Cynthia Lee
Local actress-host Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie at her rented 1,400 sq ft walk-up apartment in Chip Bee Gardens.

It must be a sign of nomadic tendencies when you shift house often enough that your movers extend you an invitation to their weddings.

Such is the case for local actress-host Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie, who has changed homes more than seven times. During all this, she has seen her regular mover, Sg Bros Entrepreneurs, expand since she first used its service almost a decade ago.

The 33-year-old has become good friends with the staff. “I’ve seen their business grow from one truck to many now. That’s how many times I’ve moved,” she says with a laugh.

However, the knowledge gleaned over the years about quick decorating on a budget has come in useful for Lee MacQuarrie – her last name comes from her Scottish father.

She is a contestant in the latest season of reality show The Apartment Style Edition. The show, which airs on cable channel Star World on Thursdays at 9.30pm, pits eight pairs of amateur interior designers against one another to design the best room.

Cynthia Lee home
A couch and dining set at a balcony of local actress-host Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie's rented 1,400 sq ft walk-up apartment in Chip Bee Gardens.

When the singleton, who has a cat called Simba, goes shopping on a tight budget, she checks out Swedish store Ikea and looks online to websites such as Gumtree.

When she does have cash to splash, her regular haunts include boutique store Le Article in Hoot Kiam Road and furniture store Arthur Zaaro in Jervois Close.

Her tip for the budget-conscious: Go to furniture fairs here, such as the annual International Furniture Fair Singapore, to buy products on sale after the trade show is over.

Two statement-piece chairs in her living room, for example, cost $250 and $350 – prices which are much lower than if she had bought them directly from retailers. She says: “I always go look at what’s available at the fairs. Sometimes, you can get good deals just walking the entire halls.”

Cynthia Lee
Chairs in the living room of local actress-host Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie's rented 1,400 sq ft walk-up apartment in Chip Bee Gardens. She bought these seats at a furniture fair.

Chairs – and the pop they can give to a room – are a particular interest of Lee MacQuarrie’s.

This may help explain why, despite her nomadic life, she currently seems quite settled at her current digs – a 1,400 sq ft walk-up apartment in Chip Bee Gardens. It has two couches and at least 10 differently styled chairs.

Lee MacQuarrie, who has been renting the place for the past three years with two other roommates, says: “It’s rare to find walk-ups because they keep disappearing and rents also keep getting higher. I really like them because of the big balcony space and the open space the layout has.”

She adds: “I’m drawn to chairs. I always try a chair before I buy it and I think each piece speaks to me. No matter how valuable the chair is, you should buy it only when you have a connection to it.”

She has also raided her grandparents’ flat in Ang Mo Kio for furniture that they did not really want. She took home an old cupboard, which now houses an extensive collection of books.

Cynthia Lee home
Some of the artworks in local actress-host Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie's collection remain unframed at her rented 1,400 sq ft walk-up apartment in Chip Bee Gardens.

She rues the limitations of living in rented spaces, saying: “I would like to do more with colours or be able to hang stuff. There’s always a rush when you are moving again, so I don’t want to waste the time repainting it the original colour or having to fix the holes.”

Not that her friends mind. Her home is a prime hangout spot whenever they are in the Holland Village area. “Everyone who comes by always feels right at home because he can just relax. I don’t have that classy, elegant vibe. It’s more eclectic, shabby-chic.”

Being on a decorating show has helped hone her skills at putting spaces together.

“I think I have good taste but I have no money. But being on the show definitely fanned the flames for interior decorating.”


Written by Natasha Ann Zachariah for The Straits Times. Photos: The Straits Times. This article was first published in 2012.