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Character building

An interior designer has expressed her personal style with elements and artefacts from different eras and cultures


Text Catherine Shaw / Styling David Roden / Pictures John Butlin


When Gaelle Echene returned to Hong Kong after six years designing luxurious beachfront villas in Bali, Indonesia, she didn’t waste any time in putting her design skills to the test: in just three months, the French interior designer transformed two adjoining units on the top floor of a Chai Wan waterfront building into a modern 3,900 sq ft loft-style home to share with her husband, Mathias, and three children, aged eight, seven and four.

“I know exactly what I want so it really didn’t take very long,” says Echene, who enjoys scouring flea markets and antique stores. “I love vintage, antique and modern designs and have no problem putting things together that may appear different as long as they are consistent with my style.

“None of the internal walls was structural so we simply combined the two units and stripped it back to four walls to create a structural blank canvas. Then I set about breaking down the scale of the residence’s proportions, creating spaces that work well on their own but allow an easy sense of transition,” she says.

Working with a local contractor who spoke no English (the two relied on drawings and diagrams to overcome the language barrier), Echene divided the apartment into two large living areas linked by a formal dining room that leads to a sunlit study. Elegant floor-to-ceiling black steel rimmed windows line one side of the main lounge and dining room areas, opening onto a 900 sq ft terrace designed for alfresco dining or entertaining.

Echene drew on her considerable design contacts in Bali to create an eclectic but subtle collection of furnishings and art that matches perfectly with the antique furniture, artefacts and paintings the couple have inherited or amassed during their travels. For instance, a pair of reupholstered 1930s French chairs with curved walnut arms – gifts from Echene’s mother – complement the paper-thin vintage glassware stored on open kitchen shelves, which are lined with retro tiles salvaged from a local supplier and cleaned by hand to restore their vibrant pattern.

“I don’t like spending a lot of money on decoration,” says Echene, laughing.

“Everything I’ve had upholstered here is with fabric from Sham Shui Po that didn’t cost more than HK$30 a metre. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have style.”

The black poured-in-place concrete relaxation area – complete with elegant cream cushions – on the terrace is a case in point.

Distinctive, covetable finds include industrial- chic “crocodile-skin” white tile floors and a milk carton-style lamp inscribed with a Sara Teasdale poem that cost HK$35 from Chai Wan’s Salvation Army shop (which Echene describes as “a fantastic source”).

The best example of Echene’s mixing of design eras and styles is in her self-designed library “wall”, modernist grey steel shelves that house the couple’s collection of rare Pleiades antique books. The three floorto- ceiling wall panels swivel 360 degrees, opening the dining area onto a second lounge area and revealing, on their reverse sides, contrasting hand-block printed wallpapers from Cole and Son.

The same attention to aesthetic detail is on show in the kitchen, a relaxed openplan arrangement featuring a bold orange Corian marble kitchen island that conveniently extends out into a working table top and slides away to hide cooking equipment.

A distinctive slab of polished timber from Bali mixed with vintage stools combine to create a casual dining spot.

“It’s not about creating a design or a particular style but more about staying true to your personal identity,” says Echene. “It really doesn’t matter if things are modern or vintage. I wanted to create something harmonious that reflects who we are.



Living area A large shagreen coffee table bought years ago in Java, Indonesia, anchors the living space, which also features a blue 1930s armchair given to Gaelle Echene by her mother and a sofa purchased from a shop in Paris, France, that has since closed. The pink armchair was made for Echene by Chen Mi Ji (4 Star Street, Wan Chai, tel: 2549 8800) a decade ago. Both chairs were upholstered in fabric from Sham Shui Po for about HK$30 per metre. The two vintage kilim rugs cost about HK$7,000 each from Farah’s Carpet Gallery in Bali ( Echene bought the pair of small side tables and the retro-style red lamp on sale from Deem (252 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, tel: 2540 2011). Mathias bought the WaterRower rowing machine in London, Britain, 10 years ago. The round rice-husk cushions (about HK$500 each) were from Selected Shop Bali ( The rattan storage chest (HK$3,000) came from The Orchard (Jalan Oberoi 33X, Seminyak, Bali, tel: 62 361 736 724). The black steel stool was made for HK$1,000 by ironware specialists Honeymax (Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak, tel: 62 361 819147). The bespoke, vibrant-orange shelving unit, which was made by a shop in Central that closed a few years ago, houses the family’s DVD collection and projector. The crocodile leather-covered storage cupboard was HK$4,000 from a shop in Central that has since closed. The collection of antique sketches on the wall are by Charles Mozin, a relative of Echene. White textured crocodile-leather-look ceramic tiles, from the Matouche Collection, were used throughout most of the flat and cost HK$348 a piece at Pacific Tiles (187 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2866 9980).


Kitchen Echene spotted the bold orange Corian kitchen island (HK$30,000) in a Hong Kong shop that was closing down. She added a timber counter (HK$5,000) from Modula (Jalan Raya Seminyak, Kuta, Bali, tel: 62 81 6573448). The vintage white stools and Tolix steel stool were snapped up during a sale at Deem. Echene restored by hand the retro wall tiles (HK$5,000 for about 400 tiles in varying conditions) she found at Artmax (14/F, Rodeo Centre, 73 Larch Street, Tai Kok Tsui, tel: 2397 6377). The cabinetry cost about HK$24,000 at Ikea (various locations; The painting of a Madagascar landscape, by Sandra Kister, came from Jehan Chu, director of Vermillion Art Collections (6/F, Phase 1, Chai Wan Industrial City, 60 Wing Tai Road, Chai Wan, tel: 3590 8243).


Terrace The recycled-teak table (HK$8,000) and benches (HK$3,000 each) were designed by Echene and made by a carpenter in Bali. A private lounging area in poured concrete features cream and black cushions made for a total of HK$13,000 by Wing Keung Sofa Work (24/F, Workshop 1, Sungib Industrial Centre, 53 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2979 0305). The umbrella was a gift and the rechargeable white globe lamps (about HK$1,000 for the pair) were from Airstar ( The recliner was bought second-hand through for HK$300. Glass outdoor candleholders were sourced for HK$800 each at Multi Dewata (Jalan Raya Kerobokan 49, Bali, tel: 62 361 733 033).


Dining room The steel and mirrored-brass dining table was designed by Echene and made for HK$15,000 by Max Kwan (tel: 9082 0070). The chairs are vintage Javanese cinema benches that cost HK$1,700 each at Kuno (Jalan Pengubengan 03, Kuta, tel: 62 361 733 126) and were upholstered in fabric from Sham Shui Po. The striking cloud-like Nuvola So2 pendant lamp (HK$26,000) was from Zodiac (32 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2832 9987). The three Scandinavian vintage mirrors (HK$9,000 in total) were from Casa Capriz (8/F, Reality Tower, 4 Sun On Street, Chai Wan, tel: 9318 1730). The retro tiles were part of the same batch sourced by Echene for the kitchen. The small pendant light was bought years ago.




Master bedroom The burgundy armchair was bought at The Conran Shop ( years ago. Echene designed the bed to match it and had a carpenter build it about 10 years ago. A raised reading area, with storage underneath, was built for HK$11,000 by Wing Keung Sofa Work. The painting was acquired from the artist, Valentin Girot (



Master bathroom The Toto tub cost HK$23,000 at Galaxy Bathroom Collection (283 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 3008). The matt-black tap, designed by Carlo Frattini, was HK$2,500 at Classic Bathroom Accessories (249 Lockhart Road, tel: 2802 0382). The wash stand was about HK$2,000 at Ikea. For a floor and wall feature, Echene used glossy crocodile-leather-look black tiles from the Matouche Collection that cost HK$348 each at Pacific Tiles.








Children’s room Echene designed elevated bed areas with play zones beneath featuring in-built shelving for toys. The grey cabinet against the window stores the children’s extensive collection of Playmobil, and was bought in Bali in a closingdown sale. The small table (HK$500), used for art activities, came from Kuno. The designer recycled a vibrant red storage bin (HK$200) bought from Bagatelle (Jalan Kunti 4C, Seminyak, tel: 62 361 732 733).








Double duty Gaelle Echene created a series of three panels that can be shut to create a solid room divider, with a library on one side and colourful wallpaper on the other. When open, the panels extend the casual living area into the dining room. The panels were made by Max Kwan (tel: 9082 0070) and cost HK$15,000. The Cole & Sons wallpaper was HK$840 a roll at Altfield Interiors (11/F, 9 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2525 2738).