Labour of love

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2006, 12:00am

One woman's affection for her antique-furniture collection was put to the test when she moved from Discovery Bay to a Mid-Levels apartment.

Love is beautiful, but too much of it may pose a problem. Take, for example, antiques lover Stella Blade. In the past two decades, the well-travelled businesswoman and her husband, Simon, have bought from around the world a cornucopia of old pieces, many of them 19th-century teak or elm collectables made in South Asia or Europe. Last year, the couple purchased a 40-year-old flat in Mid-Levels and enlisted Joyce Baker (Joyce Baker Design, tel: 2851 2999) to design the 1,350 sqft home. That's when it dawned on Blade that her fascination with dark antique furniture needed toning down.

'Joyce said there was too much dark brown in our furniture collection and there should be something lighter to balance things,' says Blade. According to Baker, who favours contemporary design to antiques, it was necessary to dilute the hue in order to enliven the flat. 'Their furniture pieces are very beautiful, but putting them together in one place would make the place look like a Hollywood Road antiques shop - it'd be too sombre and lifeless.'

Much as she was fond of the 'solid and trustworthy-looking' nature of her collection, Blade was open to Baker's suggestions. She and her husband also chipped in ideas to make over what Simon says was a 'completely nondescript and boring' three-bedroom flat. The biggest change was the loss of a wall separating two rooms, which resulted in a spacious bedroom. Next door is the dining room. Baker then suggested painting the exterior bedroom wall red to add warmth. 'I wasn't so sure at the beginning but it came out very nicely,' Blade says. 'The red really makes a difference.'

In an adventurous move, Blade bought a set of lime-green chairs for the sake of contrast. The arrangement was a success - the lime-green works wonders with the red and sets the exotic tone of the living room.

Blade did not shun dark brown, however, choosing dark teak for the floor. And she wanted to bring in all the furniture from her previous home, in Discovery Bay. 'I didn't want to part with any piece,' she says. 'I don't buy furniture just because I need it. If I can't find a sofa I like, I'd rather sit on the floor. So everything I have is what I really love.' Unfortunately, sacrifices had to be made because of the size of Blade's collection. In the end, she relocated much of it to her office and her sister's home.

Exposed beams posed another challenge. To play them down, Baker used dark-brown maple panels to frame the bedroom and bathroom doors. 'I love the design because it's grand and neat,' Blade says. The couple also capitalised on the flat's irregular structure by installing a pair of speakers on one of the beams above the living room.

So far so good. But Baker thought some contemporary elements were wanting and the kitchen and bathroom were ideal places in which to accommodate them. Dark brown was chosen as the main hue in the bathroom and Baker complemented it with white tiles and a wall of stainless-steel tiles installed beside a white bathtub. 'Dark brown, white and silver combine to create a sleek look. That helps to balance Blade's furniture,' says Baker. The kitchen area has been decked out in similar vein - a line of white cabinets in the corridor and the simple setting inside the kitchen ooze modernity.

The finished design, which embodies Blade's love for antique furniture and Baker's penchant for contemporary design, delighted the couple - except for the whiteness of the corridor. 'After the flat was furnished, I realised the corridor was a bit boring,' Blade says. This is the only feature about which the two women are in disagreement, but they're working closely again to work it out. 'We haven't decided what to do. But there's no rush. We'll wait until we find the best solution,' says Blade.

1 The red wall makes a stunning backdrop for the lime-green dining chairs ($1,600 each from Home Decor, shop G30, Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong, tel: 2778 6096) and the peaceful Guanyin statue balances the effect. The suspended light fixture was bought in Paris and the art-nouveau lighting came from Indonesia. The sofa (about $9,000) is from Tequila Kola (1/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2877 3295). The elm coffee table ($8,000) and the console accommodating the Buddha head were custom made by Chung Yu Trading, in Zhuhai (tel: 86 1300 5770 712). The company offers customers free transport from the Zhuhai pier to the factory. Alternatively, customers can place orders with Time' Shop (39 King's Road, North Point, tel: 2571 7525).

2 The dining room is what Stella Blade describes as 'the entertainment corner'. Like the living room, it is delightfully bright thanks to the big window and the glass balcony doors, hung with curtains tailor made in Shenzhen for about $500. The dining table ($10,000) was custom made by Chung Yu.

3 One corridor wall is lined with cabinets that accommodate the couple's shoes. Punctuating the middle of the smooth, white surface is an elongated laminated-wood hollow. A reclining Buddha, which Blade bought from an antiques shop on Hollywood Road, basks under four spotlights.

4 The master bathroom, which houses a shower and a bathtub, is simple but chic. 'There're a lot of eye-catching elements in the living room so the bathroom was kept simple,' says interior designer Joyce Baker. The stainless-steel tiles, from Caang (3/F, 193 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2789 8680), set the stylish tone while the white tiles underpin the dramatic visual effect. The bathtub ($8,000) is from Happy Face Discount Depot (287 Lockhart Road, tel: 2923 5090).

5 The wooden furniture complements the earthy balcony, which features mountain views. The table, which Blade bought in Thailand for about $5,000, is an adapted tree stump. The art-nouveau screen was bought in Italy.

6 One of the walls of the corridor leading from the entrance to the living room is 20cm longer than the other. Baker disguised the discrepancy by adding a cabinet to the shorter wall. Part of the right side of the cabinet was covered with a 10cm-long laminated-wood pane. White paint was then applied to make the pane look like part of the corridor wall and make the cabinet look stylishly slim. The shutter-like cover of the cabinet is a door designed to prevent the Blades' two cats from damaging the fragile items inside.

7 The lime-green wall is designed to add zest to the bedroom, which contains a host of antique-style furniture pieces, including the bed, which cost $5,000 from Chung Yu, also the source for the waist-height cabinet ($4,000), made of camphor and elm wood. The oval mirror is from Portobello Market in London and the hanging lamp is from Vincent Sum Design (18/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2542 2610).

8 Most of the kitchen's original features remain, except for the drawers, which Power of Construction (shop D, G/F, 8 Chun Wing Street, Hoi Ming Court, Tai Kok Tsui, tel: 6132 6628) charged $15,000 to make and install.

tried & tested

scrap happy

With a little imagination, waste can be turned into a work of art.

On a visit to Chung Yu Trading, in Zhuhai, Stella Blade happened upon four pieces of delicately sculpted wood lying idle in the factory. The timber, originally part of an architrave of an old Chinese building, depicts the traditional Chinese motif Hundreds of Military and Civil Officials, or Wen Wu Bai Guan. Blade, charmed by the fine craftsmanship and delicate design, bought the pieces for $7,000 and had the factory use them to make a dining table. The table, legs included, cost $10,000.

styling Esther van Wijck