Furnishing a home: Fittings, appliances and where to get them
A lot of research went into every single item that we bought for our house, so here’s sharing some of the wisdom and knowledge we have acquired from our research and experience 🙂
Look out for online flash sales on
Rakuten.com.sg (Rakuten closed down in March 2016 :() and Courts.com.sg and sometimes Lazada. MEGA Discount Store on Rakuten has up to 15-20% discount on Tuesdays with MasterCard, and Courts randomly gives up to $139 coupons on certain festive periods. It is really a great deal when you can get such discounts of big bucket items, better than buying from Mustafa or Parisilk! However, sometimes the in-store price quoted by the person at MEGA can be cheaper than the online price, so always check both!
One of the most important things to decide is what kind of lights you want for your home, and how bright you want them to be. For most people, they leave this complicated decision to the interior designer or contractor’s recommendation. However, being the picky ones, and since we are both lighting nerds in one way or another (Liz and I have film background, and I design concert lighting in church), we decided to be heavily involved in the lighting design process.
(This part might sound a bit technical and remind you of Physics class, so skip it if you wish.) Back in the good old days before LED, one gauged the brightness of a bulb from just number of watts. But now with LED, the wattage does not necessary determine the brightness as it depends on the efficiency of the LED chip. Hence, the more accurate measurement is how many lumens the LED bulb produces.
Lumens: a measure of the total amount of visible light (to the human eye) from a lamp or light source (Source)
Now, the next question is, how many lumens do you need for each room? I was trying to find a guide online to answer that question, and I found a handy calculator on this website. For example, a typical BTO-sized bedroom (3m by 4m by 2.6m) needs about 1800 lumens of light according to the calculator. Then, your next question is probably: what does 1800 lumens even mean? Well, 1800 lumens is the equivalent of an old school 100W incandescent (read: filament) lightbulb. What about LED? Check the packaging of the bulb or go to their website to find out. We recommend Megaman bulbs, they are pretty affordable and reliable, and they have more options than your typical Philips or Ikea bulbs.
The next thing that we were particular about is the colour temperature of our lights, which most people are clueless about (Don’t mind? Or don’t care? Ever wondered why the light in your grandparent’s house/your own living room looks so dim and gross? -Liz). Colour temperature is how “white” your light is, and bulbs are usually available in the following options:
- 2800K–3500K: Warm white – like those hipster filament bulbs you see in cafes
- 4000K: Cool white – most office environments use these in fluorescent tubes
- 5000–6500K: Daylight – most kitchen lights and HDB corridor tubes
The truth is, most lighting available out there (in Singapore, as we realized) is either 2800K or 6500K, which is why when you look up at a HDB block at night, the lights emitting from the windows are usually either too yellow or too white. The sweet spot is 4000K, and we had to hunt high and low for these bulbs because they are rare(r)! Furthermore, we bought some track light holders from Taobao which only fits PAR30L (a type of light fixture used commonly in malls and retail shops). Hence, I literally walked through the whole Balestier Road row of lighting shops, popping into almost every single one to see what range of 4000K bulbs they had. But there was nothing that fit the holders that we bought. We were at the crossroads having to decide whether to trash our Taobao light holders (and get new holders that fit bulbs more commonly available in Singapore), or continue the arduous search for the elusive bulbs. Our saving grace finally came when a friend recommended that we contact KP from VTX Solutions. KP is a very experienced lighting supplier who supplies bulbs to big stores and malls. He gave us recommendations and sold us some pretty good PAR30L 4000K bulbs at a good price, although made in China too.
Here’s our final lighting list:
- 2m Tracks, fluorescent tube cage casing from Verde Light – Not the cheapest place in Singapore, but they had good service and was recommended by our ID
- Track light holders from Taobao – not the best quality/shop but we were very specific about the design that we wanted. This was the one that caused us to hunt for the right PAR30L bulb
- Industrial hanging lights from Taobao:
- Hipster-looking filament LED bulbs from Taobao – best buy
- Studio-looking light stand from Taobao – half price of SG shops
- Single bulb holders from Taobao for toilets
- Motion sensor portable light tube – interesting tiny gadget from Taobao that only turns on when you walk into the toilet in the middle of the night. Runs on batteries!
Liz is a big fan of ceiling fans, having lived with them in her previous home. I didn’t know ceiling fans were that great… until now. Anyway, our house ceiling is pretty low (2.4m) but neither of us are that tall (haha), so as long as we don’t anyhow jump around and wave our hands in the air like they just don’t care, we are pretty safe. (But our tall friends (1.7–1.9m tall) cannot raise their hands and worship Jesus in our house because they will touch the fan blades or knock into our hanging lights. Haha.) Good and pretty ceiling fans in Singapore are expensive, especially the atas brands like Haiku and Spin ($800–$1200 PER FAN. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. -Liz). KDK is supposedly the most reliable brand but they are not hip (Very ugly, not designer approved. -Liz). Crestar and Fanco are cheaper but not as pretty. So someone told us that JB has cheap lighting and fans, so we ventured out on a trip by car to Tampoi Lighting Centre in JB. It’s about 20-min drive after the customs, and it is like a mini version of Balestier, but in JB. There’s a row of shophouses with lighting shops, and you can get lighting at half price or even more than Singapore stores, because everything is in ringgit! We wanted something that looked woody to match the industrial look of our house. Someone recommended us Elmark. So we bought four Elmark LMD 31 ceiling fans at S$135 each, and it is a steal, because the same fan is selling at $669 at a certain shop in Singapore! It’s insanely cheap. Of course, the warranty will be only in Malaysia lah. But so far our fans have been great and it doesn’t really cost that much to get an electrician to take a look at it if anything happens. Plus, at that price, if anything happens, it’ll probably be more cost effective to drive back to JB and get a new fan.
*Note that you may have to pay GST at our customs when you arrive depending on whether you’re travelling 48 hours or more. Check out the customs website for more info.
This is probably the most useful appliance in the house which we use once or twice a week! One of the main questions that most couples fight over is, should we get a top-loader or front-loader? Ladies usually prefer the top-loader as it is (supposedly) more ergonomic to load clothes from the top. On the other hand, front-loaders, although more expensive, are known to be more energy/water-saving (look out for PUB labels), gentler on the clothes and easier to iron. I found out that for my case, that last point is a myth. Haha. My shirts are still as hard to iron as my previous home’s top-loader. The next question is, European brand or Japanese brand? The salespersons in the stores will tell you that the Samsung and LG has caught up with the European Bosch and Electrolux brands, and they are cheaper and just as good. The other main problem is, it is hard to find washing machine reviews online of the local models, as most of the reviews are of USA/European models. Hence, I spent many hours in the Courts and Harveys looking at and comparing the various brands.
So in the end, we opted for a Samsung 8kg front-loader WW80H5400EW. Samsung sounded more reliable than LG and had better reviews. Also, it is one of the most water-efficient (6.40 l/kg) and it was selling at a reasonable price at ~$800, which is a good buy for a front-loader. (Although the same price could get us a 9 or 10kg top-loader. But as a UI designer, I didn’t like the UI of all the top-loaders. Haha). So far, it has performed pretty well, love the 15min Quick Wash function for small loads, and it takes about 46-57 minutes for a Daily Wash on a full load. The Delicates function works well for Liz’s dresses and undergarments in 31 minutes. Also, if you are gauging how many kg to buy, 8kg can fit our king-sized bedsheet, 2x pillow cases, 2x bolster cases and a thin summer quilt/blanket comfortably in 1 load! Takes 1.5 hours for the bedding function.
What about a dryer? We debated whether we needed one. After all, it is expensive (similar or more expensive than the washing machine) and energy consuming in terms of high electricity bills. After living in the house for 1 month, our utility room is comfortably drying all our clothes on the poles in 24-48 hours, so we concluded we didn’t need one. If we didn’t have any hanging clothes space, then maybe we would consider.
A huge house takes longer to clean, so we decided to invest in a robotic vacuum cleaner. Our friend recommended us to check out the Neato, a competitor to iRobot. It is better than iRobot because it cleans in a systematic manner instead of going around randomly. It is not available in stores, so we researched and decided to get the D80 from a local reseller autovacstore.com instead of buying online from Amazon, as the local store provided extended warranty option. The seller, Vincent, is very nice and responsive, and personally delivered the item to our house and showed us how to use it. Unfortunately, the first unit we bought was slightly defective, and one of the wheels was stuck and it could only turn in one direction. Since it was under warranty, he kindly came to repair it once, but it still didn’t work, and he came again to exchange 1-for-1. Very good service and highly recommended to buy from them if you wish to get one. The second unit performed like a charm, it managed to skirt through the corners under the sofa and bed and come out of them by itself, although the battery life was slightly disappointing as it could only vacuum half the house (living room + bedroom) on one full charge. It is nevertheless, a very good corgi-hair-harvester, as evidently proven by the photo below:
They say made-in-Japan fridges are still the best, and Liz swears by the Vacuum compartment in the Hitachi models. They help to keep meat fresh longer without freezing them. However, they are more expensive than many other brands. In the end, her mother blessed us with her existing fridge, which is a R-S45EMS.
The MEGA Discount Store person told us that Brandt was the best brand as it is the sister brand of De Detrich. However, it was slightly pricey for us. We were deciding between Ariston and Bosch as they were about the same price range (~$600). In the end, we opted for the Bosch HBN331E2J, and we realised that most condos actually have the same exact oven built-in. It’s been performing superbly well, baking all kinds of things and heats up pretty fast.
Stove / Gas Hob
We decided to have a conventional stainless steel gas hob, as the induction glass ones were harder to clean and maintain. The MEGA Discount Store person recommended us the Brandt one as it has a more solid steel support, and is easy to clean. We didn’t get any hood combination as we thought hoods are pretty useless and noisy.
The shop recommended us the Joven JH25 water storage heater due to its stainless water drum feature. We didn’t think much of it as it was not very expensive. It turned out to be pretty good as the hot water stored inside usually can last for 2 days!
I read up a bit on the best iron brands available out there, and found out that Tefal makes one of the best irons, made in France. Wanted to try a cordless one but it was too expensive and not worth it. But didn’t want to buy a cheap one that spoils easily either. Wanted something that can iron fast, has steam features and fuss-free, which is the Tefal Aquaspeed FV5375. It’s quite heavy, but definitely halves my ironing time as compared to the cheap $50 iron that my previous house uses.
They say, spend the most money on the thing which you spend the most time on. And since we spend 1/3 of our day sleeping, it makes sense to spend the most money on the bed. We went to try many beds at a few departmental stores, especially at Robinsons and IMM, to get a feel of what we like. The thing about beds is, the big brands sell different models at different stores at varying prices, hence it is very hard to compare and contrast. Furthermore, they confuse you with big marketing words like “Titanium Spring”, “Boutique Hotel”, “Prestige” etc. Thus, it is hard to find any specific reviews of any model online! This is one of the most frustrating things as a buyer, as opposed to computer stuff in which all the specs are available for you to compare.
We did settle on what we want though: something firm as we don’t like super soft and bouncy beds; latex pillow-top as it is cooling and we don’t like the feel of memory foam; king-size because we can fit one ;). I did not want to spend anything above $4000 on the expensive brands, because I felt they were overpriced. After trying many beds at various places, we went to one of those Expo furniture fairs, and there was a Sealy special deal of $2870 for a “Landmark Limited Edition” king-size mattress with latex pillow top, which is exactly what we wanted. That’s a steal! I didn’t expect to spend <$3000 on a Sealy. It’s definitely not as spectacular as the $4000 ones, but it was really a good buy and this was our most satisfied purchase :). The real test of a bed is sleeping it in real life over a period of time, and we can testify that it’s very comfortable, and we don’t really feel each other’s turning around in the middle of the night.
So if you’re buying a bed, wait for those Expo fairs. The King Coil Boutique Hotel series are pretty good too.
Last but not least, we realised that we don’t really have time to watch TV often, which is why this was the last item to buy. Hence, we also didn’t want to spend too much money on it. I was researching for the optimal TV size, which this article gives a good write-up on it. I concluded that 55-inch is too big for my 3m-wide living room, so anything around 48-50 inches is about right. I was eying a Samsung 50-inch UHD LED TV, but it was quite expensive, selling at $1399 at various electronic fairs. I did not want to spend >$1k on something that I only use once or twice a week. Incidentally, I found out that Xiaomi sells TVs too, just not in Singapore. Thought of buying with the rest of the furniture from Taobao, but was afraid that the glass would break during shipping. In the end, I bought a 48-inch Xiaomi TV 2s from this seller on Qoo10 (the TV is no longer on sale though). Collected from his warehouse at Ubi and ubered it home myself to save the delivery charge. The person probably buys and resells things from China. At $900, it is a steal for a 48-inch 4K TV. Plus, it uses a Samsung LED screen hardware, so essentially, it is the same thing as a Samsung but in a Xiaomi case. And the cool thing is, it runs on Xiaomi’s Android platform, so you can install all the cool Android TV apps! But the bad thing is, it was in Chinese, so I had to find a way to change the Android Language Settings using the Wukong Remote app (no root required). There’s one bug with the TV OS though, for some reason, the default YouTube app lags a bit, but all other video playback is ok. Can also plug in USB drive play any video!
We also bought a few other Xiaomi stuff from Taobao, such as:
- Xiaoyi IP Camera – a copycat of the nest/dropcam at a fraction of the price. Works well although the connection sometimes drops by itself
- Weighing machine – probably the cheapest and most Apple-like digital weighing machine. However, day-to-day use seems to be inaccurate. The first reading is always 1-2kg heavier than the subsequent ones 🙁
- Mini Router – Wanted to try the router. The UI and setup process is very elegant. However, do not buy the mini one if you are plugging it into a 1 Gbps connection because the WAN port is only 100 Mbits. Buy the big one with 1TB hdd.