Once bitten, twice shy
Having learned about Hong Kong's greedy landlords the hard way, a tenant went on to create another stunning family home, this time without any costly renovations
Text Charmaine Chan Pictures John Butlin Styling David Roden
Interior designer Nathalie Weston knows all too well the pitfalls of renting property in Hong Kong. After creating picture-perfect rooms and installing a modern kitchen in a Happy Valley flat several years ago, a rapacious landlord inflated the rent and forced her out. When an agent showed her a Clear Water Bay duplex, however, her spirits were raised. The opportunity to create another photogenic family home in a completely different setting was a cause for optimism.
“It had such a strong mid-century feeling,” Weston says of the 2,100 sq ft house, referring to the modern aesthetic that flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, she was taken by “the shapes, the colours and the height of the ceiling”, all of which called for a sympathetic touch when it came to furniture and furnishings.
This time around, however, Weston, who is South African, wasn’t as keen to invest in a property that wasn’t hers; but she injected many of her design trademarks.
Distinctive lighting, for example, was installed throughout the house, old furniture was painted to give it a new lease of life and large animal hides cover the parquet flooring in several rooms.
“In dining areas they are one of the best floor enhancers because of their shape, and because they’re forgiving,” she says. “You can spill things on them and wash them.”
Weston’s otherwise standard balcony, meanwhile, was given a budget-conscious “living-wall”, with potted plants hanging from a large trellis. Elsewhere, eye-catching pockets were created with colourful paper lanterns and art, including a tone-setting Vladimir Tretchikoff portrait of a green-hued Chinese girl and a large painting by J.A.H. of Cornelius, the sensitive chimpanzee scientist in Planet of the Apes.
In fact, animals decorate almost every room: busts hang from walls on both floors; five-year-old daughter Lola’s room hosts a menagerie that includes an illuminated duck; son Cassius, two, sleeps beneath a duvet bearing an illustration of a wolf; and in the master bedroom hangs a Victoriana-inspired illustration of a beast – part-man, part-deer – imagined by British artist Dan Hillier.
Unlike in her previous flat, which was a showcase for interesting transfers and gorgeous wallpaper, Weston largely avoided any such additions in this house to save money and because the main walls are blighted by airconditioners and shelving niches. On one wall in Lola’s room, however, she added a large fairy-tale decal, which is complemented by an intricately decorated French antique bed.
“Her original bed, which I painted grey, is in my son’s room,” says Weston. “She went through a phase of not wanting to sleep in it, so I hauled the spare bed out of the garage and said, ‘You’ve got a princess bed now.’ It worked!”
While much of the furniture came from previous homes, the move gave Weston an excuse to acquire “new” kit. Her eclectic assembly includes vintage chairs from the Clignancourt flea markets in Paris, France, and a bespoke carpet that complements an original 1972 Munich Olympics poster designed by Pierre Soulages.
Effort was also extended beyond the house, with Weston and her British husband, Simon, putting in a lawn in addition to stepping stones, bamboo fencing and an array of leafy plants.
“In summer we spend a lot of time outside,” Weston says, gushing about birthday parties with children splashing about in a blow-up pool and food sizzling on a barbecue. But in the end, she has accepted that theirs is rental accommodation and their future in it is uncertain.
“I love this house; who wouldn’t?” she says. “If we are here for two more years, I’ll do more. But I don’t mind moving again … if we have to.”
Outdoor area The sofa set, from Dedon (32/F, 248 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2529 7233), moved with the family from their previous home. The outdoor tables were made on the mainland for HK$4,000 for three. The bamboo fencing was by KK Horticulture (Tai Chung Hau Road, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 7440) and cost HK$600 a metre. The metal plant table was bought on the mainland at a sale. The ladder (about HK$300) is available at Tung Hing Construction Material (50 Po Tung Road, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 2033).
Living room Old treasured items fill the living room, including a chandelier from Brussels, a deer head wooden sculpture from Sri Lanka and a Hollywood Regency coffee table bought on eBay for US$150. Flanking that table is a pair of vintage armchairs, which were a gift. The other coffee table cost about HK$6,000 at Outofstock (14/F, Wah Yiu Industrial Centre, 30 Au Pui Wan Street, Sha Tin, tel: 2369 6008). The Caravaggio floor lamp (HK$9,620) is available at Manks (3/F, The Factory, 1 Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115). The television unit was bought five years ago at The Hamptons (27/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2553 2888). The grey sofa came from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com) many years ago and the leather sofa was a bespoke item created years ago by Carezza (9/F, Hong Kong Club Building, 3A Chater Road, Central, tel: 3125 7695). The rug was designed by Weston’s company, Weston and Co Design (www.westonandcodesign.com), and made by barefootcarpets (www.barefootcarpets.com) for HK$9,000.
Cornelius corner The painting, by J.A.H., was a gift acquired from Ap-Art gallery in London (ap-art.co.uk). The storage unit was bought in Sri Lanka years ago and painted white by Weston.
Living room detail The bookcase was bought years ago from Homeless (29 Gough Street, Central, tel: 2581 1880) and the artwork is an original 1972 Munich Olympics poster bought from the Clignancourt flea markets in Paris, France.
Dining area On the wall, beside the Miss Wong print by Vladimir Tretchikoff (www.vladimirtretchikoff.com) bought 15 years ago in London, is a signed original by the same artist of Xhosa man, which was a gift to Weston from her grandmother. The dining table, medicine chest cabinet and chair beside it were all bought years ago from Villa Saffron in Sri Lanka (15 Bogahahena Road, Battaramulla, Colombo, tel: 94 11 533 1651). The wooden chairs were about HK$2,500 each at Clignancourt and the upholstered Eames DSW chair at the head of the table was about £500 (HK$6,100) from Vitra in London (www.vitra.com). The pendant lamp also came from Clignancourt. The corner lamp was bought years ago at Aluminium (various locations; www.aluminium-furniture.com) and the Eames wire chair was bought online at www.hermanmiller.com for about HK$4,800. The Acapulco chairs on the balcony are available for HK$2,700 each from Mirth (Mezzanine, Yip Kan Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2553 9811).
Master bedroom The bed and bedside tables were bought at Villa Saffron years ago. The Philippe Starck gun light is from the Westons’ former flat and the mini standing Caravaggio light (HK$4,400) is available from Manks. The deer heads (HK$1,600 each) were from Lane Crawford, as were the Fornasetti plates. The mirrored drawers were bought years ago. The pendant lamp, from Flos (44 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2801 7608), was bought five years ago. The photograph of a bed was taken by Simon Weston (simonjamesonweston.wordpress.com).
Staircase The vintage pendant lamp was bought in Paris years ago. The large painting on the right is by Weston and the photographs beside it were taken by Simon in New York and of Mong Kok.
Lola’s room The 150-year-old French bed that Lola sleeps on came from a shop on Portobello Road, London, 10 years ago. Behind it is a Klaus Haapaniemi decal from Tapeten Agentur in Germany (www.tapetenagentur.de). The duck lamp was HK$660 from Petit Bazaar (80 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2528 0229). The bedside table, from Inside (various locations; www.inside.com.hk), and the mini table and chairs, from Attic Lifestyle (12/F, Sungib Industrial Building, 53 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2580 8552), were bought years ago. The chandelier came from Paris years ago and the overdyed rug (about HK$8,000) was designed by Weston and Co Design and made in Turkey.
Crate idea Wine crates that Nathalie Weston picked up for free were screwed to the wall to serve as shelving in Lola's room. The blue butterfly came from Bangkok and the dinosaurs were HK$85 each from Attic Lifestyle.