Love the space you are in and everything else will follow

I caught the decorating bug from my mom at an early age.  In every house I grew up in, in Hong Kong, Brunei and Nepal, I would watch as she would arrange and rearrange our furniture until she had it exactly right. From my mother I learned how well-chosen furniture, the perfect fabric, or exactly the right piece of art can create a beautiful space. I strongly believe that a person's home is the best reflection of their true selves. And if you love something passionately, it shows.  

 

DECOR

Comfortable, liveable, beautiful homes for families of all shapes and sizes. 

My next client was a typical Hong Kong bachelor, young, hardworking and a world traveler.  He knew exactly what he wanted — a clean fresh design for his new home base — but had a limited budget and needed to move in in three weeks.  The one bedroom, two bath apartment was in a great location and had great bones, but it suffered from tired decor and an overabundance of built-in closets. The living room and bedroom had both been outfitted with wall-to-wall cupboards in a buttery yellow, which over the years had aged and made the place look even darker. Outdated wallpaper darkened the room even further.  

Tearing out some of the cupboards and redoing the kitchen would have opened up the living area and created a cosy dining nook, but this was unfortunately outside our scope and budget. Instead we were able to cost-effectively update the space by repainting the built-ins and walls in semigloss white and reorienting the living area away from the TV cabinet and towards the expansive balcony, where the heavy curtains framing the view were replaced by sheer modern blinds. In the bedroom, a charcoal gray headboard offset the previously all-white decor. The next step was to pick furnishings that complemented my client's two specific requests, an L-shaped sofa and an accent chair he'd picked out from Habitat. Once the paint had dried and the new furniture was in, it felt like the apartment was able to breathe again — brighter and far more inviting than it had been previously. I felt like I'd been able to give the client a good jumping off point for his new home — just in time for him to move in!

 

 

My bachelor client's family also owned another apartment in the same building. As I began working with him, they asked if I could also do theirs as well. Hey, who doesn't love a doubleheader? It had exactly the same layout and existing renovation issues, but this time the brief was to create a fresh, appealing new space to be rented out or used as a serviced apartment by visiting friends and family.

Again, the budget was modest, so we decided to replicate what had worked for the first apartment.  While we'd worked up an all-white colour scheme for my bachelor client, I wanted this place to have more of a chic hotel vibe. To add dimension we backed the living room with a feature wall, painted slate gray and fronted by a modern, piped and tufted sofa. A swoopy armchair and coffee table in walnut veneer warmed the space and softened its shapes, while bright citrus throw pillows provided contrast. The bedroom got the feature wall treatment as well, this time brightened with gilded sunburst mirrors. This apartment was like that guy you meet while out with your friends on a random Thursday night.  He's wearing all the wrong things but underneath that mess you can see the potential, and all weekend you can't stop thinking about him. Anyway, I haven't been able to stop thinking about this apartment.  I'm sad to say goodbye to it but I know whoever stays there next will be happy to call it home.  

 

Here's a unique problem for the tall, small city of Hong Kong: what do you do with too much space? This comfortable three-bedroom flat in an older building was perfect for a recently relocated family of four, but it had a huge entryway that was difficult to find a purpose for. Over time it became a dumping ground for gym bags, shoes and toys — even a practice goalie net for the aspiring soccer stars in the family. 

With the clients' needs in mind, I turned this raw space into a multi-function reception area, where the kids could still play but also do their homework or hang out with their adorable puppy, while giving mom and dad a new, peaceful area in which to work, entertain or simply unwind after a long day. 

 

 

 

Before we moved our family back to Hong Kong, my husband and I made a quick visit by ourselves to look at apartments and schools for the kids. In the end we looked at five schools — but only one apartment.  I have to admit that at first I was not convinced this place was for us.  It was tucked away in a corner of Happy Valley, difficult for taxi drivers to find and a long walk uphill from the nearest grocery store. It was also on the third floor of an old building with no elevator.  But once we made it up the hill, and up all those stairs, we found a bright, spacious apartment with lots of potential. 

The only problem with renting, especially for someone design-minded like me, is that you can't change much if your landlord doesn't allow it.  And ours thought things were pretty much fine the way they were, including some light fixtures we wouldn't have picked for ourselves and a frosted-glass partition between the dining room and the master bedroom. 

Design challenge accepted! A pair of bookshelves we brought from the U.S. blocked the frosted glass perfectly. A convertible sofa and some new blinds changed a study into an airy guest bedroom that can be closed off from the living area with sliding doors.  As for the "horn of plenty" light fixtures, we took attention away from them with a big, eye-catching artwork: The Tree, by Brooklyn-based artist Julia von Eichel (www.juliavoneichel.com). Now I don't even notice the ugly lights as I'm too busy enjoying my beautiful art.  

 

Every great passion starts close to home. In 2008 my husband and I bought a 19th-century row house in Brooklyn from an aspiring real estate mogul.  It was barely within our means, and had been gut renovated and re-outfitted top to bottom with drab, low-budget rental fixtures and decor.  We needed to turn three floors of living space into a comfortable home on a shoestring budget in a New York minute.  Looking back, it was an invaluable lesson on making most of what you've got. We bought old furniture at garage sales and stripped and restored them in our backyard. I spent part of the third trimester of my pregnancy on top of a ladder, painting the 12-foot ceiling in our living room. We searched high and low for the perfect dining table, the perfect bed, the perfect sofa. At the end of it, we had a home we loved. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

 

 

The "white house" was a family vacation home built in the 1930s on the shores of a lake in the idyllic Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It had served as a restful refuge from a busy life in Manhattan for this couple for more than 40 years.  But the house needed to be expanded and updated to accommodate the needs of a growing tribe of family, friends, children and grandchildren. When it became clear that the old house had to be torn down to meet with new housing codes, the clients had few non-negotiable requests. One: the new house had to follow the old blueprint. Two: as much as possible, they wanted to use existing furniture and lighting.  They wanted it to still feel like the old "white house" but with a very nice facelift.