Right in the heart of Singapore, on Caldecott Hill, is a palatial Modernist bungalow—all sharp angles, sleek grey concrete and dark wood accents.
Imposing as its size is, there is a warmth and a Zen serenity to the aKTa-rchitects-designed house, thanks to the Japanese garden on the rooftop—visible even from the street—as well as the rock arrangements and the Bonsai-like greenery lining the driveway. Though the city bustles on right outside, all is quiet here, buffered by an abundance of nature. This is where Fumi Lee (@fumilee), a personal stylist who is in her 50s, has chosen to make a home with her husband, two children and two dogs.
The striking but subtle visual impact of the façade carries through into the interiors—Lee’s aesthetic of choice is minimal but not austere, and elegant without being cold. A whimsical giant chilli sculpture by Kumari Nahappan that sits outside the front doors hints at what’s to come inside; almost every wall in the house is hung with a work of art and an impressive collection of Modernist furniture is sprinkled throughout.
“The first thing about this house that attracted me was that the structure is really simple, but modern and beautiful. I like the outside to be simple so the inside can really shine. It’s the things you put inside that reflect the personalities of the people who live there. Everything here is a collection of the things I love, which is mostly modern Italian furniture and Japanese antiques from the Meiji era. Even with furniture, I’m drawn to things with simple shapes but very beautiful details; little details are very important to me,” says Lee.
This eye for detail and her love for the finer things have also resulted in Lee amassing a significant haute couture collection. “When I go to the haute couture shows and see the details that go into the clothes, it makes me want to cry—I get very touched by the artistry, the design, the craftsmanship,” Lee shares. “So much of fashion now is about technology, but for me, it’s all about seeing it up close, touching it, feeling it on the body, the emotion of it all.”
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Lee’s style is not what one would typically expect of a couture client—think less princess dresses and more power dressing. “I have a base look, which is really simple,” she says. “My favourite style is a t-shirt and jeans with a Chanel jacket. Then I’ll add on some edgy booties and an Hermès bag, for example. It’s about making the simple more sophisticated.”
Chanel holds a special place in Lee’s heart. “I love the story of Coco Chanel—she was the one who liberated women when it comes to fashion. That really resonated with me because in Japanese culture, the woman is the one who is always supposed to be quiet and obedient—that was what I was taught and how I grew up. That’s why I think it’s so important to have this power through what you wear. When I want to feel powerful, I just put on a black Chanel jacket.”
Lee loves the brand’s jackets so much she buys at least one every season, even in the spring/summer seasons. Her collection today totals more than 50 pieces and now with Virginie Viard at the helm of Chanel, she finds herself even more drawn to the House. “With Virginie, I feel that the clothes are easier and more comfortable to wear—you can tell that it’s a woman designer. I love Karl Lagerfeld, but his designs are very Karl. Virginie’s work feels like it’s the vision of Coco Chanel, but translated through Virginie’s point of view into what works best for women today.”
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She has acquired so much fashion that one closet is not enough. In addition to the standard walk-in closet she shares with her husband, Lee has also turned an entire room on the top floor into storage for her collection. A winding sculptural staircase connects all four levels of the residence and apart from her personal quarters on the top floor, Lee says that her favourite space is on the upper basement floor. That level is where the two dining rooms are, along with the more intimate family living room and two leafy outdoor patios—all looking out onto the pool that runs the entire width of the house.
“The dining room is where we spend the most time together as a family; it’s a space where we all feel relaxed,” says Lee. “Especially now with Covid-19 and we can’t go out, I like throwing home parties, so we’ve been using the formal dining room more. We’re hosting more now than we did before. Every weekend, there’ll be a party here, but they’re a lot smaller and more intimate now, and I really like that. Sometimes with big parties, you don’t really get to connect and talk to one another.” As with her approach to fashion, Lee extends the same amount of attention to detail when it comes to hosting. “I always set a theme, whether it’s for the colour or for the dress code. For the food, my go-to is Japanese because then, I get to serve it on my antique Japanese plates. I also collect vintage Baccarat glassware and crystal, which are great for entertaining.” Lee is clearly a woman who understands that it’s the little details that make a big impact, and it shows in every facet of her life.
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