Unearthing regional treasures

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 March, 2009, 12:00am

Homes in Hong Kong with Asian interiors are the kind of places that invite visitors to inquire of the origins of the Chinese rosewood furniture, the Indochina objets d'art on the walls, the Thai silk cushion covers, and whether the enigmatic sculpture gazing into the beholder is Lao or Khmer?

Everything in the room seemingly has its own story to tell.

Tim and Sally Conti, an east-meets-west couple, with Tim hailing from southeast England and Sally from Singapore, are the owners of such a home. Arriving in Hong Kong in the late 1980s, it didn't take them long to find the multicultural enclave of Discovery Bay and decide it was their kind of town.

Their home's warm and inviting ambience is due in large part to its traditional Chinese furniture, which provides a rich and natural theme throughout their living room. According to the couple, 'quite a few pieces' were bought from big showrooms in Ap Lei Chau, a district much-loved by homemakers of distinction. Some of the Chinese furniture were souvenirs from weekends in Macau, other items were sourced from outlets in Central and elsewhere.

Their spacious flat in a Discovery Bay low-rise also includes elements from across East Asia, including a chest of drawers from Bali, a traditional Chinese medicine chest from Hollywood Road, Chinese-style ceramics, a Chinese lacquered screen also from Hollywood Road (a replica of a Qing Dynasty original), metal figurines of Thai dancers from an island in the Andaman Sea and, from Peng Chau Island, a wooden chest that serves as the Chez Conti coffee table.

Unobtrusive Occidental touches are provided by British art on the walls, including a watercolour of Cambridge University's King's College, limited edition copies of paintings by Belarusian-French expressionist Marc Chagall, and etchings of scenes from Olde London.

The centrepiece of the living room is a beautifully rendered classical Chinese painting - ink on rice paper - depicting three friends battling adversity. The painting's journey to Discovery Bay's Middle Lane was an eventful one, as Tim explained.

'Yes, that has a history. In 1990, we went to Guilin and were introduced to a local artist - quite well-known, I believe. We had what you might call a private viewing of his works. We bought this particular painting, took it back to Hong Kong in a cardboard tube, then somehow forgot about it. Two years later we rediscovered it and had it framed at a shop in Wellington Street. I think the frame cost more than the painting itself.'

As for advice on achieving such an outcome when furnishing a home, Sally is sanguine. 'Just aim to feel comfortable in your surroundings and avoid unnecessary clutter. Some things work and some don't. That could be down to fung shui or just one's own personal feeling. These days, I'm sure there are bargains galore to be had.'

Just down Discovery Bay Road, Todd and Karla Handcock's home has traditional Indonesian design as its central theme with, like the Contis, other items coming from all over the Asia-Pacific region.

The Handcocks, from Canada, have lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore for the past 16 years. They have accumulated many artifacts, picked up in the teeming streets and frenetic colourful markets of Asia.

Of the predominance of Indonesian furniture, Karla said: 'When we moved to Indonesia in 1998, we arrived in Jakarta with two large suitcases each. When we left Indonesia five years later we left with a 40-foot container full of furniture and other durables. We loved the dark, heavy, teak wood furniture of Indonesia. And because we lived there, we were exposed to it a lot and were able to source it easily.'

Most came from little shops in Jakarta or around Bali. Some of it was made specially ordered when the Handcocks were living in Singapore. It was made in Indonesia and shipped to them in Singapore. 'We actually have a lot more Indonesian furniture in storage in Canada,' Karla added.

The most impressive item of furniture in this marvellous home is the four-poster bed said, by Karla, to have 'travelled to more places than many people have'.

'We have moved it so many times that one of the main posts ended up breaking, which made it easier to move in the end. When we lived in Jakarta we had a huge bedroom, so we bought a huge king-size bed. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit so well in most Hong Kong master bedrooms.'

It was bought in Jakarta and is different.

'What makes it special is that it is the bottom half of one style of bed - which we didn't like the overly plain top to, and the top half of another style of bed, which we didn't like the overly ornate bottom to. The mosquito netting is from a little shop in Kuta, Bali, but we will need to replace it soon. It's very hard to find mosquito netting here,' Karla said.

Two paintings bought in Hanoi adorn the walls. One depicts autumn in a distinctively Vietnamese interpretation.

'I love the fall scene because my husband and I were born in September and autumn is my favourite time of year. As for the monk painting, it also draws many compliments,' she said.

'People really like the colours and the peaceful look of our monk painting. Todd brought the paintings back to Hong Kong in a tube and we had them framed at a small shop in Peng Chau. Unfortunately that shop is now gone.'

The owners of these homes said buying homeware where it was produced could result in large savings.