Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Our Home & Decor

When I was young, one of my dreams was to be an interior designer. I love all things creative and always love to be doing artsy stuff. Home&Decor was the magazine I read regularly when I was growing up. It gave me ideas on how to redecorate my room on a shoe string budget. Similar to Ikea's tagline "You don't have to be rich to be clever". I always thought it would be so cool if my apartment or an apartment that I designed would to be featured in Home&Decor. The dream finally came true... some 20 years later. Our apartment is being featured in August 2010 issue of Home&Decor, and we co-designed it with our interior designer.

The door opens up to the tall dining table, open concept kitchen and seamless living room.

With years of retail background experience, I learnt how to marry budget with style. I was also very practical when it came to storage design. I wanted a minimal and clean look, and that meant having well-designed storage space to hide the chaos. Annie, our designer from Interarch, did a great job in interpreting our ideas into practical designs.

The trophy of the apartment. The private lift lobby that opens up to a floor-to-ceiling shoe wall. We have this plastic fantastic guard dog - Magis Puppy by Eero Aarnio. The Kartell Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck was originally meant for the walk-in closet but somehow ended up in the lift lobby as it looks good there, and serves a practical purpose.

No one really believed I could cook, as I hardly did any cooking in my previous apartment that has a small kitchen. Now I cook almost daily in this open concept kitchen. I also started baking! Cooking is an art and I am creative. I feel happy when I am cooking as I am in control of what I eat.

Another plastic fantastic house pet - RobotCat by Hiro Ando. We bought this black cat from Opera Gallery. This bouncer cat stands guard outside the walk-in closet.

For the walk-in closet, I came up with the idea of having drawers for accessories, an idea I got from retail shops. It looks good and works really well. I highly recommend this anyone who is renovating their apartment. We combined 2 bedrooms into 1 masterbed room, and an open concept bathroom makes the room spacious.

The guests room doubles up as a library and a spa room. Everyone who visited our new apartment made the same remark "OMG, this toilet is huge. Why are you not staying in this room instead?" I will always retort "I prefer a bigger closet."

And yes... I still read Home&Decor. It's been over 20 years! That's a commitment.

Official Site:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Italian Series (Part 5) : Much Ado About Positano - Overview

Finally, I am writing about Positano. It was actually the first leg of my trip... and the very reason why I went to Italy in the first place. There isn't much info written online and in travel books. Prior to my trip, I imagined Positano to be like posh holiday destination St. Tropez in the South of France. On the contrary, it turned out to be more down-to-earth and less "pretentious". Positano is located on the Amalfi Coast, and is a scenic seaside town with unique architecture. Colourful houses cling to the rock face, making it a picture perfect sight (I doubt anyone can take a bad picture with a view like this).

As spoilt brats who prefer to fly via Singapore Airlines A380, our voyage started with the flight from Singapore to Zurich, followed by a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Rome, where a chauffeured Mercedes Benz awaited. It is a long journey and I can only imagine a luxe car for the 4-hour car ride (Note: one-way transfer is about 300 Euros). We drove towards Naples, past Sorrento, before finally arriving in Positano. It was a scenic drive once we were in Sorrento, and the driver would stop along the way at key lookout points for us to snap some pictures. I would not recommend for anyone to drive as the mountain roads are narrow. Best leave it to the native pros and you get to enjoy the scenery without stress.

We stayed at centrally located Hotel Savoia. To give you some bearing, it is across from the city centre and just few doors away from the Missoni boutique. It also has easy access to atm machines, taxi centres, shops, restaurants, and just a short walk to the beach.

We chose to stay at this hotel as our friends were all staying there during the trip. We booked a deluxe room at this family-run Mediterranean-style hotel. When we checked into our room, we both couldn't believe our eyes. Perhaps we are used to the Hyatts and Four Seasons, we were not used to the decor of this hotel. It is erm.... just take a look at the picture below. However, the great location and the friendly service made up for the old school decor, small boxy tv, and lack of internet access in the rooms.

The way to the beach... there's only one way. Positano is known as the "town of stairways", and it is just full of steep steps. Any other type of footwear except flats are not recommended. These are some of shops and sights that I remembered well from my daily walk to and fro to the beach. It's a charming small town packed full of touristy shops. Shopping for fashion is almost non-existent for serious fashionistas. The only shop worth shopping at (excluding Missoni) is Antica Sartoria di Positano.

The Most Stylish Store - Missoni
(Yes, it's true, my fashionista friends! I didn't buy anything from here as I was off to Rome where more shops are available. At least there's a stylish shop in Positano... in case of a fashion emergency.)

The Most Stylish Local Brand - Antica Sartoria di Positano
(Check out the bikinis and sarongs. I didn't buy anything to wear from this shop as everyone else on the beach were wearing the same stuff. I bought some sarongs to bring home instead.)

The Most Tempting Dessert Store - La Zagara
(I resisted and succeeded!)

The Most Practical Store - Delikatessen
(Here's where we stocked up on water, biscuits, and fresh fruits.)

The Biggest Lemons I Have Ever Seen
(Lemon is a local produce in the Amalfi region. Good souvenirs to pick up are lemon-based products such as Limoncello, lemon sweets, and soaps. There are also lots of household items with lemon motifs. )

The Most Common Digestif - Limoncello
(An Italian lemon liqueur produced mainly in Southern Italy. It is served chilled at the end of dinner, or for lunch if one prefers.)

The Most Common Souvenirs - Painted tiles and plates

After walking past the shops, you will arrive at a shaded passage way with a ceiling of bougainvilleas. It's a lovely sight when it's not crowded.

At the end of the passage way is the Church of Santa Maria. As you walk past the church, it is beginning of more restaurants, shops and the beach!

The water is clear and lovely, though a little cold. However, the only thing that was foreign to me is the that beach is filled with pebbles and stones. Shocker! Especially for someone from Asia, as I am used to fine sand-filled beaches. Pebbles? Think the pain from foot reflexology and multiply it by ten, with heat added. Hot stone massage it sure ain't not! Make sure you wear your sandals at all time, right up to the last moment you get into the water.

Ok, there's sand on the beach, but it's the part leading to the pebbles. After that, it's just all stones and pebbles before the sea. I love the bright orange parasols and beach chairs.

The next blog entry will be about the food in Positano. Where to eat and what to eat? Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Italian Series (Part 4) : Let's go 'Baby'

Villa Borghese

I enjoy Milan, but I like Rome more. In terms of gastronomy discovery, I find that Rome has a good offering of trattorias, chic restos and awarding winning fine dines. As a "Haute Foodie" (, I have to do URBAN proud and check out some Michelin starred restos.

A good tip for anyone visiting Rome is to plan your day by the areas you are visiting. Rome is not that big, but it is not that small either. It is similar to when I visited Tokyo, I will plan my shopping and dining based on the areas I will be visiting (Roppongi, Shibuya, Ginza, etc), so I can maximise my day exploring the key things in the area.

Hence, the day I visited Galleria Borghese, housed at the Villa Borghese, I decided to choose a restaurant in the vicinity for lunch. 'Baby' is the Michelin star resto at Hotel Aldrovandi, a grand hotel located within Rome's most upscale residential area. Trust me, I know posh when I see it. Hotel Aldrovandi is posh with an air of aristocratic grandeur. As the hotel has the luxury of space and a huge building, it could afford to have an outdoor pool and garden, as well as a poolside bistro.

'Baby' offers indoor and al fresco terrace dining. For our lunch, we opted for the terrace as it was a glorious summer day. The interior of the resto is contemporary and elegant, while the al fresco has a good garden view overlooking the pool.

As much as I wanted to try the degustation menu, I really don't think I could eat that much. Hence, we decided to order a starter to share, followed by a main course and dessert each. I ordered a pasta dish for main course, but it was served to me as an appetiser. Why? I forgot that in Italy, pasta dish is considered a second appetiser and is before a meat/fish main course.

Upon some research, I learnt that 'Baby' is the Roman restaurant owned by Don Alfornso 1890, one of southern Italy's top restaurants. The owners, Alfonso Iaccarino and his son Ernesto, oversee the menu and operation from their Amalfi Coast base. Considered a gastronomic genius, Alfonso Iaccarino is the celebrity chef who sends over to 'Baby' organic tomatoes and olive oil from his own Amalfi Coast farm, as well as fish that arrives every day from the same coast.

Amuse Bouche : Seared tuna with berry sauce

Appetiser to share : Smoked amberjack

My main that was served as a starter : Ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese

Main for Lolo : Swordfish steak with cous cous

Dessert for Lolo : Chocolate semi freddo

Dessert for me : Citrus souffle

The dishes might sound simple but they tasted heavenly. For foodies and chefs alike, we all know that the simplest dishes are sometimes the hardest to perfect. Reason being you have to focus on using only fresh produce, good cooking methods (usually through years of apprenticeship and experience), topped with lots of passion and dedication.

I will definitely dine at 'Baby' when I return to Rome. LUXE City Guide also gave its stamp of approval, quoting "This calm and cool as a cuke Michelin-starred, chic sleekster salon really comes into its own for summer eve romantic dining on the poolside garden terrace. Mwah!"

Closed on Mondays.
Official Site:

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Italian Series (Part 3) : OMG - Oh My Gucci!

Gucci was at its peak when Tom Ford was at the helm back in the 90s. He was an unknown designer when he joined, but his fame rose when turned the brand around and made it desirable once again. Ford was the man who brought sexy back to the House of Gucci. When Ford announced his departure, it seemed like the end of the empire had dawned upon this Italian House.

The man who could do no wrong in the style department.

Remember those sleek looks by Tom Ford for Gucci? Everyone wanted those satin shirts and velvet pants.

Madonna was the first to wear it... and the world went crazy for Gucci.

When I think Tom Ford for Gucci, I think of the sleek gowns with metal pieces. I wish I could get my hands on some vintage pieces designed by Ford.

Following Ford's departure, Gucci Group retained three designers to continue the success of the company's flagship label: John Ray, Alessandra Facchinetti and Frida Giannini. Facchnietti was thrown in the spotlight but designed for two seasons before leaving the company. The intense pressure could be the reason why Facchinetti left. I never expected Giannini to bring Gucci back to the glory days of Ford's... but she did. The collections got better and better each season, and I have been seriously shopping there again since last year.

Frida Giannini enjoying her success at Gucci. I ended up buying the black dress as the one she wore (pictured above), when she took her bow on the Spring 2010 catwalk.

Another reason for me shopping at Gucci is the excellent service. When I was in Rome two weeks ago, I was at the Via Condotti boutique, near the Spanish steps. The sale (or "saldi" in Italian) has just started and I thought I won't be able to expect good service. To my amazement, the sales persons were all helpful and patient. A particular sales associate worth mentioning is Gabriele de Carolis. He spent an hour with me, showing me all the wonderful pieces from the sale collection, as well as the new season's offering. I ended up spending more time and money than I thought I would... but it was a very enjoyable shopping experience. If you are in Rome, you have to visit the Gucci boutique, and please look for Gabriele, and tell him "Marie Choo from Singapore recommended you". Good service should be commended, good sales associate should be supported.

Gucci at via Condotti, a stone's throw away from the Spanish Steps. I found this pic online and found it hauntingly captivating.

The beautiful interior of the Gucci boutique at Via Condotti. Opulent in gold with an elegant touch, and not gaudy and crass.

If you are not going to Rome anytime soon, you can still find good service at the Gucci boutique at The Paragon. Look for Hafiz, the sales associate who is really nice and helpful. I only buy exclusively from him as he takes the effort to set aside new items for my selection, or updates me regularly on new arrivals and sales.

Official Site :

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Italian Series (Part 2) : The Hip Hotel - St George Roma

Choosing a hotel for our holidays is usually pretty straightforward, as we will almost always stay at one of the Hyatt hotels (they have a good loyalty program, not to mention they gave us an upgrade to a junior suite in Tokyo few months ago!). However, there ain't any Hyatt in Rome, or any other international name that we know of! Hence, it took weeks of research before we decided on the choice of accommodation for our Roman holiday. Finally, the hotel that we selected is also one endorsed by LUXE City Guide. *Phew*

LUXE City Guide described St. George Roma as "Svelte Spot - Swish boutique with lashings of creamy travertine, rich dark woods, cool comtemporary rooms and suites, trig vibe, bobby spa and great summer rooftop bar. Alla moda."

The hotel is located within an old five-storey building on Via Giulia. One cab driver told me that it is one of the most romantic streets in Rome. Reason? I have no idea. It seems like any other street to me. It does have several quaint antique stores though. However, I love the fact that it is one of the most central location in Rome.

I am very impressed with this boutique hotel. Top notch service, swanky decor, knowledgeable concierge! We happily tried to check in on 6th July when we were told by the reception that they do not have our reservation. It turned out that we booked it from 7th July by mistake. Our day started rather bad as we arrived from Positano via a crazy car transfer of 5 hours in which the driver lost his way. To be told that the hotel is fully booked and they do not have our reservation... I didn't know if I should cry or laugh. However, the efficient staff at the reception told us they have another room (which is converted from an apartment) at the residential building next to the hotel. It turned out to be a Junior Suite and she offered it to us at the same rate we are paying nightly for our Deluxe Room! This is what I call good service!

The Deluxe Room that was home to us for 5 days

The Junior Suite we stayed in on the first night

What I love about this hotel is also the fact that there are no hidden charges. Breakfast is provided, and so is internet. *Tip: The opening page for the web browser will prompt you to sign up for a daily rate of 12 Euro for 24 hours. All you have to do is click "Yes" but the hotel will not charge you for it. (Do confirm upon check-in, just in case they change their policy)

Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 1030am, at the restaurant with a courtyard. It is really pleasant to have breakfast at the al fresco area. The spread ain't fancy but is sufficient to get your day started.

The hotel also has a restaurant and a roof top bar. The restaurant looks empty but I am not surprised, as there are many dining spots to check out in Rome. The roof top bar opens from 7pm till midnight, and looks really nice. For some strange reason, we never made it up there for a drink. Perhaps we never made it back in time from dinner to have a drink.

The rare thing is this hotel has a spa and a pool. With all the hotels in the central location being located in older buildings, I am surprised they managed to squeeze in a pool. However, it is more of a Roman Bath than a swimming pool, as you can't really swim in it. It is simply too small to even swim a few strokes.

I definitely want to go back to Rome again... and will be staying at The St. George Roma if I do. Summer sale in Rome starts in July and it will be a good time to go. Perhaps I shall arrange a stop over to Rome en-route to Florence and Tuscany next year, and will make sure I visit the Trevi Fountain and throw in a coin this time.

Official Site: