EVEN IF IT MEANS traipsing round Hong Kong, viewing 50 or more properties, Dominique Lampel won't compromise her taste and requirements when it comes to finding a place to live. 'I don't like high rises and prefer older places with high ceilings even if they are inconvenient and don't have ultra-modern facilities,' she says. 'If you look around you can find some marvellous things with great character, even in the Mid-Levels.'
French-born Lampel, who has been living in Hong Kong with her husband, the managing director of an industrial textile manufacturer, and three grown-up children for four years, found her most recent dream home in Stanley. She chose the 2,800-square-foot house for its unusual split-level layout positioned around a central courtyard, and for its light and space.
'I'd never seen anything similar in Hong Kong,' she says. 'It's not a 'normal' house - the dining and living rooms, for example, are separate, which is quite rare in itself - and that's what gives it character.'
Because it is rented accommodation, the Lampels couldn't alter their new home structurally, and they opted not to take the interior-designer route, thanks to Dominique's passion for decorating. She deliberately brought the minimal amount of furniture from her previous home in Spain - beige sofas, beds and most lamps - so she was able to create a style from scratch, rather than fit the look of her home around her existing furniture.
'I wanted a more Asian rather than purely Chinese style with touches of European flavour,' she says. 'And colour is very important to me - I even wanted all my paintings to match.'
Once she had her style in mind, Lampel decided on the colour scheme - a mixture of red, beige and tobacco - and the first object to meet both requirements was a Chinese hanging scroll featuring imperial officials, which she found in Macau. She had blinds made from striped Jim Thompson silk (available at Altfield in Princes Building, Central. Tel: 2525 2738; www.altfield.com.hk) to pick out colours in the scroll and found a complementary coloured rug for the floor. From there, it was a case of buying furniture, art and other objects as and when she found them. 'Every time I go somewhere I buy something,' she says. 'The objects don't have to be expensive, just nice to look at.'
As a result, her home is filled with all sorts of fascinating treasures. There are original oil paintings from Hanoi; antique fabrics from Laos; statues from Thailand; and a collection of blue-and-white patterned reproduction plates, mounted on the dining-room wall, which were chanced upon in a shop on Hollywood Road. Furniture was bought from mainland markets in Guangzhou and Zhuhai, as well as a diverse selection of stores including Habitat in France, and GOD, Tequila Kola, Contes D'Orient and Ikea in Hong Kong.
Deviating from the neutral scheme in the rest of the house is the guest bedroom, where lemon walls and splashes of deep pink and red are evocative of typically Spanish homes. The result is a warm, inviting room reminiscent of sun and siestas with a couple of Asian accessories to tie in with the rest of the house.
'A lot of people in Hong Kong hire an interior designer and buy very expensive furniture,' says Lampel. 'That's fine but it's not personal. I think it's very important that a home reflects the character of the person or people who live there. And if you fill your home with things you love, I think that's half the battle of decorating.'
Staying power: Before you start physically decorating your home, decide on the colour scheme and the impression you want to give - and stick to it. If you think you want to go antique Chinese style, don't suddenly go and buy an ultra-modern piece or you'll end up with a random mish-mash.
Home work: Even if you can't afford them, don't hesitate to go and look at the most beautiful objects available locally to get inspiration and an eye for style and quality. Browse antique shops and art galleries and ask to be put on their mailing lists so you'll be notified of new exhibitions. Tear out pictures from interior design magazines and compile a scrapbook of ideas.
Tourist attraction: Don't be rash with expensive purchases, particularly when shopping abroad. However, if you see an inexpensive item that you like, buy it there and then. You never know when you'll go back, or whether your desired objects will still be there when you do.
Watch out: Be open-minded and eagle eyed. Don't pass on chain stores and cheap market stalls just because they don't carry designer cachet. Private house sales and warehouses can also be good sources of interesting furniture and objects because you never know what you'll find.
1: A Chinese scroll painting from Macau provided Lampel with the colour inspiration for her living room, echoed in the striped Roman blinds (see photo 6); sofas; Thai silk cushions (found in a private house sale); and rug from the Persian Carpet Centre in Coda Plaza, Central. The antique table on the left is from The China House (tel: 2813 9793), one of Lampel's favourite sources, while the antique desk on the right is from Contes D'Orient (tel: 2815 9422; www.contesdorient.com).
2: Reflecting the Lampels' time in Spain, the guest bedroom has a Mediterranean colour scheme and a European-style wrought-iron bed (similar ones available from Irony in Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2518 8792); ticking stripe cushions; a fuchsia chair from Spanish manufacturer KA International (www.ka-international.com); and a rug from Laura Ashley (www.laura-ashley.com). Asian finishing touches come in the form of antique Thai figures from River City, Bangkok, the largest art and antiques centre in southeast Asia (www.rivercity.co.th); an antique teak wardrobe from Indonesia; and a painting from Vietnam.
3: 'It is very green here, which I love, and you can catch the sun at different times of the day,' says Dominique Lampel of her patio at the centre of the house.
4: Making excellent use of space is a partition between bedroom and bathroom, which incorporates a built-in vanity unit with two sinks. It not only frees up the bathroom but also takes advantage of the light from the 'beamed' ceiling. The rattan laundry baskets were made by Yue Kee Rattan Factory on Queen's Road East, Wan Chai (tel: 2528 1560).
5: Furniture styles are mixed and matched in the master bedroom. Next to the European style bed is a Vietnamese ink drawing and above it a more modern Vietnamese painting of tulips on silk. The bookshelves are from Ikea (tel: 3125 0888; www.ikea.com.hk); the adjacent mirror is from France; and the rattan chair was custom made by Fook Hing Rattan on Queen's Road East, Wan Chai (now closed but similar styles are available on the same street).
6: The spacious living room has a distinctly Asian feel with an antique Chinese coffee table by the wall and a multi-drawered antique cabinet in the corner, both from Contes D'Orient; a teak planter's chair from Tequila Kola (tel: 2877 3295; www.tequilakola.com); paintings from Hanoi; and an antique Buddha's head statue from River City, Bangkok. An old leather trunk doubles up as a small coffee table; floor cushions are from GOD (tel: 2541 1118; www.god.com.hk); and most of the lamps were brought over from Europe, including a folding tripod-style floorlight from France.
Photography by John Butlin
Styling by Esther van Wijck