Text Catherine Shaw / Styling David Roden / Photography John Butlin
When it comes to creating a nest in Hong Kong, newly arrived expatriates tend to seek comfort in the familiar, recreating a home-from-home. Not Port of Design studio founder and interior designer Veronica Emery, who experimented with a completely new look for her family's five-bedroom, 3,700 sq ft house.
"Our homes over the years have been very, very different in every country we have lived in," says Emery.
Before coming to Asia with her French husband, Alex, who works in private equity, the couple had lived in London, Chicago and Switzerland.
"The house we had in Tokyo was very modern and urban," says Emery, who is Argentinian-Italian. "We loved it but when we moved to Hong Kong in 2011 the setting called for something completely different."
The ocean view from the rented, three-storey house, on a steep, heavily wooded hill overlooking Deep Water Bay, provided the design inspiration, says Emery.
"I wanted to create a home that had a happy holiday feel and so - apart from our favourite vintage and antique family heirlooms - we started completely from scratch. A lot of the furniture is new."
The first step was to change the all-white interiors, says Emery, who was a lawyer before studying interior design at London's Inchbald School of Design.
"The light is very bright," she says. "I wanted to make it feel like you'd want to touch the walls, and sit in every couch and chair to enjoy life."
The solution proved to be a muted, custom-blended grey-and-white palette enlivened by eye-catching bursts of colour and subtle woven textures. In the ground-floor living room, for example, aquamarine, white, purple and black Ilia lacquer chairs surround a glass-top dining table Emery designed, and a strikingly simple abstract painting adds a contemporary splash of colour behind a white sofa.
"I want the house to be chic and comfortable; that is what simple luxury is about for me," she says. "We have four children [aged from seven to 16] and I love the idea of an open house. We also entertain often so spaces have to double up. For instance, I've designed our ground-floor outdoor terrace to feel like an extension of the living room, using plants and furniture orientation to blur the distinction between inside and outside, which is a Japanese concept."
With limited space, it was also important to think creatively about using some areas for multiple functions, says Emery, who made the second-floor staircase landing into a separate rumpus area for the children.
"We store beanbags at the top of the staircase and with these, the circulation space becomes a cosy television lounge that can be easily cleared away afterwards."
The designer loves mixing antique and contemporary pieces and often builds spaces to incorporate favourite items, such as an antique chest of drawers.
"I work with an excellent contractor who understands my style of customising pieces to fit a room. That is invaluable in emphasising space, volume and proportion."
Practical storage is also essential: "If things are packed away you don't use them," says Emery, who installed floor-to-ceiling concealed cupboards along the length of the dining room to house the family's collection of Japanese lacquer and ceramics, along with vintage European silver and glassware.
"I love experimenting with different design tricks," she says. "I often group things like an arrangement of ceramic objets but add the odd thing out to capture the eye, or I'll play with geometry to create a dramatic statement, like placing a white lacquer console table against a dark grey wall and then adding white orchids to soften the visual effect."
Children's rooms offer infinite opportunities for creative design too, says Emery, who transformed simple white beds, desks and shelves by adding distinctive palettes, patterns and decorative pieces to reflect the personalities of her daughters and sons.
"It's great fun to create these spaces but I've already got plans to change things again quite soon," Emery says. "I'm studying fung shui design at the moment and am inspired to experiment with how its principles can be integrated into a modern, chic home. This is the beauty of design: it is always an exciting work in progress."
Dining room Veronica Emery designed the dining table, which was custom made years ago. The Ilia lacquer chairs (HK$4,000 each) were from HC28 (16/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2552 8002). The dark grey lampshades (HK$4,000 each) were sourced from Altfield Interiors (11/F, 9 Queen’s Road Central, tel: 2524 4867). Emery also customdesigned the floor-to-ceiling built-in cupboard, painted a soft grey. The antique Japanese lamp, wooden panel and lacquer tableware were bought years ago in Japan. The sheer white window blinds with long black tassels (HK$16,000 in total) were made by La Maison Curtain & Decoration (134 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2821 9768). The collection of steel and glass hurricane lamps were found in Bali, Indonesia.
Entrance hallway The entrance area was painted by In-pro Interiors (26/F, Skyline Tower, 39 Wang Kwong Road, Kowloon Bay, tel: 2391 6761) for about HK$2,000. Emery added a sleek white lacquer console (HK$12,000) sourced from HC28, antique lamps bought at a Japanese shrine many years ago and a Chinese ceramic stool (HK$2,500) from Indigo Living (6/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2555 0540). The candleholders are mementos from a holiday in Sri Lanka and the antique storage box is a family heirloom. The hurricane lamps were bought in Bali years ago (a similar version can be found at Indigo Living for between HK$800 and HK$1,200, depending on size).
Living area The Belgian linen-covered sofa (HK$50,000) was designed by Emery and made by La Maison, which also made the turquoise velvet and black wool cushions (HK$650 to HK$1,000 each). The Arco lamp (HK$28,500) came from Flos (44 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2801 7608); an original five-light Arc lamp (HK$6,000), by Kare Design, from Aluminium (36 Cochrane Street, Central, tel: 2546 5904); and a sisal rug (HK$18,000) from Yarns (5/F, Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2833 2886). The trio of vintage coffee tables were from a previous home. Emery’s antique silver tea set is a family heirloom and the African statues on the side table were found in Madagascar. Beneath the Arco lamp, the set of dolls, by Portuguese artist Isabel Pinto Coelho, were a gift. The collection of Chinese paint brushes was sourced from a market in Beijing. The white lamp behind the sofa was bought from a friend. The bespoke art is by James Nares (jamesnares.com), a New York-based British artist.
Master bedroom study Emery transformed a corner of the master bedroom’s dressing area into a compact study, adding a desk (HK$699) from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk), built-in cupboards and ceiling lamps (HK$2,500 each) from Tequila Kola (1/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2877 3295). The Philippe Starck Ghost chairs were from Aluminium and cost HK$3,000 each.
Master bedroom The window screens and linen curtains (HK$26,000 in total) were made by La Maison. The handmade iron bed was bought years ago in the United States. The floor rug (HK$18,000) was from Yarns. Emery added cushions (HK$650 each) from Inside (Prince’s Building, Central, tel: 2537 6298), a cashmere throw bought years ago in London, Rococo antique Italian lamps from her family collection and matching footstools (HK$5,000 each) from La Maison. The cupboard was from Bals Tokyo (www.balstokyo.com) and the side table (HK$11,000, including a stool) and two small rattan top tables (HK$4,000 each) were bought at Art Treasures Gallery (83B Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2543 0430).
Daughter’s bedroom Emery created a distinctive retreat for her teenage daughter, with a double bed (HK$1,730) from Ikea, a bold graphic rug (HK$13,000) from Yarns and a bright pink chair from a vintage shop in Paris, France. A dramatic suzani blanket, bought in Istanbul, Turkey, and duvet cover add design detail. The quirky cockatoo lamp was bought years ago from a shop that has since closed. The colourful lamp and standing reading light were gifts. Emery made the pompoms hanging from the ceiling.
Bathroom Orchids and a Japanese print by Kitagawa Utamaro add a touch of elegance to the marble bathroom.
Silver line-up Veronica Emery installed antique cutlery drawers that she inherited, along with the collection of antique European silverware, within a newly built, concealed cupboard in the dining room. The modern wall-to-wall bespoke unit provides easy access to daily items but, with the antique interior, adds a quirky personal touch to rented accommodation.