Home decor has always been faddish and a few years ago it was not uncommon to find tiny Hong Kong homes crammed with the eye-straining swirls and gilts reminiscent of the palace of Versailles. Now, it is the soaring towers of Victoria Harbour which are casting a more subtle influence on local tastes. The barren, featureless landscape of boxy high-rises is being reflected in the growing preference for modern-style home furnishings, according to Amanda Lack, managing director of Altfield Interiors. Furniture lines are cleaner - note the proliferation of Italian furniture shops - and fabric furnishings are rich in different ways. Rather than ornate patterns, they feature muted greys, browns, golds and creams, and thickly layered weaving. 'It's very architectural, very geometrical, made in layers so that you have to be on top of them to feel it,' Ms Lack said, running her hand over a swatch of thick, nubbly, striped brown fabric. 'In the West it's very colourful, but here you have all these neutrals, these sludge colours.' To Rugy Dilworth, owner of Kaleidoscope fabric shop, the new preferences are something of a relief. She started her shop in 1984, when the trend was still for ornate European fabrics and furniture. 'What's fantastic is the development of taste. People are choosing fabrics to go with the environment. When I started in business, people didn't know what they wanted - they wanted [everything]. Now they're getting more refined, less overdone,' she said. Home furnishings are increasingly being looked upon as an investment. Ms Lack said more time was being spent entertaining at home, compared to 16 years ago when she arrived, and more money was being spent on the home. 'One of the big differences is that people do spend money on their homes now, not just on cars and jewellery,' she said. They need to spend big to afford the luxury fabrics available at shops such as Altfield and Kaleidoscope, where prices run from $300 to $1,500 per metre. These shops carry mostly European and American fabrics but their main customers are locals because, as Ms Dilworth said, 'they are the ones with the money'. Kaleidoscope has brought in the new collection from German luxury fabric-maker, Johannes Wellman, a company specialising in luscious prints - seemingly out of place in the Hong Kong market but there are more muted designs to appeal to local buyers. The company packages its fabric books to make it easy to mix and match within various colour schemes, and these also serve as an unofficial guide to sales. Christoph Wellman, who now runs the 79-year-old family business, flips open a book to a brown page. 'This will appeal in Hong Kong,' he predicted, as opposed to the reds preferred by the French or the bright yellow, green, red and blue plaid likely to sell well in Italy. But Hong Kong's toned-down look did not put it out of step with European styles, he added. Johannes Wellman's sales have always been better in the SAR than in all of Japan where there is no European tradition and little understanding of how to use the fabrics and prints. The Shangri-La hotels use their fabrics. Ms Dilworth said even in a neutral colour scheme, Hong Kong people used bright patterns for a chair or cushion to provide a focus to a room. What is interesting about the latest prints is that they feature a lot of Chinese influences - which, until recently, would not appeal in Hong Kong. Johannes Wellman has a silk fabric called 'Peking' in 16 colours with a same colour stripe, which features the plainer modernist style with what Mr Wellman described as the strong sheen of Chinese textiles. Altfield also carries lines such as the US-based Scalamandre, whose latest offerings feature Chinese acrobats and bamboo trellises. 'Ten years ago, I'd say you couldn't sell a fabric with chinoiserie, but 10 years ago people weren't wearing Chinese clothes. That change may be linked to pride in being Chinese,' Ms Lack said. 'It used to be that people who had money went completely European, they wanted everything from the West. Now most smart Chinese households have a mixture of East and West.' The new modernist styles of the West combined well with traditional Chinese designs because Chinese furniture also has clean, simple lines, she said. 'The modern look is mainstream in Hong Kong. Most professional people will have quite avant-garde homes with modern things and any young designer in Hong Kong now who come out of school is a modernist. In small spaces, it's more comfortable to live with,' she said. Compare this to the traditional, ornate French styles which were once in fashion. 'The slightly older, more affluent, more traditional client, particularly the ones who have been to Europe a lot, would go in that direction because they have the space physically to deal with it.'