Text Charmaine Chan / Styling David Roden / Pictures John Butlin
Oenone Dale is a shopper by profession, which is probably why Hong Kong suits her down to a T. But instead of taking sartorially-challenged women around stores on spend fests, as she once did in London, these days she buys and sells vintage British silver.
Dale's new sales direction is evident throughout the 3,000 sq ft, four-bedroom, rental apartment in Mid-Levels she shares with husband, Ashley, who works in asset management, and three of their children (another son and daughter are at boarding schools in Britain). Coffee pots, milk jugs, platters and trays are scattered around the flat, sometimes used for their intended purpose, at others as unusual vessels for everything from flowers to soap.
The setting for these items is striking: modern rubs shoulders with old world, the formal with the informal, the pricey with the inexpensive.
"We've always furnished on a smallish budget," Dale says. "I bought a Chinese headdress for HK$400 and explained to this guy on Queen's Road roughly how I wanted it to look and he came back with a box and stand that are museum quality."
The flat's fetching assortment of styles is complemented by her latest obsession.
"A lot of people have silver but they never use it," says Dale. "Whereas I think silver is beautiful and you should have it out every day."
Despite not owning the apartment, Dale has made it into a home.
"I hate renting but I'm not prepared to live in a place that visually distresses me," she says, explaining why she has carpeted the flat in sisal (it had a shiny parquet floor), laid wood-like linoleum on her kitchen floor (the porcelain tiles were too "cold and clinical") and covered an interior glass-brick partition with a Deborah Bowness wallpaper mimicking shelves full of old books ("I hate glass bricks").
Dale bought Finnish wooden-slatted floor and ceiling lamps, designed by Seppo Koho, which feature in the open living and dining areas as well as in the master bedroom and family room. While certain items, such as art and select pieces of furniture, came with the family from London two years ago, others - including the dining table, which Dale configured into a square from two rectangular tables from G.O.D - were sourced in Hong Kong.
"We couldn't buy one big one because it wouldn't fit in the flat," Dale says. "Anyway, we need two of everything because of the kids."
That includes two made-to-order sofas and two bed-end benches, which have been pushed together to form an ottoman.
"I just took the legs off and put on castors," she says.
Dale also had her five children in mind when she designed what looks like an upholstered half-wall at the foot of her bed.
"They all insisted we had something they could lean against when they sat in bed with us," says Dale. "Hence its ridiculous size."
It's just as well the children have somewhere to sit, however, because the chaise longue in the master bedroom is for show only. Having removed its upholstery, Dale decided to leave it uncovered for effect.
"My husband keeps saying, 'When are you going to get that horrible hairy chair covered?' but I love it the way it is."
An armchair in the spare room is similarly naked.
Although Dale doesn't know whether her family will be in Hong Kong for the long haul, she brushes away the suggestion that she has done more than most would to improve rented accommodation.
"The sisal is attached with sticky tape so when it's time to go you literally roll it up and that's that," she says. "I like living in a flat that you like to come home to; if you don't make it feel like your own place, suddenly five years have gone by and you're in a place you despise."
Between the lines To hide the glass bricks used in an internal wall, Oenone Dale used a trompe-l'oeil-like wallpaper of books, by Deborah Bowness. The wallpaper cost HK$2,450 a roll from General Store (41 Gage Street, Central, tel: 2851 8144). The photograph of a Congolese wrestler was by Colin Delfosse colindelfosse.blogspot.com).