Expert advice pays off
There are no fixed rules for decorating and furnishing a home in Hong Kong, but the eye and advice of an expert can certainly make the whole process a lot easier.
'It is usually best to start with the largest things like wardrobes, beds or dining table and then build the accessories around them,' says David Roden, stylist and interior designer with David Roden Designs. 'Keep colours neutral in the beginning. Then you can add or take away items more easily, depending on the themes and ideas that develop.'
Roden's priority is to guide, presenting choices and discussing preferences. This can involve a quick inventory of possessions, to discover if there are favoured artworks that will have pride of place in the new house or apartment.
'I prefer to read the client and mirror what they like,' Roden says. 'I might then base a room around one painting or piece of artwork, picking up the colours there in the choice of fabrics and curtains.'
Whatever the initial concept, space available and notional budget, there is inevitably a large element of mix and match, trial and error. For this, the recommendation to tenants and homeowners is to take a photo of everything they like and, using some basic software, to play around with the possibilities for different rooms.
'Most people can't visualise how things will look when considering, say, four different wood colours or five different types of fabric,' Roden says.
He notes that practicalities are as important as aesthetics. The need for a home office, the wish for a separate TV room, or the desire to incorporate more 'green' features can all have a big impact on use of space and choice of materials. Then there are those factors specific to Hong Kong - the service lifts that won't take a specially commissioned 3-metre sofa, or suppliers with a skewed view of price.
'The best advice is to buy things that you like, which please you and please your eye, not things that just fill up the space,' Roden says. 'Look for items which are ecologically sound and, if possible, which will last forever. If you get the best things, they may even increase in value. And don't get stressed: choosing things you will enjoy and putting together a place which will make you happy should be fun.'
In terms of starting point and process, Andy Tong, managing director of Andy Tong Interior Design, looks and listens for both definite statements and 'hidden' preferences during any client contact. He is on the alert for words like trendy, minimalist, or European - along with the tenor and context - to discern the ideas at work and how best to give them expression.
'To design an interior, it is important to know some background about the client and if, for example, they already have their own dining table,' Tong says. 'The project then becomes more about finding elements to match the colour, tone, texture or established style. When that is clear, other decisions are easier.'
Unlike in previous decades, there is no dominant theme influencing design styles and home-furnishing trends. As in the world of fashion there may be more 'mainstream' ideas at any one time, but in effect, anything goes.
'Even if someone comes up with an exaggerated concept or a 'crazy' idea, you can do it,' Tong says. 'And in terms of products, you can find everything you want, either from China or elsewhere.'
If space is a constraint, Tong also makes a point of asking clients about their habits at home and behaviour, even completing a questionnaire. Young professionals or a couple with children will use the same apartment in very different ways, so the designer's job is to customise and maximise, seeing space in new ways.
In keeping with that idea, there are homeware suppliers, such as Indigo Living, that offer products which create flexibility and allow for a number of different interior looks. One example is an extendable solid teak dining table, part of a multifunctional range with space-saving features designed for the small home.