthetic that borrowed influences from all over the world. This reflected strongly in my own home and on my Instagram account where I showcased my house and Plum Chutney products. My Instagram account led to a lot of friends and acquaintances asking me to help style or design their homes.

In early 2019 life came full circle and I decided to take the plunge and go full-time with home styling and design. This coincided with our decision to move to Singapore. Rather than relocate my retail business I decided to focus only on home styling while I was away from Britain. 

I offer customised home styling and design services. Most often I get asked to do room makeovers. After detailed discussions, I work up mood boards and help my clients visualise how their space can be transformed.

Then there’s space planning, because it’s not only about creating Pinterest-worthy spaces. First and foremost, it is about figuring out how you and your family live and defining the best use of your space. I also help clients source. It is my job to know where to source the right pieces at the right price to fit sensible budgets. Inventive sourcing can help your home look different from anyone else’s and it does not have to cost the earth.

My special ingredient is styling. When I see a space, I can visualise the elements that can add a little gold dust and take the space from nice to extraordinary!

And you offer e-design services as well. How does that work?

Given my knowledge and familiarity with the UK market, I continued to offer styling and design services for clients long-distance even after moving to Singapore. In this digitally connected age, it has just meant that meetings are on Zoom rather than face-to-face and clients send over photos and videos of their space so I can visualise it better. The rest of the process remains identical to what it would have been if I was living in London. In fact, my biggest projects in 2020 have been two five-bedroom homes in South West London, which I designed and styled entirely from Singapore! 

The lockdown presented an opportunity to be able to do this with Singapore clients too. I was delighted to find that transitioning to e-design in Singapore has been very easy too. One of the success factors in delivering e-design tends to be the width and maturity of the online market to source furniture and accessories. Singapore is not as advanced as the UK on this front, but is making progress in leaps and bounds. I look forward to being able to do many more e-design projects going forward.

Home tour: Anita Mackenzie’s rental condo in Novena

Your four-bedroom rental condo in Singapore brimming with character. What’s the design story of your home?

Anita: Our home is informal, inviting and an eclectic blend of styles. I believe a home should tell the story of the people who live in it. My husband is half Scottish and half Japanese. I am Indian. Needless to say, we have an exciting mix of cultural influences popping up all over our home.

Our home is also dotted with vintage pieces because we are both partial to things with history. In particular, we both have a real soft spot for colourful vintage lighting, which we found in the remotest corners of England and India. Art is another thread that unites us, in particular, works by local artists from the many cities we have lived in or visited. My children are voracious little artists too and their wondrous creations adorn many walls.

Our home is a collection of all that’s important to us and adds beauty to our lives. 

As a result, it makes us feel cocooned and happier than we would feel anywhere else in the world. That’s also my guiding principle when I style or design other people’s homes. I want my clients to come home to their unique version of happy!

Your open plan living-dining room is popping with colours, patterns and interesting decor. There’s so much to take in. Walk us through this space.

Anita: Our living room is a large open-plan space with two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. The front door opens straight into this, with the dining area placed to the left of the entryway and lounge directly opposite, but further down. The lounge looks west through glass walls giving us lush green views of MacRitchie and Mount Pleasant. The dining area sits along the southern wall of the living room. The two areas cradle a substantial corner that houses the terrace, which we use as an outdoor family and entertaining space. 

I have played with a vibrant combination of blue-greens and pinks in my living room. I find the contrast of these two colour families utterly captivating. Blush, for instance, contrasts beautifully with the stronger teal or dark green shades and the brighter tones of pink and red create magic with lighter turquoises.

The foundation of the room is neutral — with white walls, marble flooring and a grey sectional sofa providing the main seating in the room. Our rug is in a distressed style in creams and very soft teals from Rugvista.co.uk. Two vintage mid-century armchairs in rich green velvet (from Etsy) face the grey sofa, which was from my sister’s store Tianufurniture.com in Mumbai. A rich teal throw with chunky tassels knitted by my mother adorns the shorter leg of the sofa. Our vintage G Plan sideboard was found on eBay 10 years ago! It flanks the other side of the space and once again has a variety of artworks and accessories that build the palette of blue-greens. A variety of pink accents pop up across the room in through cushions, planters and other decorative accessories. 

Our dining area is more pared back, with a focus on warm-hued woods and large tropical plants. Wishbone chairs in black wood frames and chorded seats from Swiveluk.com complement our eight-seater solid oak dining table, which we’ve had for years. My husband and I love to cook and host friends for home-cooked meals. This comfortable and contemporary space provides the perfect setting for many a happy evening. Right next to the dining table is a raised bar counter looking into the kitchen.

One of our first purchases for the house after moving to Singapore were these four beautiful black and white woven-rattan and teak bar stools from thegreyhouseonline.com. These have meant that our friends can hang out at the bar with a drink, chatting with us while we make cocktails or cook. All along, the wraparound balcony that runs the length of the dining area is dotted with huge potted palms that make the space feel like you could well be dining alfresco. The combination of monochrome and green is a perfect complement to our bright and colourful living room.

We can’t take our eyes off that moody wallpaper in your master bedroom. What went into styling this room?

Anita: When we moved to Singapore, I carried with me two rolls of the Rabarber wallpaper by Boråstapeter, a Swedish design house. An absolute feast for the senses, this bold floral design is something I had loved for years and had promised myself I’d use it in my home someday. I could not think of a more fitting setting than our master bedroom. It’s my way of celebrating the incredible greenery of this gorgeous tropical island by bringing it into my bedroom. 

Anita Mackenzie Plum Chutney interior stylist master bedroom

You enter my bedroom through a wide corridor that houses our wardrobes on one side and a large picture window on the other. I have used this space to house my study table. Another vintage piece, this desk was rescued by my husband from his father’s workshop. It has seen a rich and eventful life… having been a desk, then a tool table, then an all-purpose dumping ground to being a desk again. I love its many marks, dings and knocks and beautiful honey-hued wood. It will be loved and used until the day it falls apart under my computer which I think may be any day now!

This leads onto the sleeping area, where once again we have two entire walls of glass looking out onto the green vista of Mount Pleasant and MacRitchie. Coming back to my plan to wallpaper, the only wall I had to work with was the one behind the bed — which was perfect because it meant my bed and the wallpaper could be a real focal point of the room. My bed, with its tall solid wood headboard including little alcoves for books and accessories, is another one of Tianu Furniture’s designs. The alcoves used to be bright orange and soft olive green. Once I had wallpapered I decided the orange needed to go and painted it a deep rich blue instead which complemented the wallpaper perfectly.    

My bedside tables are vintage cupboards my husband found in a market in old Delhi. The black wooden cupboards have traditional Indian paintings on them in a plethora of colours. Counter-intuitive to some, perhaps, to have more pattern against the already colourful wallpaper — but I think they work a real treat. I have kept the tabletop styling simple with a contemporary terrazzo reading lamp from BHS.co.uk, monochrome planters from tumbleweedplants.com and little trinket trays from Paradise Road in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

I stuck to crisp white sheets and covers for bed linen and finished the room with the Stockholm rug from Ikea and a comfortable armchair and loads of plants.  

The guest bedroom is a treat with its pleasing blush pink-mustard yellow colour palette. How did you conceptualise this room?

Anita: I knew I was starting with a small space. Once we had placed the bed and bedside tables, it left me with little room to play. The oak bed was from the Bed Workshop in Bristol and was inspired by the city’s iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. We chose it for its classic design that would work with multiple styles of room. The issue was really the lack of space to add warmth and character. So, I decided to do what I quite often do in a room makeover: I focused on the view that greets you when you enter the room to give it a real wow factor. I believe this is the defining view of any room, and particularly in small rooms this approach really helps focus the eye and makes the most of a small space. 

The starting point for the colours in this room was two pieces of art in vibrant reds, oranges, bright aqua and touches of pink. I used these as my lead piece and extended this colour scheme into the rest of the room. The beautiful screen-printed bedside table lamps, from PondyMania in Pondicherry, India, picked up the punchy orange and shades of fuchsia. The beautiful ceramic plant stands in aqua and gold from Tumbleweed Plants here in Singapore picked up the soft blues in the art. The dusty pink, washed-linen bedding helped provide an almost neutral base to the room. The monochrome cushion and throw I knew would help balance this profusion of colour. I had all the pieces of the puzzle, but I was missing that little sprinkle of magic that’s so crucial in a successful room design.

The answer, in this case, came from a trend I had been wanting to try out for some months. Colour blocking or using large painted shapes in one or more colours as a wall feature. I picked up a soft tone of blush pink and painted a large circle on the wall asymmetrically placed to the right of the bed. I then hung the art partially cutting across the edge of the circle to enhance the asymmetry — and voilà — the room had the wow factor I had been aiming for.  

On the opposite wall is a set of five drawings by Indian artist Satyadheer Singh.  As we don’t have a separate study I had the ingenious idea of using the dead space behind the door to put a fold-down table so my husband can take calls and work in peace and quiet. I added a shelf from Ikea, some prints and decorated the wall with a geometric pattern made from black washi tape to tye it in with the monochrome accessories on the bed! This room has ended up being proof of something I often say to clients — small rooms can have big personalities!

It’s evident that you love playing with colours and pattern to create a powerful design story. Why is colour so important when personalising a space?

Anita: I believe colour has a direct link to how we feel. People can react very differently to different colours. This is based on associations we have formed over a lifetime. For me, the brighter colours are about joy, warmth, friendship, personality and courage. So many positive emotions and memories, no doubt moulded hugely from having grown up in India. 

When I look around my home I inevitably see objects that spoke to me first and foremost because of their colours. A punchy orange shouting joy; a bright effervescent blue blending into aqua where it met little patterns in green; bold reds softened by the touch of pale turquoise, soft sherbet colours of peach, kiwi and watermelon slaking my thirst; luminescent shades of greenery dipping away into mysterious almost black tones. Colours provide an endless feast for my senses and limitless inspiration for me as a designer. 

As a designer it is very important for me to understand the colour psychology of my clients. Their associations could be very different from mine and hence the palette that helps make the ideal home for them may be nothing like mine. I will often ask a client to pick a piece of art or a textile or other object that they absolutely love and use it as the lead piece when designing a room. I then use it to build up the colour palette in the room bit by bit. 

Go further with Plum Chutney.
All images by Anita Mackenzie of Plum Chutney

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