Refreshingly honest with infectious energy for life, Jessica Iliffe, interior and furniture designer, former model and mother of four, will have you wanting to pick up the pace in following your own dreams, while also slowing down to appreciate everyday life and the gift of family...
Despite her long list of accomplishments, global travel and big plans, Jessica has never forgotten her roots. “Growing up in a Vietnamese refugee family was difficult for me. Trying to assimilate into the Australian way of life and trying to find the balance with both cultures was hard. It took me a long time to find my identity because of this.” After stints in Singapore, Shanghai and Sydney, Jessica now finds herself back in Singapore, this time with her family of six, exploring as much of the world near and far as they can together (and with some lovely family traditions of one-on-one time with mum once each child turns 12). Jessica also has over 10 years of experience on how to sustain a sense of self, while also having the role of mother. “I think mothers tend to lose their identity and struggle with having to give up their life for a family,” she Jessica. “It’s rewarding but we have to be kind to ourselves too. We ultimately give a lot and forget to self-care and love. I am pro this, and through the 10 years of having babies I have learnt many things and this is number 1 on the list!” There is so much inspiration in Jessica’s fascinating life thus far and we just know there is a whole lot more to come. Read on to glean her home styling tips, advice on sharing the love between a large family, and how they survive (and thrive) without a TV at home. Photography: Clare Barker Wells | Go to www.jessicailiffe.com
What are your most vivid memories of your childhood?
My most vivid childhood memories would be in the garden with my grandmother who grew every Asian vegetable possible in her yard. She would cook the most amazing Vietnamese food from scratch. I would help her in the kitchen, we would sit on the floor and talk, smell and taste. Every weekend all family members would descend and it was all about food, family and more food. All my aunties busily prepping in the kitchen, the smells were so intoxicating. I grew up in Perth, Western Australia. We were sent to Perth after we arrived in Darwin. My family were Vietnamese refugee boat people. I have four siblings, I am the eldest of four. I have two brothers and a sister. We spent our time growing up with our many cousins at my grandmother’s house. There was a park opposite her house and we used to just play and roam the neighbourhood. My grandmother looked after all the grandchildren whilst all the parents worked. My grandmother had seven children who followed her to Australia with my grandfather.
When did you move to Singapore?
We moved here 18 months ago, it’s my second stint here. I lived here 20 years ago before children. We have also lived in Shanghai which was so much fun.
Tell us about your career before Jessica Iliffe interiors?
I started out studying fashion design in Perth. It was all I ever wanted to do and knew it from age 11. I fell into modelling because I was fairly tall, this led me to travel and ended up in Singapore where I spent quite a few years. I then moved to Sydney for Fashion week, met my husband and stayed. I studied natural therapies at the time and ran my own mobile massage business before falling pregnant and moving to Shanghai. We moved back to Sydney and where I started my interior design business. My neighbour in Singapore relocated to Shanghai as well, he was an interior designer and I ended up exploring the furniture factories and started manufacturing custom made furniture whilst living in Shanghai. I moved back to Sydney and kept my business going, supplying to designers and clients. It really changed when clients asked me to extend my services into Interior styling and then design. I basically learnt on the job and winged it. Luckily I had a close interior designer friend who really helped me with all the processes. I am not formally trained but managed to oversee large commercial and residential projects not just in Australia but worldwide. I am now studying for my formal degree. Having help here is a godsend.
When did you launch your furniture business? Can you explain what you offer? Tell us more about your interior styling and interior design services…
I offer custom design and manufacturing of furniture, clients get to select the design finishes, fabrics, foam, feather etc. It’s a really bespoke design. I basically design interior concepts, interior spaces. This means renovations, new builds. I design new joinery, kitchens, bathrooms, all living spaces. Select all the paint, flooring, tiles, finishes, fittings including lighting. I even select all the white goods. It’s quite in-depth and I project manage the builder, produce tender documents, drawings and also budgets and schedules for clients. The furniture and soft furnishings come in after all this has been done.
Advice to women launching their own business?
Go for it, it’s the most rewarding thing but the balance can be sometimes challenging especially where children are involved and if you work from home. Work, life balance can come at a cost especially when you start out and you want to keep the business costs down, cash flow can be difficult too so make sure you have realistic goals and how to sustain the bank balance. Build a good network of other women who are in the same position and are supportive and are a positive influence. It does feel lonely if you work from home as you don’t have the access to a social working team. Make extra efforts to go out for meetings and visit other offices or work in a shared office with like-minded people. Do your homework on how you set up your business especially when living abroad. Other women are great at sharing stories and are a wealth of knowledge and contacts. Surround yourself with positive people, there is no room for toxic time wasters. Aim high, have realistic goals and plan your business well. you will be able to find seed investors if you really know your business inside out and are putting 250% into it.
Who or what inspires and motivates you on a daily basis?
My husband inspires me, he has built his own company from scratch which has grown it into a large corporate company. There has been many ups and downs and many mistakes made but he has inspired me to think anything is possible. He is also an amazing person and very humble and wise. I am a self-motivator because I love what I do. I am very determined and I work really hard and smart most of the times especially in time management and multitasking. Remember we are not aiming to be super human/women but we can manage it all if you can outsource and delegate where you can. I like to keep busy and I tend to fit a lot in my day and life in general. I learn a lot from my children they also inspire me to be a better person. We love podcasts and meditate as a family, we explore subjects together and learn together. It’s so exciting to plant seeds in their minds to actually think outside the box and to question and to explore the infinite possibilities out there. Find the one thing you love and do it. It’s not about the money. Money is just energy it will always come and flow in and out. We are grateful for everything in our lives, we are so lucky. I believe that we are one with the universe and everything that you want, just throw it out there, the universe will always listen and will send you back what you need.
How did you find your pregnancies and early days with a newborn?
Tough, without any family or much help. I suffered post natal depression after my eldest was born, I had no idea I actually had it. I didn’t have much support. I was fairly young considering all my friends were not married. I attended mother’s groups but found that it was so competitive and it made my condition worse. I felt I was not ticking every box and I was not a great mother. This group thing wasn’t for me. In the end, I found some friends through my husband that was not competitive but welcoming with older children that gave me support especially with routines. I guess with the first child you are poking around in the dark. I found motherhood became easier with more children, it comes down to experience and of course routine routine routine. I think it’s important to also have a life and don’t forget who you are and your identity. I think mothers tend to lose their identity and struggle with having to give up their life for a family.
What’s been your favourite age and stage with your children?
It’s all pretty wonderful, all the stages have plus and minuses. I think just watching them grow, learn, change and evolve as little people to young adults is pretty amazing. The unconditional love they give is so powerful it’s magical. When they tell you they love you, it makes your heart melt. The first of everything… first tooth, first step, first graduation, first crush.. you get to relive your childhood again through their experiences. I get to experience this four times, how wonderful is that. Also, communication is vital even with your children, we are not always right and cannot read minds. Be open with them so they feel secure enough to share their lives with you too.
Motto or quote you live by?
I think to be kind, respectful, grateful, love without hesitation and be non-judgemental.
How do you self-care – what are the things you do to take care of yourself?
I train with a personal trainer three times a week, I have private Pilates twice a week and gym on the weekend. I am on a mission to be stronger. I regularly have massages and take time out too to ground myself by planting my feet on the grass to replenish the universal energy.
What has motherhood taught you?
To be a better person, hopefully I can be an inspiration to my children one day.
What sort of mother do you aspire to be? How would you describe your parenting style?
I hope to inspire my children by being the best I can be as a person. I am always around if they need me, I am fairly hands off but I always check in. We don’t own our children, we are here to help guide and teach them to be better versions of themselves. They learn from just watching you.
What was your own childhood like and has it influenced the type of mother you are today?
Growing up in a Vietnamese refugee family was difficult for me. Trying to assimilate into the Australian way of life and trying to find the balance with both cultures was hard. It took me a long time to find my identity because of this. My parents were migrants and worked really hard. My father was always great at teaching all the foundations but I didn’t really have a close bond with my parents and it was difficult for my mother to communicate and share her love. As a result, I have chosen to love and communicate and to be closer to my children. We do have a choice to keep the same pattern or to change it.
What do you want to teach your girls about self-love in a selfie-obsessed world?
I think my girls are pretty well adjusted. I have always been open with my struggles when I was modelling with body image and weight. I am never on a diet or even if I am on a training programme I discuss why and how it is helping me with my goals. They are growing and need a well-balanced diet, especially to fuel them with all the training and exercise they are doing. Our body is our temple and we need to fuel the body. Listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. I didn’t allow Instagram and social media until they were legally allowed to. I think there is enough going on in their friendships that can be tricky. By adding social media to the mix is quite toxic at an impressionable age. We discuss this with our girls and luckily they are confident enough that they don’t feel the need to take selfies. They have a good understanding of body image at this stage, so fingers crossed.
How do you approach a big family and giving everyone the attention they need?
This is why I stopped at four children, we would have kept going to six! It’s tricky when we both work and my husband travels weekly and only around on the weekends. We always make an effort to have one on one time with each of the kids by having a juice/coffee during the week, or alternate week for each child. It gets a bit busy as you can imagine with all the extra-curricular activities. It’s important to have the one on one time. I think it develops security in the future that they can always share whatever it is that they feel or is happening in their lives with you in confidence. I also implemented a road trip with each child. When they turn 12, they can choose to go anywhere in the world with me. We have 10 days together just one on one before they venture to high school. My husband felt left out so he added the 16-year-old version too, before their finals and university.
What’s the first thing you do when you have a moment to yourself?
Oh gosh, besides training and exercising I suppose having my nails and lashes done is a real treat. It’s my time I give back to me. Also, sleep – I like to have a nanna nap when I can just to give me an added boost especially on the weekends.
What are your time management tips – how do you get everything done in a day?
Wow, I have a lot to manage, six people and all the admin plus work and study not including social life. Everything is put in my diary, there are so many moving parts. I write a lot of weekly and daily checklists. Sometimes I wish my days were longer to fit it all in, to be honest. It does spill to the weekend unfortunately. I try and get up earlier to get my quiet hour before the kids wake up.
What’s your attitude towards health and wellbeing at the moment?
It’s vital and very important to keep ourselves healthy and eat well. Life can be tough and a struggle sometimes, sleep well, self-care and exercise for more energy. Having a background on energy healing and natural health care it’s all about prevention and balanced life. This can be hard sometimes but I try! Remember your mental and spiritual side, we forget this sometimes but it’s vital to have mental quietness and meditate so you can be centred especially when you have a lot on your plate.
What about your beauty essentials - what products or treatments do you swear by?
I try and have a facial at least quarterly and I love the oxygen microdermabrasion to give my skin a good buff. Beauty comes from within. We need to look at what you ingest into your body. Our skin is the largest organ and all the impurities will eventually reveal itself on the surface. I use Ultrceuticals and lots of aromatherapy oils from Doterra currently. I lean towards more natural products and drink lots of water and try to get eight hours of sleep a night.
What’s a typical look fashion for you? What items are on high rotation from your closet?
I love fashion, being in Singapore is a little difficult. Hot outside but you step into an office building or shopping mall and it’s freezing! I am still trying to find my Singapore wardrobe, to be honest. I love all Australian designers. I mix them with Balmain, Isabel Marant, Alexander Wang, Celine. I dress by the motto ‘effortlessly Chic’ with a little edge. I love wide leg pants, I have so many pairs. I just wish I had a larger wardrobe here. I like to invest in classic items which will stand the test of time, these are definitely on high rotation and of course my activewear since I am working out six days a week. I like to be coordinated in this department too, but I am not one to hang out all day in it.
Talk us through the inspiration behind the interior of your home? How has that differed from your previous home spaces?
We have downsized to an apartment from a six bedroom house. Apartment living is simpler I guess, not much room and the one living space is the most prominent. With the downsizing, life is simpler, fewer things you need and less clutter. We end up with so much stuff we don’t need. Living in an apartment keeps you in check as there is no storage space available. I like order and things in its place. Gives me order in the house when there are many people moving around in it, yes I have a little OCD. Currently, my interior style is very black and white and greys which to me are calming tones. The energy changes when there are so many people around and having a more neutral palette helps the serenity. I throw punches of colour in the fresh flowers or candles.
Can you list some of your favourite pieces of furniture/objects in your home?
We used to collect designer furniture but with children, it can be very disheartening when they don’t take as much care as we do. We are at a point now with the youngest turning six, we can go down this road again and start collecting. We just need to move back into a bigger house, it’s tough when we have no extra space available. We love Fornasetti and Art and would love to buy more art. My husband loves his egg and swan chairs from Arne Jacobson. No one is allowed to sit on these! I love all the products that appear in my e-store. I use them every day and have added them to the shop to share with others.
Please share some tips on styling your home…
- Don’t clutter your home. Everything has a purpose.
- It has to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and inviting. There’s no point having a designer home where you are not comfortable actually living in it and it’s a shrine. Enjoy your home – that’s what it’s there for. It’s your sanctuary.
- Spend money on the pieces you love. Quality over quantity, especially when you see it every day.
- Lighting is super important with mood.
- Burn candles or aromatherapy in the house to help with moods.
How do you keep your home tidy/organised with children around? Any tips?
I am lucky to have help now but we have said from day one she is here to help me not them. They were independent of a young age and not having any help in Sydney meant they all had to chip in with chores. We get them to tidy up after themselves, teaches them self respect and respect for their own spaces. We give them chores so that they know it’s not easy to clean and therefore not to make such a big mess. I like a very tidy house, my son and I have dust allergies, therefore my house needs to be dust free.
What are your favourite travel destinations?
Anywhere and everywhere. Travel is so exciting, I have a long list. The seven wonders of the world (natural and man-made) needs to be ticked off first. Travel inspires and influences me in the design process. Being closer to Europe, we can now go for the summer which is great, we love to explore the region too. We have an active sporting family, holidays tend to be places that accommodate, cycling, skiing, surfing, trekking.
Favourite things to do with your children?
Surf, riding our bikes, music, dancing and reading. We have family dance off’s which is so much fun. We also don’t own a TV, this means it’s mostly outdoors for the kids or board games at the ready. My daughters love art, they would spend hours drawing, painting, creating. Have fun with your children and remember to ask them what they would like to do too!
What would you recommend as must-dos for families visiting Singapore?
Explore the Peranakan and history of Singapore. Art galleries, like the Gilman Barracks. Festivals, so many available. Food – try new cuisines, Singapore is foodie heaven. West coast park with bike lanes. Wakesurfing in Punggol.
What are your day-to-day Singapore haunts?
Far East Plaza, I am always there, it’s super quirky and close to home. My husband and I love coffee so we are always looking for great coffee places. Nylon, Glass House, Community Coffee. Tiong Bharu end near Plain Vanilla has a community feel. My favourite pilates is at Pilates Core and Beyond, the instructors are great. Full body strength conditioning. It’s a tough work out but you feel amazing afterwards. I exercise at Ultimate Performance in Telok Ayer. They really push your limits!
Jessica’s little list of loves…
- Aromatherapy for healing and cleaning purposes – diffuser for night time sleep with lavender and for bath time, I infuse with the Epsom salts. Kids love this as well, it’s calming.
- Fresh flowers are always a must in my house.
- Candles from Diptyque and L’object which is new to my store.
- Ferrone glassware, she has amazing glassware which is on my store. I love the origami feel of her designs.
- A Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – he is a friend of ours and loving his new book. Getting through Sapiens as well which is a great insight.
- Mediation apps – exploring more.
- Podcasts, really enjoying new podcasts. I am a bit slow on this but I am addicted now. Devi Ward has some empowering podcasts. so interesting especially in the realms of sex and taboo. Quite controversial topics. Lady Startup is fab for inspirational women and business startups too.
- Joseph Dirand and Kelly Wearstler are my favourite interiors designers who are inspirational. Decus and Mim designs are great Australian design firms too.
- Exercise, I am obsessed with this currently.
- Grain Trader, so easy to pick and choose their salads.
- Butchers Wife for gluten-free meals!