Can Interior Design Help Beat the Heat? This House Does It Right

SINGAPORE’S YEAR-ROUND swelter isn’t that different from the heat in Houston, New Orleans or New York’s subways come July and August. Close to the sea and equator, the island city-state averages temperatures of 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity often reaches a wilting 100%.

So a lot of the interior-design decisions made by Elizabeth Hay when kitting out a three-bedroom home for a young family there translate well to summer retreats in the States, and to city digs whose owners want to tweak their winter décor for the steamy season. “It had to read cozy but not stifling,” said Ms. Hay of the plan. The designer, born in Britain and now based in Singapore, reinterpreted her signature lived-in, English cottage aesthetic for a hot and humid Southeast Asian climate. “We wanted it to have lots of personality but also be easy and breezy in terms of everyday living.”

Ms. Hay used rattan seating indoors and out, because it allows air to breeze through it.


Alecia Neo

The tools in her cooling quiver included materials such as wicker, cane and rattan, which let air circulate, unlike solid, breeze-blocking wood. In the rare instances lumber does appear, light finishes prevail, as in the oak coffee table in the sitting room. Upholstery consists of lightweight linens and cottons that wick heat from the skin.


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“Anything that ‘feels’ hot, like a thick wool or a nubby fleece, can be quite claustrophobic,” said Ms. Hay. “I purposely didn’t use any stuffy fabrics, like mohair.” You won’t find an itchy Oriental rug here either.

Modifying existing architecture to add scallops and arches helped ensure the home feels light and airy. A crisp, soothing palette of primarily blue tones does the same thing. Pink and red are sparingly flicked in.

Here, a room-by-room survey of Ms. Hay’s heat-meliorating tricks.


Alecia Neo


In the living room of a three-bedroom Singapore home, Elizabeth Hay designed with the sticky climate top of mind. Chilly blues dominate, and washable natural linen and cotton textiles—more breathable than their tightly woven performance-fabric counterparts—cloak the furniture. On the built-in bookshelves and trim, Ms. Hay used a Dulux Grey Leaf glossy paint finish that won’t easily flake in the heat. “The added resin seals wood and drywall to resist moisture penetration,” she said. A flat-weave straw rug, made from individual one-foot tiles, is low-maintenance and feels cool underfoot, unlike silk and wool carpeting.


Alecia Neo


Scalloped upper doors in a baby blue shade add a sense of movement to traditionally boxy and inert kitchen cabinetry. Many materials here resist potential mold, mildew and bacteria from excess moisture: glazed-earthenware subway tile, a ceramic sink and nonporous, full-slab white quartz countertops. “Quartz is bulletproof, unlike high-maintenance marble,” said Ms. Hay. Lacquered brass fixtures, unlike trending unfinished hardware, won’t tarnish in the humidity.


Alecia Neo


Ms. Hay created a spacious and bright study by floating a pair of midcentury desks made of ash wood in the center of the room. Before she hung the floral-linen wallpaper, she painted on a mold-proof primer. Where hot pink appears, a white background mitigates its warmth, as in the desk-chair upholstery, wall covering and squiggly lamp shade from Ms. Hay’s collection. Even the pink of the Victorian lamp is knocked back to rose by its opaline glass. To ground the feminine-leaning space, she laid a blue and white flat-weave rug of East Asian-grown bamboo silk. It’s cooler, not as expensive and requires less maintenance than worm silk.


Alecia Neo


The two young boys of the family share a bedroom with matching Crate and Barrel bobbin beds painted Chinese red. The fiery hue doesn’t warm the space “because it has a blue versus an orange base,” said the designer. Much as a blue-based red lipstick brightens teeth, the cool undertones of the pigment intensify shades of white in the children’s room. The rug’s pattern may be bold, but the carpet is thin, ensuring the room still feels airy. Of the Hygge & West Ahoy wallpaper, Ms. Hay said, “I like that you can almost feel a sea breeze when looking at it.”


Alecia Neo


In a cozy nook off the sitting room stands a traditional wingback chair updated with contrasting welting and painted supports. “Glossy lacquered spindle legs energize a classic chair,” said Ms. Hay, who sourced a similarly spindled side table from


and coated it in a piping pink paint, set against a cool-toned wall. The colors pop against teak flooring, one of the few dark woods in the home. Its walnut stain features no undertones to interfere with the pinks and blues. The colors also congregate well with an eye-gratifying painting Ms. Hay found at homewares shop Birdie Fortescue, in Norfolk, England. Gauzy linen curtains, their Grecian medallions embroidered in a genial hue, diffuse sun, unlike heavy drapery that absorbs heat through the window.

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