Saturday, June 13, 2009

BTO: The world in miniature

Business Times - 13 Jun 2009


The world in miniature

Global citizens Michael Voigtmann and Malissa Desmazieres have turned their black-and-white home in multicultural Singapore into an artistic reflection of their panoramic world view. By Geoffrey Eu

THERE'S more than a hint of the global citizen in the story of Michael Voigtmann and Malissa Desmazieres, and not just because they are children of mixed marriages, inveterate world travellers and partners in business and personal life who - as fate would have it - met, fell in love and now reside in multicultural Singapore. Not surprisingly, their home is a reflection of their panoramic world view.

Born in Munich to a German father and an Iranian mother, Mr Voigtmann, 41, grew up in Sydney and got a doctorate in organic chemistry before returning to Germany to work in the technology industry. He moved here 11 years ago and now runs a company that makes components for mobile phones.

But that's just his day job - catering to what he calls 'the German half of me'. When it comes to his cultural pursuits, however, Mr Voigtmann believes in mixing business with pleasure, or having his wine and drinking it too, as it were.

About two years ago, he started Goddess Wines, a company that imports champagne and fine wine, primarily from St Emilion. 'The Iranian side of me is a bit more interested in lifestyle,' he says. 'That's my balance - all work and no play is not good, I like privately-owned wineries - the antithesis of my day job in German-style manufacturing - that focus on family-style, hand-crafted wines.'

He adds: 'It also underlies my other passion, which is art. One thing's for sure, art with champagne and wine is synergy, because where there's one, there's usually the other.' Mr Voigtmann cites a small champagne producer - L'Hoste from the village of Bassuet - as being representative of the types of wines he likes.

'The smaller, family-owned producers are like jewels to me,' he says. 'They don't even believe in marketing - we begged them to allow us to bring their champagne to Singapore.' He adds: 'You have to look harder but when you discover them and introduce them to new markets, there's much more of a sense of value.'

Ms Desmazieres, 27, is half-French, half-Laotian and is an Asian art specialist who studied history of art, worked in Paris and London, and came to Singapore a few years ago to work in the South-east Asian paintings department at Sotheby's. She is now an independent art consultant who travels between Paris, Bangkok and Singapore, promoting contemporary Western art and the work of emerging and mid-career artists through her company Imprimatura.

Home in Singapore for Mr Voigtmann and Ms Desmazieres is a compact black-and-white semi-D in Wessex Estate with two upstairs bedrooms and a downstairs study and living room, tastefully decorated with an eclectic mix of European and Asian furniture, Persian carpets, black-and-white photographs and bold examples of work by artists they admire from the Asia-Pacific region.

Artworks occupy much of the wall space in the house, and every room features a large painting or colourful print. 'It's our personal quirkiness that we like big format works,' says Mr Voigtmann. 'Art's a long-term investment, and the returns are not just monetary - why not invest in something that you actually derive pleasure from? It enriches your life.'

Interesting decorative items include a 19th-century Iranian samovar, a tribal carpet from southern Iran and a pair of lacquered eggshell stools from Vietnam. Outside, there is an inviting open-air terrace and dining area where the couple enjoys hanging out or entertaining friends with wine tasting sessions. It got to the point where they had so many people coming over to the house that they had to look for an alternative space to hold the tastings.

The terrace overlooks a tidy tropical garden with an unusual view - the railway line to Malaysia runs past less than 50 metres from the back gate. Several trains pass by each day, but a sense of quiet still pervades the estate, says Mr Voigtmann. 'One of the key features of the house is the garden - we've designed it so that it seamlessly integrates with the house, and the idea is to feel like we're on holiday,' he says.

The garden area is lush and inviting, entirely evocative of the tropics. 'It's wonderful being close to nature - this is where we do a lot of living,' he says. 'When I first moved here the place was absolutely undeveloped, it had that kampong feel, and there's still a sense of that now.'

He adds, 'This house represents a significant cultural element of Singapore - it's history. For us, it's important to understand the local heritage - if we were in an apartment, we might as well be living in Bangkok.'

Thanks in part to their own unique multi-cultural backgrounds, they both also have an inclination towards heritage architecture, says Ms Desmazieres. 'What we like most about this house is that it's an oasis of calm and tranquillity.'

She adds: 'It allows us to experience Asian heritage, and even though we are living in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, it feels like this is our slice of paradise in Singapore.'

Search and discovery


THIS US-based website labels itself a 'social network for foodies with search and discovery for everyone'. What that translates to is food reviews from more than 800 cities around the world along with recipes, information on food brands that it has partnered with, and a micro-blogging capability, among other features. The site is also home to one of the largest food-blogger communities in cyberspace, so fans of food blogs: eat your heart out.


'HUNGRY go where?' If you're in the region and have access to this website, you probably won't be asking that question. Apart from listing a good many restaurants, bistros, bars and hawker stalls in Singapore, HGW (as it's known to regular users) also features thousands of eateries in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and Melbourne. It partners with restaurants to offer special promotions too. Those with iPhones will be happy to note that an iPhone version of HGW was recently made available at the iTunes store.


FOUNDER, coffee-lover and frequent traveller Mario Hardy believes that coffee places (not commercial ones like Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, mind) are excellent showcases of local culture, which is why his website is a compilation of quirky cafes around the world. This is coupled with nice 'travel companion' touches such as an on-site world clock and games. It's all about coffee for now, but look out for teahouses and city guides in future.


THIS search application for restaurants and bars is currently only for iPhone and Android phone users, but a version for Nokia smartphones is in the works, say the developers. Users can rate restaurants, write short reviews (called buUurps) and share opinions on a food forum, among other features. buUuk now covers Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Western Australia, but it plans to add India and China soon - along with 'nearly all of Asia' by the end of the year', says co-founder Jon Petersen.

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