With her background in art history and her past experience assisting in the Southeast Asian Paintings department at Sotheby’s Singapore, it’s little wonder that Malissa Desmazieres has such a refined appreciation for the stories and past lives of spaces and objects. That comes through in both her home, a two-storey black-and-white colonial semi-detached house nestled in the verdant Wessex Estate, as well as in the treasure trove of objects with which she has filled it. “I’ve always loved heritage houses—I think they’re such an integral part of Singapore’s landscape and history. I love living amidst so much nature,” she says. “When I have friends over, they like to linger because they say it feels like they’re on holiday somewhere else. The house also lends itself very well to the way I decorate, which 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. Far from your cookie-cutter glass-and-concrete box, Desmazieres’s residence is individualistic and intensely personal. Unbounded by arbitrary decorating rules, regions, cultures, eras and movements collide freely, creating an unexpected but delightful whole united by her love of colour, print, texture and patina. “I’m a maximalist,” she readily admits. “I like things to be ornate and quite rich. 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. And 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.”
Desmazieres’s dual heritage and love for 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 at first glance, was bought while on vacation in Lisbon; it 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. Off to one side is a Louis XVI chair that once belonged to Desmazieres’s great-grandparents, now reupholstered in Pierre Frey textiles; its twin is in her bedroom upstairs. “It’s like having part of my French family here in Asia,” says Desmazieres. A 20th-century Japanese screen takes centre stage in the indoor living room, its delicate ornateness a foil to the impressive hulk of the 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,” she shares. And price is no qualifier when it comes to Desmazieres’s 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, Desmazieres is equally unpretentious, freely mixing costume jewels with fine jewellery and heirloom treasures. “I love gold costume jewellery, especially when they are a little unexpected,” she reveals. “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 Desmazieres’s most beloved pieces carry with them tales of love. The first: A ring given to her by 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,” she shares. “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 10th wedding anniversary gift from her husband.
Like how she dresses her home, Desmazieres fills her wardrobe with colour, quirk and character—with a clear preference for French fashion at its most exuberant. “I love vintage Kenzo, vintage Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix. The prints and colours were amazing back then and the silhouettes were timeless,” she effuses. “I really love that period in French
design, so I do try to find pieces from then and [team] them with something more contemporary.” As for newer loves, Loewe ranks high on the list. “I love the way it’s reinterpreting heritage and pushing craftsmanship.”
As she does with her wardrobe and interiors, Desmazieres takes an eclectic, freewheeling approach to what goes onto her walls. Her art collection comprises pieces she has bought and inherited over the years—classical portraiture and traditional paintings intermingling 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, in particular, 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.” As she has established over and over, when it comes to a good story, Desmazieres cannot get enough. “Especially in Southeast Asia, there are so many amazing stories with all the history, the heritage, the diverse cultures, the exquisite craftsmanships that we have here. Collecting these objects is in a way preserving all these traditions.”