Interiors project manager Yolanda Franklin went to Yuen Long on a research trip for clients a couple of years ago and came back with an unexpected purchase of her own: a countryside property that she intended to transform into a lush weekend getaway for her partner and two children.
'We'd scouted three sites that day and on a whim saw a fourth. It looked so otherworldly that we just had to keep it,' Franklin says of the 29,000 sq ft site with a 1,500 sq ft residence, now dubbed The Orchard, because of the almost 20 varieties of fruit trees nearby.
Renovations took just under a year, with most of the work focused on landscaping and drainage installation ('It was a muddy marsh,' recalls Franklin). To tackle her first such project - she'd worked on plenty of city apartments professionally - Franklin enlisted Sun Fung Garden Centre, in Yuen Long, and its horticultural consultant.
After the drainage and irrigation problems were solved, Franklin and the consultant turned to the garden, adding flowering shrubs as well as lemon, orange, Chinese plum, papaya and sugar-cane trees to the varieties already there, which included lychee, longan, mango, guava and giant banana trees.
'The idea was to have colour throughout the year. Different parts of the garden look stunning at different times.'
Between two barns at one end of the property, Franklin carved out a vegetable and herb garden, plus a sand pit for her son, Max.
To improve the area around the house, Franklin replaced the concrete that stretched from the gate to the front door with a small gravel driveway and soft grass. On the side of the house that faces the gardens, Franklin installed a tiled terrace and pergola with creeping vines to provide shade. 'The vines are taking their time to grow,' Franklin says. 'But, eventually, this will be the perfect shady spot for lounging and reading.'
Franklin's idea for the interior was simple. 'We wanted it to have a realness about it with a local Hong Kong touch; nothing upmarket or too prissy.'
The living area, which boasts tall ceilings, came with an enclosed cockloft bedroom that Franklin opened to create a second lounge area. Below that is the original cosy master bedroom and separate bathroom.
Her family and friends spend most of their time indoors in the 750 sq ft dining and 'play' area, with an adjoining guest room, kitchen and pantry. The long rectangular room affords plenty of space for the 'German beer-hall style' dining table and benches at one end, and a comfortable sofa set and Max's play area at the other.
The room's cross-ventilation, through windows and French doors, is enhanced by two free-standing industrial fans. 'The room is bright and airy enough most of the year. We rarely ever resort to turning on the air conditioning. Besides, I encourage everyone who comes here to spend as much time outdoors as possible.'
Whenever they have a chance - most weekends and public holidays - Franklin and her family head to The Orchard. Friends visit for leisurely barbecues and to enjoy the garden.
'Right now, the summer rains are making everything grow and there is so much to do on the land. Some of the trees are still young,' Franklin says, gazing at the eastern boundary of the property.
'In five years or so, it will become an undulating green wall with different colours each season. We're taking a long-term view here. It's a wonderful way for my son to grow up, surrounded by nature and greenery.'
1 Living room
Yolanda Franklin furnished the living room with a wicker sofa and chairs, which cost 5,500 yuan (HK$6,000) from Donanya (3/F, A Building, Light Industrial Products City, Meiyuan Road, Lo Wu, Shenzhen, tel: 86 755 8247 9286). The red silk and metal lantern (400 yuan) was from Beijing. The table lamps and floor lamp are old, as are the table and chair. The Chinese paper cuts on the wall were bought and framed in Xian, Shaanxi province, for about 200 yuan each. The stool and coffee table came from Shenzhen and were part of a set. The plantation-style screen was acquired second hand through Asiaxpat (www.asiaxpat.com). Franklin bought the wood-backed cotton rug years ago from General Trading in Sloane Square, London. The custom-made bamboo blinds (500 yuan for 10 sets) came from a shop in Lo Wu.
2 Dining area
The 10 feet by three feet trestle table (HK$7,140) and matching benches (HK$3,340 each) were built with salvaged wood to Franklin's specifications by Home Redesign HK (www.homeredesignhk.com). The joints are held in place with wooden pegs and the top and legs can be disassembled without the use of power tools. Franklin bought the Chinese porcelain paintings (120 yuan for five) five years ago from Dafen artists village in Shenzhen. The silk and metal dragon lamp (90 yuan) was bought in Beijing by Franklin's partner. The ceiling fan (HK$400) came from SMC (1/F, Shell Industrial Building, 12 Lee Chung Street, Chai Wan, tel: 2558 0181). The wooden chair was left by one of Franklin's tenants at another property.
The solid wood front doors and frame (2,500 yuan for the set) and the pinewood pergola (13,500 yuan) were built and painted by Wu Fang Decoration Materials Square in Lo Wu. For more information on this and other Shenzhen shops, contact Franklin's interior design and project management company, Bricks & Mortar (27 Village Terrace, Happy Valley, tel: 9281 9625; email@example.com). Franklin sourced the imitation terracotta tiling (HK$9 per tile) from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 3013). The rattan rocking chair cost 460 yuan from a shop in Lo Wu. The blue porcelain lions were salvaged from another of Franklin's projects.
The lychee and banana trees are just two of the nearly 20 types of fruit tree on Franklin's property. The total landscaping costs during renovations came to HK$449,000, including drainage and water-systems installation, grass covering, plants and the building of a painted brick wall at the front of the property.
5 Guest bedroom
The 'opium den'-style guest bedroom features an oversized custom-made metal bed frame built by AA Engineering (call Ben on 6055 4795) for HK$4,000. Franklin had the silk bedcover and cushions made for 1,200 yuan at Dongmen Fabric Plaza in Lo Wu.
The multicoloured patterned tiles, (HK$15.20 each) from J Power (157 Lockhart Road, tel: 2596 0001), caught Franklin's eye in an Objects of Desire column in Post Magazine, and she designed her bathroom motif around them, sourcing warm grey plain tiling (HK$1.30 each, from Hop Hing Lung) to complement the colours. Franklin found the sink, tap, mirror and cabinet in Lo Wu for a total of 2,780 yuan.
Franklin retiled the stairs and replaced the rickety railing with a banister of her own design, which was custom built in Shenzhen for 4,930 yuan. Upon delivery, the bannister required sizing and fitting, which AA Engineering took on at a cost of HK$4,200.
Tried + Tested
Match made in haven
Instead of plain doors for the master bedroom and bathroom, Yolanda Franklin designed a pair with inlay patterns in wood and frosted glass, to complement the bannister motif on the staircase. She had the doors made in Lo Wu for 850 yuan each.
Styling David Roden