The Straits Times Chic Apartment
Mr Clarence Chua (left, with his wife Candice Li). Photo: The Straits Times

Mr Clarence Chua and Ms Candice Li were so inspired by their honeymoon in Africa two years ago that they decided to decorate their five-room executive condominium in Bukit Panjang in the tropical- colonial style.

The couple, both 33, were influenced by the Macushla House, a guesthouse in Nairobi, Kenya; the world-famous Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe; and a few restaurants in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mr Chua, who works as a customer service manager at Gardens by the Bay, says: "We like that raw, grand quality and tried to recapture that in our home."

The living and dining areas of the 1,050 sq ft apartment are filled with lush potted plants that tower above a person of average height and antique-looking wooden furniture.

Framed botanical prints and world maps hang on the walls and black-and-white bamboo blinds are installed at the windows. The balcony is a mini garden, furnished with fake carpet grass as well as standing and hanging potted plants.

chess sets
Themed chess sets (above) that the couple collected as travel souvenirs dot a wall in the guest room. Photo: The Straits Times

Because the apartment's palette is black, white, green and brown, the couple stained their furniture, such as their light-brown mirrored dining table from Courts, a darker colour to match the decor.

They also chose solid tropical wood furniture, such as teak and rattan, as they like how the wood contrasts against the white walls and greenery.

As flowering plants require full sunlight and are not suitable as indoor plants, the couple, who have no children, opted for leafy ones such as dracaena, bird's nest fern and philodendron.

They moved in in October 2014 – three months after returning from their trip. They did not renovate the apartment, but have spent about $25,000 so far on furnishings.

The expenses included a self- installed irrigation system for the plants. Before that, Ms Li, an arts administrator at a statutory board, says they found themselves rushing in the morning to water the plants before leaving for work.

After they returned from a vacation in Bali last year, they were inspired by the outdoor showers there and decided to adopt a similar look for the guest bathroom, which they completed three months ago.

The floor is covered with loose gravel, stepping stones and moss balls, and the sink is decorated with pebbles. Mr Chua says: "It's a relaxing retreat for me to enjoy some quiet time in the morning and a welcome respite at the end of the day. People usually treat their bathroom time and space very functionally, which is a waste as we spend more time in there than we realise."

Loose gravel and stepping stones add to the resort-like feel of the guest bathroom (above). Photo: The Straits Times

As for Ms Li, she prefers hanging out at the balcony because it is "quite chill and private at night".

The couple, clearly nature lovers, have even preserved the carcasses of Mr Chua's pet tarantula and scorpion in a frame, which is displayed on the television console. Mr Chua had felt it was "a waste to throw them away".

He adds: "It also fits our nature theme, like the classification and collection of animal specimens."

What is less morbid are the 20 small animal figurines such as rabbits, guinea pigs and parrots placed around the home. The couple had used them as table markers in place of numbers during their wedding dinner banquet.

Spotting one in the flat – for instance, a cute rabbit "hiding" in a potted plant – can be a delight.

rabbit figurine
Photo: The Straits Times

Other interesting discoveries abound. In the guest room, there is a wall covered with more than 40 themed chess sets, such as a safari animal set from Kenya and one with nesting doll pieces from Russia.

Lest you think Mr Chua is a chess master, he says he cannot play the game. He buys themed chess sets – he got his first from Laos in 2007 – as travel souvenirs.

The decor has drawn comments from friends and family, such as "very British India". Mr Chua says: "Visitors might get the feeling of embarking on an exotic adventure, with the lush plants, animals and travel trinkets all over. But for the most part, it's for ourselves."

Written by Alyssa Woo for The Straits Times