How to make a little room for romance

Sensual interior designs, from mood lighting to space for a champagne bucket in the bathroom, can take the edge off harried lives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 4:32am

You arrive home from the office exhausted. There may be work to finish and kids needing attention. Who's in the mood for romance?

If cupid could do with a little nudge, a simple answer could lie in your interior décor. Home is, after all, our most intimate space, so where's the harm in allowing it to wrap you and yours in a relaxing, romantic, sensual embrace?

In her best-selling book The Sensual Home, Ilse Crawford, interior design doyenne, says an environment that encourages us to slow down and submit to the senses enriches our lives. Can interior design choices really "liberate your senses and change your life", as the sub-title suggests?

A big call, perhaps, but not impossible, even in a city as frenetic as Hong Kong, says designer Monique McLintock. When a sensual interior is on a client's design brief, McLintock takes her cue from her parents. Married for 47 years, they maintain that an intimate "couple space" is important to a successful relationship. "For my parents, it was the master bathroom," McLintock said. "My father was a contractor so he built my mum her dream bathroom and the two of them would spend hours in there chatting. I think it is vital to a relationship to have a place where the two of you can connect and catch up as it is so easy to drift apart."

Hong Kong bathrooms tend to be crowded, but if you have an outdoor space, that could do the trick. "A well-designed and perfectly lit terrace makes the ideal place to open a bottle of wine and stare at the sky," says McLintock, who designed a "zen-like terrace" for a client in Kennedy Town. She has also designed an outdoor shower on a Sai Ying Pun rooftop. "There is something very sensual about taking a shower at night on your rooftop," she says.

For households packed to the rafters already, designer Suzy Annetta has a solution. "Create a sense of privacy or romance with a canopy bed/tented room, a 'room within a room'. To me, fabric always has a sense of warmth and comfort, which adds a sensual factor," she says.

Another tip, even where space is tight: make room in the bathroom for a champagne bucket. There's nothing like it to relax the mood and amp up the romantic atmosphere, Annetta finds.

Asked to choose their top tips for creating a romantic interior, designers stress that lighting should flatter. Says Annetta: "Dimmers are essential .... Having gold on the inside of lamp shades helps to create a warm glow, and 'warm' light globes instead of daylight types will also give a space better mood lighting. Everyone looks better next to this type of light source. Eye-level lighting instead of overhead lighting is also important (fewer shadows in the wrong places)."

Virginia Lung, design director of One Plus Partnership ( recently named Designer of the Year in the prestigious Andrew Martin International Awards, says the mood and atmosphere of any interior is determined by the lighting scheme. A show flat the design firm created in Kunshan, Suzhou, demonstrates the various uses of ambient lighting: concealed and decorative, backlighting and downlighting. This keeps the design simple, while highlighting certain areas.

Topping any lighting, however, is a fireplace, which is now within everyone's realm. Thanks to freestanding, flue-less bio-ethanol fuel indoor and outdoor models, your flame can flicker just about anywhere, including on a table top. Dutch designer Frans Schrofer says the volcanic-shaped aluminium fireplace he named after the god of light, truth and healing is designed to bathe an interior with warm light, creating a soothing atmosphere.

Elle Decor tells us that in a sensual home, textures should engage, and seating should embrace.

German designer Sybille Ruge, recently in Hong Kong to introduce her new fabric collection for Cetec, In the Mood for Love, agrees. Ruge says the sumptuous upholstery in this range, from velvets to chenille, as well as the Westernised Chinese patterns reflect the beauty and "cheerful aspect of love".

What about the role of colour and scent in the art of seduction? The perfumed concoctions of Cleopatra were said to have been the undoing of two Roman emperors and, according to Craig Warren, director of scientific affairs at The Sense of Smell Institute, they still pack a mighty punch today. Musk is described as "the most carnal of all ingredients" (replicating, as it is alleged to, the odour secreted from the sex glands of male deer). Vanilla has long been touted as an aphrodisiac, and jasmine "sensual".

Red is reputedly the colour of love but, according to McLintock, "nothing screams sexy like an all-black kitchen". "An all-black kitchen with black cabinetry and black countertop gives off masculine, powerful appeal. Put a man in a black kitchen with a bottle of red and that will steal any woman's heart," she says.

Finally, if you do have to bring work home, keep it out of the bedroom.

Says Jayme Barrett, author of Feng Shui Your Life: "The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only, and not for work or stressful situations."