How A Former Art Teacher Makes A Living Painting Murals In Strangers’ Homes In One Of The World’s Most Expensive Cities

How A Former Art Teacher Makes A Living Painting Murals In Strangers' Homes In One Of The World's Most Expensive Cities

  • Geraldine Toh is a Singaporean interior designer specializing in botanical wall art.

  • The former art teacher began designing homes and painting murals for clients during the pandemic.

  • Unlike wallpaper, however, wallpaper can be customized to match the furniture in the room.

Scroll through Geraldine To's Instagram feed and you'll see dozens of photos of cozy interiors and intricate wallpaper in rich fall colors.

And they're all part of her work: To is a 31-year-old interior designer from Singapore who specializes in botanical wallpaper.

Despite her artistic background, she never imagined starting her own interior design and styling business with her husband Vincent. He works in the fintech industry, but comes from a family that runs a roofing and construction company in Malaysia.

Tho was a full-time art teacher at a local high school, but the pandemic finally opened up opportunities for him to venture into a new field.

"While everyone was complaining about not being able to go out, it was great for me because people were staying home and were more concerned with their space," Toh told Insider.

And it all started at home: in his children's room he painted a fresco for the first time.

"It was a botanical painting, it didn't surprise me, and when I got home I said I would definitely do it again, but on a larger scale," To said.

When Toh and her husband moved in together, the time she was forced to spend at home due to the pandemic gave her the opportunity to pick up a brush and decorate the house.

Singapore is, along with New York, on the list of the most expensive cities in the world to live. Singaporean couples like Tho can take advantage of public housing, which is subsidized by the government.

The couple's home in Tampines, an area in eastern Singapore, was also an interior design project they undertook.

"We focused a lot on the furniture. We took a lot of pride in the furniture and the assembly to make sure everything was complete," To said.

Although To creates floor plans and oversees renovations like an interior designer, he sees himself as a stylist.

"I would say that most interior designers in Singapore will hand over the keys to the house once the renovation is complete," Toh said. “But for us, we also help our clients after the move, and that's where we come in to decorate their home.”

Styling involves not only buying new furniture, but also coordinating items customers already own to create a space that reflects them, she said.

"People come with jewelry or souvenirs they've collected from their previous trips or homes, and we strongly encourage our customers to keep wearing them rather than buy new items," he said.

Her husband helps her with special projects and focuses mainly on the accounting, logistics and technical aspects of running her own styling business, Toh added.

After posting photos of her home on Instagram, Toh received requests for interior design and wallpaper.

According to Toh, the original motivation for creating the account was to share photos of her home with other members of the online home and décor community.

"It wasn't even about sharing information or anything like that," he said. But when the pandemic started, people became more interested in home decorating and started looking online for tips.

“We also had more time, so we started giving advice on where to buy things or how to maintain and take care of certain things,” he added.

Before they knew it, brands were arriving at their homes for collaborations and photo shoots, and as a result, the couple was receiving commissions for interior design services and commissions for murals.

"We treat our first project as a service and don't charge for it," Toh said. "We had a few more options from there, and I decided I had to choose between my job as a teacher and this one."

A quote for painting and interior design services is available upon request for any project.

Toh usually charges S$300-400 or S$225-300 per square meter for his murals. It depends on the complexity of the design and how crowded the room is, Toh said.

"If the client is looking for something broader or something simpler with more abstract shapes, it's technically easier to create, so they're on the lower end of the spectrum," he said.

For example, according to the Singapore company's website, a floor-to-ceiling mural two to three meters long can cost between $1,500 and $3,000. Wallpaper of this size takes 10-14 hours (about a day or two).

His murals generally consist of flora and fauna, although he occasionally takes commissions in other styles, such as line drawings.

Each mural begins with a sketch prior to the actual painting day, and the entire ordering process typically takes around a month.

Clients should provide photo references of the type of wallpaper they have in mind, along with photos and wallpaper sizes, Toh said.

"In cases where they're not sure what they want, I make suggestions," Toh said. "Sometimes I try to relate the design to her personal experience, like using flowers from a bridal bouquet."

Unlike murals, which tend to repeat themselves across an entire wall, murals can be customized to complement the placement of furniture in a room.

In fact, Toh recommends that the murals match the furniture.

"For example, if you have a TV on the wall, you can make wallpaper with plants growing behind it," To said.

At home, To has a mural of roses on the hallway wall, perfectly framed by the door seen from the master bedroom.

"Everything on the mural is done on purpose," he added.

If the wallpaper seems too big, Toh suggests using blocks of color to brighten the space and add accents.

Color blocks are an easy way to add splashes of color to a home, Toh said. And it's not just about the color, it's also about the placement.

"If you paint all four walls with colors like electric blue or forest green, it looks a bit heavy," To said. "Geometric, taking up part of the ceiling and going down the wall, really adds visual interest."

But at the end of the day, every home is a work in progress, and you don't have to worry about not being able to undo design decisions, Toh added: "It takes effort, but changes can always be made."

Read the original insider article

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