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Less Is More: Amanda Tan's Space-Savvy Zen Studio

Kanso (簡素) : Beauty and utility in the understated; Clarity from natural simplicity.

This key tenet in Zen design aptly encapsulates Zairyo founder Amanda Tan’s abode. Combining an appreciation for all things Japanese with a practical eye, her home is a refreshing twist on Scandinavian interiors, complete with cheery colours and irreverent accessories.

Less is definitely more in this home; Working with 56sqm and a budget below $20,000, Amanda and her husband Thomas opens up about how Renee and Jeff from Lemonfridge Studios maximised their compact space with ingenious, space-saving solutions.

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Qanvast (Q): How did you first prepare yourself for your renovation?

Amanda (A): I did a ton of research prior to the renovation! I was basically stalking through all sorts of interior, renovation-related websites such as Qanvast and Pinterest to take notes and shortlist what we might need for the house.

Q: Was there a design you both already had in mind?

(A): Yes; Because of our home's tiny size, we needed ample storage that wouldn’t take up too much space. Basically something functional, yet pretty. Everything in the house had to be a combination of form and function. I did come up with a rough design for the living room wall feature, which Renee and Jeff helped to refine and execute.

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We pulled and combined various ideas to create the designs. For example, the wall nook was actually based off a cafe in Kyoto, but the hidden storage areas within it were taken from Pinterest; Meanwhile, our bed frame was inspired by a similar-looking style from a boutique hotel.

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Q: What made you choose an interior designer over a contractor?

(A): We did consider engaging a contractor, but with our busy schedules it was too much of a hassle to manage! We needed a responsible and passionate professional with whom we could consult or bounce off ideas with. And we felt that Lemonfridge was all of that and more – they were really proactive, patient and detail-oriented, which is very important too.

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(T): What was most important was a 'connection'. The right interior designer had to be one we had good synergy with. Even though we met up with 3 different IDs who were referrals from friends, we chose Lemonfridge as we felt most comfortable talking to Renee and Jeff.

Q: How did Renee and Jeff from Lemonfridge stand out over other IDs?

(A): Both of them were very hands on in the process. For example, I wanted a specific material for the wall nook, an affordable version of Hinoki wood used in Japanese restaurants. That alone took weeks to decide, because I wasn’t satisfied with the options available.

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Instead of settling or giving up, Renee and Jeff kept trying and trying various textures, until they found the right one that would fit the look I was going for. They were really dedicated to their work, which was something I appreciated.

Q: How would you describe the theme of your home?

(A): If I had one word to describe it, I would say 'nice'! (Laughs). Okay, the theme's more 'Japanese Scandinavian'. Because of Zairyo, I often travel to Japan to source for new products, and was really inspired by the local materials and designs during those visits.

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This particular interior style is popular in Japanese homes as they’re mostly small too, but not so much in Singapore. In Singapore, the focus is more on Scandindustrial or full-on Scandinavian. So it was difficult trying to describe our look.

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Q: We heard you're quite the foodie yourself! Did you incorporate anything in your kitchen to accommodate your love for cooking?

(A): I love cooking all sorts of cuisines; Having worked in PR for restaurants and then starting up Zairyo as a gourmet e-grocer, food is an integral part of my lifestyle. But, because of our studio's small size, we couldn’t do much with the layout and appliances. So, we worked on maximising storage space instead, such as installing drop-down racks to place condiments or other smaller foodstuffs onto our cabinets.

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Q: What other space-saving ideas did you implement?

(A): The wall feature cum reading nook was specifically customised to provide us with ample storage. Our studio unit didn't come with a storeroom, thus we had to set aside space for our household items.

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Renee and Jeff helped us install cubbyholes on the nook. The ones at the top serve as display zones for Thomas' Bearbricks collectibles, while the little pockets of space on the inside act as book shelves; The seating area doubles as concealed storage as well.

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(T): The TV feature wall is also filled with hidden cabinetry. One of the cabinets is used to store our custom made foldable ironing board, which slides out and unfolds to its full length. There's even a clothes rack on the top, to hang any accessories or ironed clothes.

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Q: Where did you get your furniture from?

(A): Most of our furniture are from Taobao - our sofa, end-tables and lighting were sourced from the site. We also got really affordable furniture from HipVan, such as our dining table, which costed S$200. Most of the smaller accessories, like vases and plates were from Japan.

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(T): Amanda's really savvy at online shopping, so she saved us a lot of money on our furniture. All in all, we only spent about $10,000 on furnishings for the entire house!

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Q: We are always drooling over those sumptuous Japanese dishes on your Instagram. Share with us one of your easy-to-make recipes, please!

(A): Salmon's an ever-popular and easy ingredient to use. I'd recommend buying a whole salmon fish rather than salmon fillets. It's worth it in terms of quantity. Besides, you can freeze the salmon and keep it for extended periods of time.

Here's how you can prepare your salmon, 3-ways:

  1. Sashimi: The salmon belly is mainly used for sashimi. Cut slices which you can eat straightaway, or arrange them on top of a bed of rice to create a salmon don.

  2. Salt-Baked Salmon: This is a traditional Japanese recipe for leftover fish. Cover one salmon portion with salt, leaving it overnight. Wash off the salt the next day, and bake it for no more than 7 minutes on medium-high heat. The salt helps to season and get rid of any fishy smells.

  3. Baked Mentaiko Salmon: For the mentaiko (spicy cod roe) sauce, simply blend the cod roe with mayonnaise. Apply the sauce on the top of your salmon fillet, and let it bake for 7 minutes on medium-high heat.

Inspired by Amanda Tan's amazingly spacious studio? Here's how you can make it happen for your own home - Simply drop us a free quote request, and we'll match you up with 5 interior designers based on your style, budget and preferences.

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