Shimmering in red, black and gold, Singapore's newest boutique hotel oozes sensuality Designing an interior decor where 80-plus rooms had to be singularly individual yet cosmically connected started like any other monumental task: with one small step. For Michael Tan, concept director behind Singapore's swish new boutique hotel The Scarlet, this came in the form of a tiny piece of deep red, richly textured chenille fabric. 'When I saw that swatch [from stylish Dutch draper Russell & Harvey] it became the first piece on the game board,' says Mr Tan. This set the tone, colour scheme, and even the name for his development of a sensuous, dramatic environment intended to 'hit you as soon as you walk in the door'. Except for perhaps the size of the project, Mr Tan's brief was a designer's dream. No two rooms were to be the same, and within those parameters lay a blank canvas giving him total freedom of creative expression. The Scarlet, he says, is naughty but nice. It might be provocative, bold and brazen, but at the same time it reflects a passion for life. 'I was very fortunate in that the owners were bold and daring, and open to fresh ideas that allowed me to push design limits,' he says. 'Even the fact that the names The Scarlet for the property and Desire for our main restaurant were accepted immediately by them was really quite surprising. What helped most was that the owners were convinced we were heading in the right direction in terms of the entire concept for our targeted market.' That market is not merely those who need to book a bed for the night. It's for people seeking to arouse the senses with a flirtatious, if somewhat saucy, experience away from home. An encounter with The Scarlet, says Mr Tan, is 'like meeting a vivacious, uninhibited woman that you will want to meet time and time again'. Nothing was left to chance on this mission, with Europe, America and Asia being scoured to source the best and boldest of everything. Mr Tan's budget had the flexibility to ensure that key pieces of furniture, artwork or lighting could be custom made if it was deemed necessary to create the desired impression, but at the same time he loved hunting for interesting pieces at second-hand stalls. 'It is definitely possible to find something just as lovely and exciting for few dollars at a flea market, than when spending a fortune at a designer gallery,' Mr Tan says. His flea market shopping list included antique chandeliers, old fans and Moroccan lamps. Such expeditions were not in the end successful, due to said items either not fitting the required dimensions or being broken or of inadequate quality, but the decorator in Mr Tan insists this outcome does not diminish the thrill of the chase. Before the fun began, however, came two years of feasibility studies, market research and initial planning, followed by 1? years of toil at the design and interior stage. This was a challenging process as The Scarlet is a refurbished heritage building comprising a row of 19th century shop-houses and a 1924 art deco building. Under Singaporean law, the original architecture, including the facade, structural beams and pillars, had to be retained and restored. 'We spent a lot of effort and time in space planning to ensure all 84 rooms including our five suites were comfortable in size yet individualised,' Mr Tan says. The designer has lost count of how many individual pieces make up the whole, saying the table lamps alone number more than 300. His favourite items include the upholstered panel behind the front desk (made from the original Russell & Harvey fabric that inspired the entire project) and the high-backed chairs in the lobby. These pieces add to an indulgent entrance shimmering in red, black and gold with red Italian Bisazza mosaics, a Harrison & Gill gilded mirror and Venetian chandeliers as highlights. 'I am also fond of the fabrics used in the Bold bar and Swank suite,' Mr Tan says. In Bold, the gold and red signature colours are enhanced with warm beige tones in the Asian walnut flooring, while a black, padded-leather bar with matching gold-fringed chairs add assertiveness. Swank - one of five suites in the hotel - subtly sashays in Maharam platinum wall coverings, silver silk curtains, furniture finished in silver leaf, mocha wool carpets and black lacquer with damask. Jim Thompson fabrics accent the suite, which is reflected in the Harrison & Gill silver leaf and black lacquer mirrors. 'Another favourite would be the wallpaper used in The Sanctum,' says Mr Tan of the intimate boardroom leading off the Bold bar. 'We collected hundreds of quotes from famous people - Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Jim Morrison - to create our own wallpaper, then teamed it with red chairs around a black lacquer table, its Absoluto Nero granite top reflecting the light of the Venetian chrome and crystal chandelier above.' The restaurants Desire and Breeze have very different atmospheres. The audacious Desire gives a feminine touch to the dramatic red and black colour scheme with pearl finishes on the dining tables, white stone flooring interspersed with silver columns and fuchsia highlights. The romantic Breeze goes Mediterranean with its ambience of al fresco dining on a roof terrace, juxtaposing a fibre-optic bar with Dedon day beds, love seats, low tables and a liberal scattering of cushions. Whenever his creative flow hit a stumbling block, Mr Tan would refer to magazines, walk around the city in search of inspiration, or take short weekend breaks to refresh and recharge. And even though the biggest project most people will ever design is their own home - not a hotel - Mr Tan asserts that the same design principles apply. 'If you have a good eye for colours and materials, designing a house is quite similar. Never be limited by trends. Don't be afraid to juxtapose textures and materials. Designing a home should be a personal experience. There are no rules: after all, it is your personal space.'