Friday, 30 April 2021

How a Singaporean ex-lawyer became an interior design entrepreneur

Produced by SilverKris for The Cinnamon Room

Visha Nelson’s purpose became clear to her one day in 2007, while taking a short course in Interior Decoration at the prestigious Chelsea Art College. Though she was a good 10 or 15 years older than the majority of students on campus, she felt anything but out of place. “I realised that I was more at home here than I had ever been in the canteen of a fancy law firm,” she recalls, her voice tinged with amazement.

Amazing is a good word to describe Visha’s journey to becoming the founder of home décor store The Cinnamon Room in Holland Village. The peripatetic Singaporean had been a successful capital markets lawyer for almost a decade, frequently promoted and living in cities such as New York, Hong Kong and London. But in 2003, she put her career on hold to be with her children and work on renovating and decorating her newly purchased family home in London.

Visha Nelson of The Cinnamon Room
Visha Nelson of The Cinnamon Room

From corporate law to home design

Gutting and redoing a house may seem intimidating to most people, but Visha found that she loved it. “It struck me that I didn’t mind at all driving out to the boondocks to look at door handles,” she says, explaining how she attended to each and every detail of the renovation. “The real estate agents said it was a complete transformation.” The experience inspired Visha to take classes at Chelsea Art College and discover her true passion.

The idea for The Cinnamon Room came later, in 2008, when Visha moved back to Singapore and found it a struggle to re-create that same magic when doing up her home. “There were a lot of beautiful things out there,” she explains, “but they were so prohibitively expensive.” Affordable items, on the other hand, were generic and lacked soul. “I wanted to choose every item thoughtfully – things that inspired me, things that were of good quality and unique design but were also practical to use.” In order to do that, Visha had to design many of the items herself and find people who could make them.

The Cinnamon Room hide rugs
Geometric hide rugs demarcate space and create a soothing symmetry

The Cinnamon Room’s personalised service

For many customers, walking into The Cinnamon Room on Jalan Merah Saga is the beginning of a long collaboration. “As a proud Singapore Airlines flyer, I wanted to bring SIA levels of personalised customer service to my business,” she says with a wink. Rather than making an isolated purchase, customers often share pictures of their space with Visha, who continues to think about ways to make their vision come to life, following through with further recommendations. “That builds trust with the customers, who go on to refer their friends to us as well.”

Every piece in The Cinnamon Room is in some way inspired by Visha’s life and travels around the world. “A fabric I saw in Japan becomes the inspiration for a lantern we sell at the store,” she says by way of example, “and an iron grill pattern in Barcelona may end up on a coaster or a rug.”

Singapore dining room by The Cinnamon Room
The Cinnamon Room’s hide rugs are easy to clean – perfect for dining rooms

The Cinnamon Room’s most popular offerings, however, are carpets and rugs suited to the layouts of open plan living in Singapore. “We have many open-plan, tropical houses with lots of light and space, so those spaces need to be demarcated with rugs,” Visha explains. The Cinnamon Room’s laser-etched animal hide rugs find the sweet spot between Persian rugs, which are beautiful but a design overkill in large spaces, and prohibitively expensive contemporary designer rugs that stain easily.

“As law students, we ate in our rooms, spilling red wine, beer, kebabs,” Visha says with a laugh, “and our animal hide rugs would clean up easily, so I decided to ethically source byproducts from farm animals for our rugs, and use a very contemporary design.” Visha works with her manufacturer to laser-etch simple geometric patterns onto the hide to create rugs that create a soothing vibe and can be easily cleaned up after a spill, even red wine.

Committed to sustainable sourcing

In addition to her personal, practical approach to design, Visha takes her sourcing seriously. Her hardy, upcycled outdoor rugs make use of plastics that normally end up in landfills, and for other pieces she works directly with family-run businesses all over Asia. She proudly declares that nothing goes into mass production.

Mahogany serving board by The Cinnamon Room
The Cinnamon Room uses Singapore mahogany off-cuts for its serving boards

And when the pandemic severely curtailed her regional partnerships, Visha discovered creative ways to work with Singaporean materials. “One of our best-sellers have been mahogany off-cuts from Singapore,” she says, referring to wooden serving boards, decorative pieces and even Christmas ornaments made from felled mahogany trees around the island. The Cinnamon Room fills in the cracks with a beautiful resin and can personalise pieces with an engraving. “It’s a slice of Singapore,” Visha says.

The Cinnamon Room also stocks cushion covers, mother-of-pearl boxes and photo frames, netted lanterns, Singapore-themed art and other decorative homeware. Visha and her team are always on hand to give styling tips and advice on which items to choose – whether for your own home or as unique gift ideas for birthdays, housewarmings or other special occasions. Visha believes it is these final touches that truly transform a space. “You can have all your big pieces in place, but art, soft furnishings and rugs – that’s what turns a house into a home,” she says. “We’re all spending so much time at home, and that place has to create a sense of well-being.”

Though her ah-ha moment as a designer came relatively late in her working life, founding The Cinnamon Room was brewing since the beginning of her life. “I had a very creative mother, who created a beautiful home,” she recalls. “And when we traveled, I was always drawn to boutique hotels, where each item told a story.”

Fortunately for Singapore, Visha’s long-held sense of soul and storytelling has found its ultimate expression in The Cinnamon Room.

The Cinnamon Room is located at #02-74, Block 43 Jalan Merah Saga and is open Tuesdays–Saturdays from 11am-4pm. For more information, please visit the official website and follow The Cinnamon Room on Instagram and Facebook.

The post How a Singaporean ex-lawyer became an interior design entrepreneur appeared first on SilverKris.

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