Text Adele Brunner / Styling David Roden / Pictures John Butlin
When Nicola and Andrew Shue first saw the Happy Valley flat they would eventually buy, it hadn’t been lived in for eight years.
“It was really derelict,” says Nicola, who is a Chinese medicine practitioner. “It had suffered severe water damage so the walls were practically falling down and the glue holding the floorboards in place had deteriorated.”
The poor condition of the 1,350 sq ft flat meant the Shues were left with no choice but to revamp it completely. Every internal wall was torn down and the flat reconfigured, to create two bedrooms in place of the original three. The doorways were widened, windows were installed where previously there were none and most of the flooring was replaced.
“Surprisingly, the original balcony tiles were in a relatively good condition and we had hoped to save them,” says Nicola.
“But something got lost in translation and when we turned up at the flat, they’d been reduced to rubble.”
Almost two years on, there is no hint of the apartment’s former pitiful state. Rather, it is bursting with life – from the bold and beautiful art that covers the walls to the eclectic mix of antique Chinese and European furniture and accessories.
“We didn’t really have a vision as to what we wanted the flat to look like. We had a lot of artwork and what we did very early on was to work out where the paintings would go,” says Nicola. “We lost six inches [in the living room] as we had to build a wall strong and thick enough to hang the canvasses. The paintings also set the colour scheme – even in the bathrooms.”
Nearly every item in the Shues’ home has a story to tell. The Victorian tilt-top dining table, for example, belonged to Nicola’s grandmother and had been used as a games table in its former life; the silver “vase” on it is a golf trophy that has been awarded every year since 1924, most recently to Andrew.
“I love the idea of recycling – and I love practical,” says Nicola. “Ikea and modern design is brilliant for furniture that fits but a lot of antique furniture is very clever, too. Our side table, for example, folds down when you’re not using it so it hardly takes up any room but it still looks beautiful. Even our napkins, which are antique French linen that has been restored by hand, are so robust they can be washed at any temperature.” Both Andrew, a solicitor, and Nicola enjoy cooking, so a lot of thought was put into the kitchen. Storage was paramount – the room has cupboards and shelves galore.
And although Nicola had envisaged an open-plan space, they ended up retaining the wall dividing it from the living and dining area, and incorporated a hatch instead. While the wall conceals the kitchen, the hatch enables the chef to keep an eye on the cooking without missing out on any living-room banter when guests come round.
“I like having the flow-through from one room to another,” says Nicola. “If you sit in the living room, you can see the greenery out of the kitchen window. [The hatch is] also handy for passing out drinks and snacks.”
Bi-fold doors were installed on the balcony, which is as bright and inviting as the rest of the apartment.
“There was no point having the balcony furniture facing outwards because the view [which is of other apartment blocks] wasn’t much,” says Nicola. “It was better to look into the flat.”
The versatile sofa-like seats in the living room can be rearranged to face the balcony so each area becomes an extension of the other. Which perhaps sums up the essence of the Shues’ flat: warm and welcoming.
Balcony The white wicker seating (HK$9,000) came from Luen Hing Hong Building Materials (718 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2398 9299). The cushions (including the blue patterned ones in the living room) cost HK$26,000 from Richie Decoration (Aberdeen Marina Tower, 8 Shum Wan Road, Aberdeen, tel: 2368 7133). The table, which cost HK$2,500 from Le Cadre Gallery (Ruttonjee House, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2526 1068), was repainted white. The restored French linen napkins were HK$1,600 for eight from Authentiques (10/F, Hua Qin International Building, 340 Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan, tel: 3460 4286). The floor tiles were HK$9,320 from J Power (157 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2596 0001).
Dining area The painting, by Li Guijun, came from Schoeni Art Gallery (21 Old Bailey Street, Central, tel: 2869 8802). The burl walnut Victorian tilt-top table and the walnut chairs once belonged to Nicola Shue’s grandmother. The silver “vase” is a Hong Kong Golf Club Championship trophy dating back to 1924 and was won by Andrew Shue. The art deco glasses (HK$12,000 for the 12 large ones plus six smaller glasses) came from Authentiques. A “hatch” in the wall between the dining area and kitchen means the latter isn’t cut off from the rest of the apartment. The champagne bucket was about HK$4,000 from Kou Concept (22/F, Fung House, 19 Connaught Road, Central, tel: 2530 2234).
Living room The painting of a woman with a parasol, by Elise Remender, came from Shinn Fine Art (www.shinnart.com) when it showed at the Hong Kong Affordable Art Fair. To its right are a block print from Oriental Bazaar (www.orientalbazaar.co.jp) in Tokyo, Japan, and framed antique Chinese hairpins from Green Lantern (72 Peel Street, Central, tel: 2526 0277). The mirrored console was HK$22,000 from Kou Concept. The red Qing dynasty chests were from Chine Gallery (42A Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2543 0023). The late-Georgian mahogany tilt-top occasional table was HK$12,000 from Authentiques. The large portrait of a woman, by Li Shuang, came from Galerie Du Monde (1/F, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, tel: 2525 0529). To its left are: a painting by Shui Mei, from Schoeni Gallery; a Tahitian-style painting by Ray Crooke from Philip Bacon Galleries (www.philipbacongalleries.com.au) in Brisbane, Australia; and miniatures by an artist from Udaipur, India. The Red Baby painting, by Yu Chen, came from Schoeni Art Gallery. The sofa cost A$7,700 (about HK$56,000) from King Furniture (www.kingfurniture.com.au). On the ottoman, which was HK$6,000 from Le Cadre Gallery, are a teapot (HK$2,400) from Shanghai Tang (various locations; www.shanghaitang.com) and cup and saucer (HK$200) from Chinese Arts & Crafts (various locations; www.cachk.com). The Philippe Starck white-marble-topped side table was HK$2,000 from Le Cadre Gallery.
Kitchen The framed map of Australia and Union flag are actually wrapping paper bought from the shop at the National Museum of Australia (www.nma.gov.au). The Poul Henningsen pendant lights (HK$8,340 each) and the antique lampshade (HK$2,150) were all from Manks (36 Sau Wa Fong, Wan Chai, tel: 2522 5115). The kitchen television came from Cristal (www.cristal-italy.com). The radio and red striped vase were gifts while the green and purple Kosta Boda vase (HK$1,200) came from Lane Crawford (various locations; www.lanecrawford.com). The stools were HK$200 each from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). In the background is a wine cabinet trunk, which was bought from Shanghai Tang years ago.
Master bedroom The bedside table was HK$2,100 from Le Cadre Gallery. The lamp was about HK$900 from a shop in Hanoi, Vietnam. The vase, by Phoebe Lentini, cost HK$1,500 and was bought at a private sale.
Master bathroom The freestanding bath (HK$9,660) was from Luen Hing Hong Building Materials. The tiles (HK$16,000, from Pacific Gallery, 159 Lockhart Road, tel: 2827 9918) were chosen to complement the painting by Nahid Raza from Gandhara-Art (21/F, Sunshine Plaza, 353 Lockhart Road, tel: 2374 1211). The chandelier (HK$6,900) was from Kou Concept.
A grand entrance Having been told by a fung shui follower that it wasn't good to walk through a front door straight into a living room, Andrew and Nicola Shue decided to create a small entrance area. Qing-dynasty lattice panels divide the space without closing off the rest of the flat. The panels were from Chine Gallery; the pendant light (HK$1,500) from Shanghai Tang; the painting, by Shui Mei, from Schoeni Art Gallery; and the French Rococo Bergere armchair from Kou Concept. The low table was a gift from Nicola's mother.