Beauty queen turned entrepreneur Natalie Glebova lives with purpose—and this is reflected in the way she moves through and uses her living space in Thailand
Steps from the heart of Bangkok’s uber-trendy Thonglor neighbourhood and down a quiet leafy soi, a shrub-lined, cobblestone courtyard complete with fountains leads to the foyer of the residence of Natalie Glebova. The beauty-queen-turned-influencer-and-entrepreneur stands on the black and white chequered tiles, artfully matching the building’s cream cladding in an off-white dress and heels, with a smile that outshines even her dazzling earrings. Hers is a face so recognisable in Thailand—her adopted home since winning Miss Universe here in 2005—thanks to a jam-packed career of modelling, acting, hosting and DJ-ing. Today, the Russian-Canadian is ubiquitous and synonymous with poise and style.
In the vintage wood-panelled elevator of her glamorous French-inspired apartment building, Natalie confides how her mum was especially taken with the property: “She said she felt it was so regal, like I would be some kind of princess in a palace.” Natalie, though, chose it for a more down-to-earth reason. “I was looking for a low rise building,” she says, “I don’t like to be in a box in the sky; I like to be grounded.” She adds later that it was also important for her to be close to her local skytrain station: a distinct advantage in steamy Bangkok.
Stepping inside her apartment, it’s quite striking how this apparent appreciation for the practical is reflected in her living space. It is elegant, certainly, in bold monochrome accented by the bright red pops of the table runner and the big modular sofa, but not over-the-top or flashy.
The living area we settle in is spacious and airy—a result of her decision to knock through the third bedroom and open up the kitchen when she moved in. It’s functional, stylish, and personalized—not least by Natalie’s two-year-old daughter, Maya, whose toys and accessories add a palette of candy pink and purple to the colour scheme. Next to a stylish sculpture is a string of princess beads; gathered in a hand-painted ceramic bowl are fuzzy, cuddly creatures.
The artistic pieces that decorate Natalie’s home—here a carved Buddha, there a stone Ganesha and a statue of a hill tribe woman—have been collected on numerous travels. In fact, she begs us to excuse the mess as she and her husband, Dean, are currently packing for an imminent trip to Boston and then Burning Man festival.
Wherever they go, Natalie relates she and Dean get homesick for Asia after 10 days or so. Indeed, after 12 years in Thailand, it’s become the place she calls home. When she won the Miss Universe pageant, she was warmly welcomed by the host country—“They really adopted me as their farang daughter”—and, on completing her year touring the world as Miss Universe, she returned to Thailand for a work opportunity and never left. “I made friends,” she remembers. “I was assimilating so well into the culture, and I kept getting so many opportunities here, so I felt that while I could go home, I had a purpose here.” Pursuing such projects is a theme very close to Natalie’s heart—one that is reflected in the way she moves through and uses her space.
Having moderated a panel at 2017’s Techsauce Summit on interacting with tech outside the home, Natalie admits that as far as interacting with tech inside her home, it’s mostly in ways that make her life easier. Of her smart speaker for example, she says, “Sometimes I’ll be typing and I’ll be too lazy to open another window so I’ll just call, ‘OK Google, how many litres are in a pint?’ And then…” At this, the device dutifully responds and she shrugs with a smile, “it saves time.”
Other technological developments discussed at the summit included, she shares, the continued growth of shared economies leveraged by platforms like Airbnb and Uber—a use of tech Natalie is on board with. “It sort of encompasses that Burning Man philosophy of sharing, and I like that trend: that we can share our talents in service of other people,” she says.
That passion for sharing is at the heart of the start-up she has recently launched with her husband. Travelbook is a platform that allows users to save photos and videos, and to check in at hotels and restaurants, making it easy to both document memories and to remember and share travel recommendations. The desktop platform is currently evolving into an app, with Dean taking the lead on the project as Natalie focuses on the more pressing matter of finishing her upcoming book, entitled “I Am Winning, A Guide to Personal Empowerment.”
IF YOU ONLY FOCUS ON YOUR PASSIONS, YOU WON’T FEEL THAT SATISFYING FEELING WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE MORNING; IF YOU TURN YOUR ATTENTION TO PROVIDING VALUE TO OTHER PEOPLE, THAT’S WHERE YOU FIND YOUR PURPOSE
Packed with advice on how to achieve success and with interviews with people she considers winners (“from artists, to mums, to entrepreneurs”), she has been applying finishing touches so that she can turn it in before she jets off. “I work at home mostly—I’ve probably worn a groove in that couch,” she says, waving across the living space to her preferred writing spot. “I’ve been getting it done between distractions, like when Maya’s taking a nap.”
There’s also the need for her to find time working on Empowered, a motivational program she started with a neighbour with whom she’s become close friends and business partners—another perk of the building. Through Empowered, Natalie hopes to help young people find their purpose, which she is quick to distinguish from passions. “Your passion is only about you,” she explains, “but your purpose serves others. If you only focus on your passions, you won’t feel that satisfying feeling when you wake up in the morning; if you turn your attention to providing value to other people, that’s where you find your purpose.”
Twelve years after Glebova’s own coronation as Miss Universe, the beauty contest is returning to Thailand this December. Natalie hopes to provide value by giving a coaching session to the contestants, the thrust of which she sums up simply: “Read my book! It’s full of advice for how I made my dream of becoming Miss Universe a reality. It didn’t happen by chance or by luck; I really approached it as a business plan.” She explains how she attacked the project with her characteristic practicality, making to-do lists and vision boards—strategies that continue to serve her well, as evidenced by the cluster of framed inspirational quotes on the piano (out from which peeks a neon pink unicorn).
“I always say: obsess equals success. And success is not measured in money or fame or a specific way, success is defined by you,” she says, admitting that sometimes she stresses out about not having enough followers on social media. “And then I’m like, wait. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful home, I’m doing what I love, I serve a purpose, how is that not success?”
This article originally appeared in Issue No. 150 of PropertyGuru Property Report Magazine
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