The Straits Times
15 March 2015
In food supplier Connie Sim's house in Katong, it is impossible to turn a corner without bumping up against Hello Kitty merchandise.
The entire third floor is covered in floor-to-ceiling wallpaper featuring the Sanrio character's face and name. A 3-D mould of Hello Kitty's face is replicated on all of her cupboards, doors and drawers.
Not to mention the hundreds of knick-knacks crowding every corner of her semi-detached house.
In communal areas such as the kitchen, you can see a Hello Kitty toaster, coffee grinder, juice maker, slow cooker and dim sum baskets.
Even in private spaces including the bathrooms, Hello Kitty peers out at you from toilet paper, toilet seat covers, soap and laundry detergent.
Madam Sim, a youthful-looking 60, says she spent about $1.2 million in 2013 on Hello Kitty-themed renovations. This excludes the money she blew on collectibles in the past 10 years.
Which is why her next statement is pretty shocking.
"I'm not particularly into Hello Kitty," she says in Mandarin. "I just like the colours pink and white."
For this interview, she is dressed in a red T-shirt with Hello Kitty faces and a black flared skirt. Her voluminous coiffure - blown into shape by her maid - features girlish bangs.
She elaborates: "I wanted my house to have a theme and since my friends like Hello Kitty, I decided I would have a classy, first-rate Hello Kitty home where everything looks fantastic."
It is clear that even in the world of Hello Kitty devotees - known for their obsessive collections - her home is an epic shrine to the cartoon cat without a mouth.
During a tour of the house, she takes the team up to her master bedroom, where she keeps Hello Kitty mobile phones, hair dryers, steamers, irons, and sewing machines.
"Some of these I've never used, but I just like collecting them," she says. "I don't ask the price. I just buy."
She gets her items from a supplier here whose shop she visits every month, but also regularly buys items from places such as Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, spending about $10,000 a year on her hobby.
The divorcee says her three children aged 40, 36 and 34 do not mind her spending on Hello Kitty. "They say as long as Mummy is happy, they are happy."
On the third floor of the house, Hello Kitty is plastered on cushions, carpets, fans, lights and cosmetic covers.
One room contains Madam Sim's Hello Kitty clothing collection, which includes at least 100 T-shirts, 30 sets of pyjamas and many pieces of underwear.
"I also have a Hello Kitty G-string," she says, rummaging through a neat pile of underwear in the drawer.
"Do you want to see it?"
After this reporter's polite refusal, she leads the team to the basement, where there are two Hello Kitty-themed rooms for karaoke and mahjong games. These are open to her friends and family members during gatherings, which she organises regularly
"If you've done up your home nicely, you cannot be selfish and just enjoy it yourself. I believe in being generous."
One of her friends, sales coordinator Linda Yeo, 39, says: "She first welcomed me to her home two years ago. I took so many pictures. It's like a Hello Kitty museum here."
Madam Sim says she has her fair share of naysayers - people who told her she is wasting her time or criticised her obsession with a cartoon character. But she respectfully disagrees.
"I'm not throwing money away," she says. "This is going to last me for many years, beyond the life of a million-dollar sports car."
In a family of men, housewife Suyenny Lo, 36, indulges her girlish love for Hello Kitty to the fullest on the fourth floor of her Queenstown bungalow.
Four different types of Hello Kitty wallpaper adorn the walls. Outlines of the character's head frame the television screen and cabinets and its face adorns the muslin curtains.
Apart from the curtains and wallpaper, other Hello Kitty merchandise include a paper shredder, a humidifier, a toaster oven, a stereo set and a doughnut maker.
However, the feline is banned from making an appearance in her bedroom, her husband's study and her children's bedrooms and study area.
Her husband, 41, is a business analyst in a bank, and they have two sons aged 10 and eight. Ms Lo says her husband told her not to influence her sons with her interest in the feline and to "let them grow up to be manly men".
Hello Kitty had encroached into their shared spaces in their previous homes.
"He would come home and find I had replaced an old cupboard with a Hello Kitty one, or see a Hello Kitty weighing machine and towels in the shower. I never put Hello Kitty bedsheets on our bed, though," she says with a laugh.
"He said Hello Kitty had to stop invading our privacy."
To confine Kitty's spread, he gave her the fourth storey of the house for her to go all out with her passion after they moved in in 2012. That level, which comes with a main area, a bathroom, a room and a patio, is used as an entertainment area for family and friends.
She has liked the character since she was a child, but did not have the money to buy Hello Kitty items until she graduated from university and began working.
"In the first two years, I bought Hello Kitty bags and carried a Hello Kitty wallet, a tissue paper pouch and a passport cover, among other Hello Kitty items," she recalls.
"I faithfully recorded every single Hello Kitty purchase into a notebook and felt very pleased when I flipped through the pages and looked at all my purchases."
Today, about 10 years later, her love for Hello Kitty has not dimmed.
Apart from the Hello Kitty floor in her home, her car sports Hello Kitty sunshades and a Hello Kitty car plate frame.
During the recent Chinese New Year, she also decked out her house with couplets, stickers and red packets that had the feline's face plastered on them.
When the family moved into the house, she recalls taking out items she had hoarded over the years in about 20 storage boxes and showing them to her interior designer.
Whatever went well with the design concept was used, while the rest went back into storage.
Mrs Lo is especially proud of her ceiling fan, which was her first big-ticket Hello Kitty item. It has been a fixture in all the four houses she has lived in over the past 10 years.
"I bought it for $800, but the money I've spent taking down the fan from each house and re-installing it has way exceeded its cost," says Mrs Lo.
Mrs Lo says her Hello Kitty craze has "calmed down" a lot after she had children. She used to spend about $5,000 a year, but has since cut down the amount to about $2,500 a year.
"Perhaps, when my children are older, I will revive this interest in a bigger way," she says.
Take a look at the Hello Kitty themed houses in the gallery below.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.