Planting ideas – A Garden in the sky

Consider turning your plain balcony into a “garden in the sky” and not just use it as an area to wash and dry clothes.

The satisfaction you get in seeing your little garden growing is something that is worth the effort you put in. Sometimes you may get to watch the birds chirping as they take a transit among your plants, hear the rustling of leaves in the breeze, or see the butterflies looking for pollen among the flowers. Better still if you get a bird to set up a nest among your plants! The Chinese believe that nesting birds is an omen of good luck! For nature and plant lovers, a balcony garden is an ideal refuge from the growing urban landscapes.

There are many options for growing plants at your balcony. The typical method would be to use pots to contain your plants. Depending on space available, hanging baskets or planter boxes are other alternatives.

It will take some time and commitment on your part to get things running green and eco-friendly. Don’t create a space that is jam-packed with plants; otherwise they won’t have sufficient space to breathe. You need to spare a thought for your neighbour downstairs; don’t let fallen leaves mess up their balcony. Bamboo and bougainvillea plants shed a lot of leaves.

Secondly, make sure your balcony is water proof and check that the water outlet will not drip water down to your neighbour’s house. Once these are done, you can go about lacing your potted plants using your creativity to suit the space.

Don’t forget that many plants require ample sunlight, and to choose plants that can survive in the restricted conditions. Sometimes you’ll find it is a trial and error activity. The most cost effective way is to get tips from nursery owners and other interest groups or friends.  Your garden can go Balinese, Indian, Japanese, Oriental or Zen, depending on the plants and designs of pots that you choose.  Each of these has its unique design, look and feel. Alternatively, you can create your own unique theme, converting left over cans, bottles, buckets etc to good looking planters.

During festive seasons, you can add twinkling fairy lights to spice up the garden.  Or you may want to introduce soft tea lights for all seasons to delight your guests as they admire your garden.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Light tricks to brighten up your life

Sky scrapers are often associated with the cool and modern, but one of the main disadvantages of living or working in a tall building is the lack of light. Sunlight cannot stream in through the roof, window sizes are subject to the mercy of the building management, and worst of all, what little sunlight we get is sometimes blocked by other skyscrapers.

Nevertheless, there are adjustments requiring varying costs and labour that you can make to increase the amount of light in your room.

Install recessed lights

Instead of having a large ceiling lamp in the middle of the room, use multiple recessed lights embedded in a false ceiling. These can be installed near the corners and in small spaces to ensure ample lighting for the whole house. The intensity and amount of lighting can be controlled by switching off some of the lights. If a bulb blows, you may still rely on the other bulbs for light.

Indirect or diffused lighting

Indirect lighting is a type of light where illumination from the source is diffusely reflected, usually by another wall or structure, casting a wide and warm glow. One of the most common ways it is applied is through the use of a lower ledge protruding from under the ceiling. Light sources are placed on the ledge, which casts light against the ceiling. Best used in conjunction with other light sources, it creates a cosy atmosphere while increasing illumination in the room.

If you have a dark corner, or no ceiling fixture to install recessed lights, you may install a wall light that points upwards. The light reflected on the ceiling provides a soft, overhead glow, brightening up the sides and corner, and minimising harsh shadows.

Task lighting

Add specific lighting to work areas, such as the desk, piano or easel for example. Some furnishings also come with inbuilt lightings, as in the case of cabinets, display cupboards and TV consoles, making it easier to locate items in those dark corners.

Use LED lights

There is a good reason why Town Councils are replacing the lights in HDB estates with LED lights. LED lights are brighter than fluorescent bulbs, use less energy and last longer.

Harness natural light

When I was a child, my family and neighbours used to leave the doors wide open whenever we were at home, allowing light and breeze to flood the living room. These days, owing to the want for privacy and lack of chumminess between neighbours, everyone keeps the doors and windows facing the corridors tightly shut, even when they are at home.

If privacy is a major concern, install translucent curtains or blinds at the windows and doors. You will enjoy an airier and brighter home without worrying about nosy passersby.

Install mirrors

Wall-length mirrors work best. They reflect existing light in the room, making your room brighter without the need for additional light sources.

Dress your walls in bright colours

Dark walls and panelling may look elegant, but they absorb light, making the room darker. Light colours like white, off-white and pastels reflect light, brightening up the room. While vivid colours like red do not increase the amount of light in the room, they do make the room look cheerier, which is better than dull, dark colours like brown and black for a home or work environment.

Clean and maintain your light fixtures

You will be surprised by how new and bright your light fixture appears after a year’s worth of dust and dirt has been wiped off!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Putting a dash of colour into your home

Many home owners are inclined to take the failsafe choice of painting the whole house white. In fact that was the standard colour for most homes in the pre-1960s and even into the 70s.

White is often chosen because of its association with cleanliness and the feeling of space and light. Hence, it is used in bedrooms, living and dining rooms and the kitchen and wash rooms.

But one can argue that to have all white in a home can make the environment appear incredibly cold and unattractive. So today you see white paint colours come in many subtle variations. Individually, a can of white paint may look plain white. View several shades together and those shades of white can be warm, cool, dull, bright, faded, yellow, pink, green, gray and so on.

But do note that white requires a lot of natural and artificial light to look fresh and clean. Otherwise, it will appear greyish and boring.

So add a little colour into your home as a quick weekend project and consider painting an accent wall. To paint one wall a different shade of the room’s colour, or even a different colour entirely, will add some visual interest to a space. An accent wall can also help to make an awkward room seem less so. Or, if you have a long, narrow room, painting the short wall at the far end can make it seem more pleasant.

To start off, take a look around the room and find a place where your eyes are naturally drawn to when you walk in. This then is your focal point. In the bedroom, the wall with your headboard is a good choice.

For the choice of paint for an accent wall, it is easier to choose a colour of the same hue, but a few shades darker than the other walls. You will find blue isn’t just blue and it usually has gray or green or yellow or red in it. This is a safe way to choose the right shade of gray-blue in a darker tone to complement your light gray-blue. However, if you are bold, you can also choose a different, but complementary colour all together. Speak to an interior designer or even to the paint store owner for guidance.

You may need to apply a primer before you paint, especially if you’re painting a light colour over a dark colour. Primer smooths out the surface to be painted and helps the paint adhere. Paint colours look different depending on the light, so that lovely summer drop blue in the day could turn out to be misty blue at night. Just be sure to experiment on a smaller surface first.

Alternatively, skip the paint and try out a wall covering. You have a wide choice of bright patterns and natural materials that can make your accent wall stand out from the rest of the walls.

Some home owners hang weather-resistant rugs to cover the wall, while others used their children’s paintings to give the additional dash on their accent walls.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Creating Talking Points @ Home

Have you ever wanted to own something impressive, like a big fancy room, a large garden, or a grand collection of Picassos, but are unable to due to various reasons?

It is the little things that are vital. Little things make big things happen, says successful American basketball coach John Wooden.

Big things are not needed to spark a big change in your life. A light touch can be highly inspirational and effective!

If you have a spare corner in your living room, consider turning it into a conversational corner. Do not mistake this for a conversation corner, which is a private corner to have a tête-à-tête. A conversational corner is a focal point in the house, a special corner that your visitors would first notice and be attracted to when they enter your room. A talking point. A well-designed conversational corner can enhance the appearance and atmosphere of the whole room.

For the art lover …

You do not have to be a professional art collector or appreciator to display art pieces in your house. These days, modern art pieces, photography works, calligraphy and even replicas of famous masterpieces are easily accessible.

Decorating folding screens come in multitudes of colours and designs. A decorative folding screen easily fills up a corner without hassle, can be adjusted to fit the space, and be folded for easy storage or relocation. You can even use the folding screen as a unique backdrop and place a chair or indoor plant against it.

A good art piece always adds poise to a room. Frame up a simple art work, or if you can spare the space, stand a sculpture, large floor vase, decorative column or water feature in the corner. Install art lighting above and your corner would not look out of place in an art museum! Do note that exposure to UV rays in fluorescent lights can cause certain artworks on paper to fade over time, such as pastels, prints, photographs and watercolours. Art museums typically use low watt halogen and incandescent lights.

Apart from art galleries, various furniture stores like Ikea sell art simple, elegant and low maintenance art pieces for home décor.

For the collectors…

Own some cool things? Don’t keep them all to yourself. Corner display cabinets, complete with internal lighting, are great for displaying books, trophies, figurines, toys, small art pieces and lots more. It is an interesting means to keep a guest occupied while you’re busy, and to engage a guest in conversation. Display cabinets ought to have a theme. If you keep elegant little sculptures on one shelf, displaying McDonald’s collectible toys on the next shelf will look awkward for example. Never stuff all sorts of junk inside out of convenience. A display cabinet is not a storage cabinet.

If cabinets are bulky, corner shelves installed on the wall ease the bulk while creating extra space for your collections. Display decorative objects on it, or create a mini library with books (use bookends to prevent them from collapsing). The disadvantage would be that you would have to dust the items and shelves frequently.

For the nature lover…

Indoor plants not only beautify a house, they also add a lively touch to the room, making it look cozy and welcoming. All you really need is a large indoor plant in a decorative pot that fits the theme of your room. Indoor plants can be bought from plant nurseries, as well as some branches of Cold Storage.

However, indoor plants require sunlight to grow well, albeit not as much as their outdoor counterparts. If your corner is not exposed to sunlight, you will need to shift your plant to a sunlit area every week or so for it to rejuvenate.

Indoor plants require regular care. If you are not able to commit yourself, you should substitute them with artificial plants.

For the sentimental…

Too many photographs to display on your table? You can stick them up in your corner! First, you may want to apply a wall paper of layer of paint that is of different colour from the rest of the room over the area where the photos and drawings will occupy. This will make the corner stand out. Plan the placement of the pictures, then attach them to the wall with damage-free adhesives like Command.

Apart from photos and drawings, you can also turn this into a memory corner, and supplement them if other items, like the sea shell you collected on your first visit to the beach, the dried out petals of a bouquet for first anniversary, your child’s first drawing… If you have an artistic streak, this will be a fun project!

For the practical…

Corners can be beautiful yet functional. If you feel the need to make use of every inch of space, corners are actually good for displaying furniture, although they are severely underused in this aspect.

A large, stylish floor lamp literally brightens up a corner without getting in anyone’s way. Add a plush arm chair or even your massage chair, and you have got yourself a charming reading nook.

It is not very often that we see triangular furniture that fits perfectly in corners, but in truth, they are wonderful space saving options. Given their rarity, they are sure to become a talking point. While not really common, you can still pick them up at some large furniture shops. There is also the option of getting them custom-made. Examples of practical furniture suitable for the corner include bookshelves, side tables and cabinets.

If you have spare dining chairs for a guest and a table too small to fit them, simply put one or two in a corner, and decorate it with some showy upholstery that can be removed when needed.


With a little imagination, you can breathe life into your old room at minimal effort and cost!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine