Home tour: Evocateurs co-founder Roy Teo talks us through a colonial transformation on Coronation Road
By Hamish McDougall
Photography by Ryan Loh
“I love the way the English decorate their homes. They’ll pick out some fabric swatches and come back and pin them on the sofa, and then live with them for two weeks. And they drink their tea and look out at the garden, and finally when they feel a connection they’ll choose the fabric that is dear to them, and then they move on to the next thing, and the whole process takes two years,” shares Roy Teo, co-founder of design firm Evocateurs. “Whereas Singapore is very fast paced, so we need to replicate that entire process, but we need to get it done by yesterday.”
Evocateurs more or less specialises in demanding clients – the design firm’s portfolio includes the bungalows and penthouses of some of Singapore’s highest fliers, along with show suites, hotels and showrooms for a host of luxury brands. But few could be more demanding than Teo himself.
“Take the green in the Coronation Road stair-case area,” says Teo. “We painted five samples in patches, and nothing worked. We wanted to pick up the green from the entrance, but that was too tropical. We went through a salamander, to more of a Kermit (it was a bit shocking). The intention was to create happiness, a bright thrill, when you entered the space. So we picked out the green of the plants on the balcony, and that had to be tied in because it’s in the peripheral vision, and when we finally got the colour right, we then had to work on the gloss, because gloss shows up any imperfections in the wall, so we had to putty the whole surface and then spray-paint it like a car.”
The Coronation Road bungalow is Evocateurs’ latest project – a heritage colonial house that had great bones but drab interiors, and it’s hard to fathom just how drab it was, and the vision it required to see past that to the potential, looking only at the striking, high-colour transformation shown here. To say that the bungalow has been restyled, or even renovated, isn’t the half of it. The firm’s rebranding to Evocateurs (it was previously known as the ID Department) reflects their mission to go beyond decoration to create spaces that stir the senses.
“Evocateurs is made up of decorators and interior architects, but we also understand lifestyle, we understand fashion, trends, and the creature comforts of our clients,” says Teo. “We think through the hard finishes and materials, the lighting, sustainability and the insect-repelling paints, but also flowers and scents, memories, aspirations and genres.”
And so Coronation Road presents less as a vision of updated colonial luxury and more as a series of moments. The foyer’s formality is set off by the pop of light green; it leads to the lounge where the almost rigid poise of black and white and taupe is counterposed by tasseled ornaments hanging whimsically from the curtain rails, along with a dazzling player piano, spray-painted in silver and reduplicated in an oversized gold-framed mirror. Downstairs everything is light filled and redolent with flowers; upstairs in the “gentleman’s lair” it’s Venetians and the filtered sun hitting deep woods, and aromas of leather and cigar.
And then on the top floor, the master retreat is another moment again; a space where Ralph Lauren himself could kick off his car shoes and feel at home; a space made for comfort but not at the expense of its effortless sophistication. Warm, enveloping, with tiers of cove lighting retrofitted to the rafters, which draw the eye to the vaulted ceilings above and back to the period windows and the green views beyond.
Off the master bedroom, the ensuite then stops you in your tracks with black-and-white marble and a Moroccan pile of cushions and candles and towels, culminating in a zebra-skin rug splayed across the floor.“ In every project, there’s always one room where I allow myself to go a little crazy,” says Teo. “The master ensuite is that room.”
The whole process is tailored, of course, to the clients. What time do they get up in the morning? What food do they cook? How do they entertain? What are their favourite flowers? Do they want light-filled open-plan living but actually want separate lairs to retreat to? The process needs to meet their every need – stated or otherwise.
“The best thing to do is to go to their current place,” says Teo. “When they come into the office, the stories they tell, it’s the beautiful side of their life. I did homes like this in my early days, not understanding what it’s like to be a private investigator at the same time. And the client said, ‘I want everything to be modern and clean,’ and then they brought all their ornaments and feng shui crystals that weren’t accounted for in the design.”
“A home must also be functional,” he continues, “which could mean shoe closets or a hidden washing line, or durable materials, or a sustain-able solution for a driveway lighting concept. You have to build the relationship, build trust, and once that’s there, we’re like their doctor, because we know the issues and they understand what we’re prescribing.”
Once they’ve delivered against functionality, the team leans into Teo’s first degree in marketing to approach each project from the level of aspiration – to create the dream home. It’s this vision that brings it all together: “It’s a composition – it’s like painting an artwork, what do you paint first? You have to be able to see the whole. And we infuse the personality of the client into the layers.”
“We’re always trying to work on all the senses,” says Teo. “Is it the right touch, right look, right smell – the amalgamation of all that creates the sixth sense, and that’s the takeaway, the lasting memory of the place.”
Where to now?