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September 13, 2009

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Feel-good exotic getaway has pastiche of old styles

SOME homes just feel good as soon as you open the door, and there's a tangible warmth and energy in Brigitte Elie's three-level house on Xingguo Road. Hidden behind an iron gate, Elie's fantasy compound is a serene, exotic getaway. Peeping inside, one is mesmerized by the arts and crafts profusion in every corner.

Part of the vibe originates from the homeowner's eclectic combination of Southeast Asian style. Elie, originally from Montreal, Canada, displays exotic artifacts and knickknacks in ways you'd probably never think of. The mix of rustic, ethnic, modern, personal and iconic is completely unaffected and engaging.

Years of living and traveling in Asia has provided her with plenty of inspiration. However, she is the practical one. "I am not an antique collector. I love to be surrounded by these beautiful items collected over 12 years but they also need to be functional."

Elie moved with her husband and newly born daughter to Singapore in 1996 and the Indonesian furniture the landlord left in their rented shop house was her first introduction to Asian style. Since then, she has been collecting and collating vivid influences from the world around her - from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, India and Laos.

Her best-buys are always those found on the streets or discovered in little shops during travel. "I never shop with a purpose. Everywhere in the house, there is a story to tell, a detail to be noted," she said.

Just as many of the small pieces have a story - two pots and one celadon on the bookshelf against the brick wall in the living room, for instance, were found in a warehouse during her vacation to Malaysia. "There was a Swedish man talking to us in a dingy hotel, saying he had explored a shipwreck full of antique ornaments over 550 years old. He invited us to his warehouse and we picked these amazing pieces," she said. And to purchase a 15-kilogram bronze Buddha head in Thailand even made her miss the flight back to Singapore.

While many of these styles seem similar, they are, in fact, unique and special. Each of the oriental styles has a personality of its own.

Different countries

However, furniture and ornaments from different countries work well together under one design theme in this Shanghai home.

A personal refuge amidst nature is exactly what the homeowner has created. She used a gentle hand to conjure a quiet space with perfect balance and serenity, exuding a touch of warmth and comfort, using restful colors and natural textural elements.

Moving to Shanghai in 2000 with her husband and daughter was quite an adventure. Her husband quit a job in Singapore and wanted to take up the challenge to start his own business in a new place. Meanwhile, the challenge for her was to find an ideal house for the family of three.

Nine years ago, she asked 18 agencies and looked at around 30 houses before finding this old building, which delivered the old-world aesthetic she longed for. She quickly grasped the potential of the 250-square-meter space, with lovely proportions and original fittings. She set about bringing in the light and revealing the natural grace of the rooms. Extraneous features were removed and the walls and ceilings painted white.

But instead of ending up with something brand-new, the house retains its well-worn, well-loved appeal. It's about getting the balance, so it's not all slick and new, she said. "We retained original elements such as one brick wall in each room and then we've got the character of the old, which makes it more of a home."

The house's entrance through an impressive garden sets the theme for what's to come. The garden fulfils all the requirements of relaxed living - wooden table and chairs, colorful cushions, a barbecue and potted plants. It feels like a relaxed natural sanctuary within an urban landscape. "We've got all the rooms we need but it's the space we want, where we can relax, enjoy food and the ambience," Elie said. "I do miss somehow the nature of Canada yet I'm a city girl so I wanted to recreate both the natural aesthetic and city comfort at this house."

The natural elements do the work as the house gets wonderful light from the garden, bathing the whole living room. She even dug a 1-square-meter hole in the floor for a fish pond in the living room.

The ground floor, originally three rooms, is now one spacious living room.

Elie sought to keep the home's main colors in a neutral palette, partly for its calming, practicality, but also to better show off her art and craft collection.

She nurtured the surfaces using ethnic carpets, drapes, traditional ornaments and contemporary art. She outfitted every room of the house with modern rustic furniture, choosing functional and flexible items that are smart, clean-lined, and crafted from local materials.

Hong Kong artist B.wing held her first solo exhibition, "If You Don't Want To Be Perfect, You Come To The Right Place," at the Agnes B. Librairie Galerie in Hong Kong in 2003.

It was followed by the same exhibition at the Agnes B. Press Office and Store in Taipei and Tokyo.

Her works have been praised by the Asian art circle and her hilarious presentations have entertained those who patronized her shows.

The success of the exhibitions and supplementary events encouraged the development of her own label of lifestyle products in 2006.

The successful characters A and Oog - introduced in her books prior to the exhibitions - have also been well received by the media and fans.

B.wing recently brought to Shanghai a collection of her works from the past five years as well as a new book, "The Whispering Game," and they're on show at the 100percent shop until September 20.

How long have you been interested in art and what made you break away from the fashion industry to become an illustrator?

After graduating from Middlesex University in the United Kingdom, I returned to Hong Kong and started as a fashion designer. However, I loved to draw when I was a little girl so I left the stable job and began life as a full-time artist in 2002.

Creating installation art is what I really wanted to do.

Why do you feel the need to draw and paint? Every artist has a personal "creative process," so what is yours?

I draw, paint what I feel, believe and think, as a natural way of expressing my innermost self.

Drawing to me is just like eating in everyday life.

Could you describe your typical workflow for an illustration?

Sit down, take a pen and draw. I keep doing it until I get hungry. Mind you, I feel hungry all the time.

Where did the inspiration come from for your characters' looks?

Drawing comes natural to me. Usually after I draw on the paper I start to realize what I am trying to express.

It's like creating something better than what I originally intended. That's the work of the subconscious mind.

You created the successful characters A and Oog but have you created another one for the new book? Where does your inspiration come from?

A is one of the characters from my previous exhibition "If You Don't Want To Be Perfect, You Come To The Right Place."

There is a new girl character in my new book "The Whispering Game."

I find inspiration for the characters in day-to-day life, exploring the highs, the lows, the hopes and the regrets.

What aspects, if any, of your creations reflect parts of your personality?

All my creations reflect my unique conceptions of life and my personality.

Of course, each person brings out different sides of personality and they could be all reflected in my artworks.

One thing that really sets your works apart is that they have a delightful, playful perspective. How does humor figure in your creations?

I owe my bare existence to my sense of humor.

How did you then get the idea of creating the retail line inspired by your creations? Where do they sell?

The retail line combining art and lifestyle products can be found in Hong Kong, Paris and Shanghai.

My expectation is to bring some of my fun into other people's lives.


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