Text Catherine Shaw / Photography John Butlin
From the outside, interior designer Leigh Chiu’s house is identical to the others in its Stanley complex.
Enter the front door, however, and you will feel as if you have stepped into a completely different world, thanks to her passion for classic European glamour, contemporary furnishings and highvoltage colour.
The entrance sets the exuberant mood for the five-storey home. Elegant, simple accessories and furnishings, such as a pair of creamy white sofas and modern acrylic chandeliers, help ground the bold colours, while a series of mirrored surfaces and a glossy white-lacquer television cabinet add a contemporary touch.
“I can’t bear a white wall,” Chiu says.
“I couldn’t imagine living here without colour and accessories.”
The Texan-born designer, who moved from New York to Hong Kong with husband Clifford 15 years ago, made the plain white walls and timber floors the first thing they tackled when the 4,200 sq ft property became their family home two years ago.
“We don’t own the house but if you don’t decorate your home when you rent, it feels temporary,” she says. “And living in Hong Kong means I can have everything perfectly customised for the space.”
The couple share the five-bedroom house with their youngest son, Harrison, who is 11; their other children – Abigail, 14, and Spencer, 16, are at a tennis academy in the United States.
“Abigail is home just once a year, so although her bedroom has become more of a guest room I still wanted to make it special for her,” says Chiu. “It is not large but you have to be unafraid of big pieces of furniture in small spaces. And she obviously loves pink! “I once designed a house where everything in every room had to be white. It was crazy. The client had four daughters and all we ever did was recover things.
Colours are much more practical.”
Functionality was a prime concern for Chiu.
“The most important thing with a home is to think how you are going to use the space,” she says. “It also has to be comfortable but that doesn’t mean rooms can’t be elegant.”
The TV room on the fifth floor is the perfect example. The L-shaped cocoa sofa, geometric-print carpet and mixture of artefacts and artworks help create an aesthetic that is informal but stylish in its pop-art modernity.
Chiu’s interior-design skills were honed at Parsons The New School for Design and through her work for designers Cullman & Kravis in New York. In 2003, Chiu established an eponymous design firm in Hong Kong that also serves clients in Singapore, Beijing and cities across the US.
While Chiu’s love of kaleidoscopic colours is the most striking feature of her designs, she is also devoted to curating the smallest of bespoke details, drawing on an extensive list of contacts.
“You need to include things that express who you are so that the rooms are not sterile. At home, I like grouping items to create interesting arrangements.
I rotate my porcelain, lacquerware, silver and crystal all the time and enjoy helping clients create their own collections. For example, one client had collected sand from every beach she had visited and, to present [the samples], we created a collection of interesting little bottles to display them in.”
Her customisation extends to everyday items such as hand-beaded tablemats, embroidered bed linens and monogrammed napkins.
Chiu’s startling combinations of red and orange or coral pink daringly juxtaposed with pale blues, acid greens and turquoise, may not be for the faint of heart but they do add a burst of cheer.
Summing up her decorating philosophy, she says: “I want spaces where you can relax, somewhere you’re happy to be.”
Living area The sofas (HK$20,000 each) were designed by Leigh Chiu (Leigh Chiu Designs, 13C, Ying Pont Building, 69 Peel Street, Central, tel: 2559 1250) and upholstered in Clarence House fabric (www.clarencehouse.com). The curtains were made with Kazak fabric (HK$1,600 per yard) by Quadrille (www.quadrillefabrics.com). They contrast dramatically with the Phillip Jeffries Split Pea Juicy Jute textured wallpaper (HK$439 per yard from Goodrich, 2/F, Beverly House, 93 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2668 5757). The acrylic Porta Romana chandeliers (HK$47,000 each) were from Design Centre Chelsea Harbour in Britain (www.dcch.co.uk). The contemporary white-lacquer Ming-style coffee table (HK$16,000) was designed by Chiu and made in the mainland, as were the mirrors (HK$21,000 each) and console tables (see Tried + tested). The Robert Abbey Greek key lamps (HK$3,850 each) came from Circa Lighting in the United States (circalighting.com). The carpet, designed by Chiu, was made in the mainland for HK$45,000. The oil painting by the door was bought from the artist, Zhang Li, who is represented by Schoeni Art Gallery (21 Old Bailey Street, Central, tel: 2869 8802). Near the door is a brass chinoiserie hurricane candle stand, which cost HK$2,250 from Altfield Interiors (11/F, 9 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2524 3066).
Dining room The circular Macassar Ebony wood dining table (HK$50,000) was designed by Chiu and made in the mainland. The clover-shaped white-lacquer dining chairs, covered in Christopher Farr’s Anna linen from Holland & Sherry in New York, cost HK$12,000 each and were also made in the mainland. The mirror pendant light (HK$35,000) was from Oly Studio in California (www.olystudio.com). Chiu’s collection of traditional Chinese ceramics gets a modern update as table decorations (HK$8,000 for the set, from Altfield Gallery, Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2537 6370). The place mats (HK$680 each) and napkins (HK$350 each) were custom made by Tan My (www.tanmydesign.com). The antique Reed & Barton silver cutlery was a gift from Chiu’s mother. Chiu picked up the painting from an artists’ village in Shanghai.
Television room The sofa (HK$24,000) and ottoman (HK$20,000) were designed by Chiu and made using Sunbrella outdoor fabric for durability. The shagreen-andbone coffee table (HK$21,000) was designed by Chiu and made in the Philippines. The three-tier side table cost HK$24,000 at Nininger & Co in the US (niningerandco.com). The nickel-plated table lamp cost HK$3,200 at Altfield Interiors. The carpet (HK$32,000) is Chiu’s own design and was made in the mainland. Chiu commissioned a Filipino artist to produce the painting, Flower. The two framed T-shirts were autographed by tennis players including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Abigail’s/guest room Chiu designed the day bed and matching armchair and had them made locally. The bed is covered in a hot-pink velvet that cost about HK$20 per yard from Wing Lung Textile (180 Ki Lung Street, Sham Shui Po, tel: 2395 2738). The curtains are Kirk Brummel from Brunschwig & Fils and cost HK$1,500 per yard at Mercer House (10/F, Cheung Fat Building, 7 Hill Road, Shek Tong Tsui, tel: 2524 2000). Hand-embroidered bedding by Chez M’Lain cost HK$16,000 per twin bed-size set at Horatio Creations (horatiocreations.com) in Vietnam. Chiu bought the two wall lamps (HK$2,000 each) online at Restoration Hardware (www.restorationhardware.com). The etched bell lantern ceiling light (HK$6,400) came from Vaughan Designs and can be sourced via Altfield Interiors.
Stairs Chiu designed the leopard-print carpet and had it made in the mainland for about HK$200 a square foot. The apple-green wall provides a striking backdrop to a collection of family photographs. The brass ceiling lamp (HK$5,500) came from Circa Lighting. The bamboo bookshelf (HK$8,000) came from Altfield Interiors.
Master bedroom The headboard for Chiu’s king-size bed was made by Choi Designs (4/F, Dominion Centre, 43 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 6816) for about HK$6,000. The bed linens feature silks from Clarence House. Floor-to-ceiling silk taffeta curtains, also from Clarence House, cost HK$200,000. The bedside lights cost HK$6,500 each, base only, at Altfield Interiors. The mother-of-pearl mirrors (HK$1,600 each) were custom designed and handmade by Etienne De Souza in Bali, Indonesia (etiennedesouza.com). The bench was covered in brown velvet (HK$1,000 a metre) from Altfield Interiors’ own design line and made locally for HK$10,000, including the fabric. Chiu had the mirrored dressing table (HK$36,700) made in the mainland and the stool (HK$3,800) made locally. The mirror on top of it came from a shop in Hong Kong that has since closed. On the dressing table is a glass lamp (HK$4,000) from Festoni in Texas (www.festoni.com). The crystal mid-century ceiling light is from Vaughan Designs. The pale blue shagreen and bone bedside tables (HK$30,000 each) were designed by Chiu and made in the Philippines. The carpet cost HK$36,000 from Yarns (5/F, Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2833 2886).
Hi-ho sliver Leigh Chiu designed the elegant snakeskin-covered console table (US$15,000), which was custom made in the Philippines. It is deceptively functional thanks to a hidden drawer, lined with non-tarnish Pacific Silvercloth. The drawer contains the Chius' collection of antique silver cutlery.