THE DESIGN OF your home today is as much an expression of individual style as the clothes you choose to wear. Just look around: interiors magazines spotlight homeware decor trends that change as frequently as those of the fash pack. We tune in to apartment makeover shows on television, get first-hand exposure to international trends through frequent travel, and stay at designer boutique hotels that just cry out to be emulated at home. From his vantage point in the industry for more than a decade, homeware retailer Douglas Young of G.O.D. has seen a huge change in interior awareness and appreciation of good design. 'Hong Kong has great access to world media and customers want what they see in movies, on TV and in magazines,' he says. 'People's tastes have become more sophisticated so they're willing to try out more daring compositions. There's a willingness to mix new and old, west and east, and to invest in artworks, especially Asian art - not only because customers see growth potential but because they realise art is integral to a great interior.' Homeware retailer Thomas Ma of Ovo cites the high profile of international furniture fairs as another reason behind the surge in interest. 'Hongkongers are influenced by trends from Japan and Italy,' he says. 'The Milan furniture fair is more like a festival than an exhibition.' International brands, too, are keen to tap into the flourishing Hong Kong market. Labels such as Kartell and Alessi have recently opened shops here. 'The design industry and market in Hong Kong have matured in the past few years,' says Kartell director Brunella Bighi. 'Lifestyle is not only about fashion and personal accessories but has to be carried into the home as well.' Hong Kong's particular challenges, such as lack of space, are no excuse for being short on style. Homegrown specialist shops are springing up to cater for those who want to kit out their spaces with imagination and flair. Arnault Castel opened his shop Kapok to showcase brands and labels that combine craftsmanship and creativity. 'What we want is style and quality, no compromises,' he says. 'We also focus on products by young designers whose work isn't available in Hong Kong. Our customers are looking for unique products and accessories with which they can define their own style. They're weary of finding similar-looking products in many stores and are asking for surprises.' Just because shoppers are thirsty for cool and creative interiors doesn't mean a shop is automatically successful. 'The proliferation of homeware shops has meant tough competition for all,' Young says. He advises aspiring retailers to consider how much more diversity the market can digest and ensure what they plan to offer is not already available. 'If you compete on price alone you're bound to fail,' Young says. Here are some of the recent arrivals in the sector. Kapok 9 Dragon Rd, Tin Hau, tel: 2549 9254 ( www.ka-pok.com ) Describing his collections as 'modern nostalgia influenced by the past, and timeless craftsmanship but contemporary', Frenchman Arnault Castel's light-filled shop in Tin Hau has the vibe of a workshop and offers vintage furniture, homeware, music, books, leather accessories, stationery and jewellery, among other items. Products come from Europe and Asia, and include Postalco, Moleskine, Ciak and Rhodia stationery, Heeley perfumes and candles, and work by upcoming Asian designers. Tree 22 Elgin St, SoHo, tel: 2841 8844 ( www.tree.com.hk ); also in Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau Tree offers creative yet pared-down furniture and accessories with more than a hint of Zen glamour. Owned by British-born Nicole Haslock, Tree's design philosophy is 'simple character but with a soulful creativity'. The core collection blends clean lines and practicality: a dining table with space-saving matching benches and a TV stand-cum-coffee table. Other highlights include a Samurai teak-wood bed, handcrafted in Java, and rustic, recycled hardwood furniture from the Philippines. Lalang 40 Staunton St, SoHo, Central, tel: 2914 4221 ( www.lalang.com.hk ) Debbie Stocker, originally from Singapore, set out to create a 'funky lifestyle shop where you could come in and find an unusual gift from HK$120'. Lalang offers art, jewellery, Italian designer lamps and interior accessories, mostly by Asia-based European designers. It has a modern ethnic vibe; contemporary shapes are mixed with natural materials infused with flashes of rich colour and subtle patterns. Homeless 1/F, 17 Yun Ping Rd, Causeway Bay, tel: 2890 8789; also in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui ( www.homelessconcept.com ) Homeless blends offbeat humour with retro styling. It's the place to find those non-mainstream objects you didn't even know you wanted. There are printed florals from Tord Boonjte, ornate candelabras, gnome stools by Philippe Starck, and all manner of crazy lighting options. The store also offers Black+Blum (UK), Artecnica (US), Workaholic (Japan), Dixon & Milife (Taiwan) and Undoobject (HK). Kartell 105-106 Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell St, Central, tel: 2810 0408 ( www.kartell.it ) Italian furniture brand Kartell's store is full of transparent pieces in sizzling shades of lime green, orange, yellow and red. Positioned on brightly lit platforms, Kartell's furniture combines creativity and technology, glamour and functionality. Designs are by Ron Arad, Patricia Urquiola, Antonio Citterio and, more recently, Marcel Wanders, and Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec. Philippe Starck's Victoria and Louis Ghost transparent chairs are a big hit with Hong Kong shoppers. Alessi Shop 247, Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2869 6377 ( www.alessi.com ) Alessi's classic modernism is a firm favourite among design aficionados. Its new shop in Prince's Building aims to attract a wider audience. 'Hong Kong customers travel widely these days and have seen many great designs from leading homeware brands such as Alessi,' says brand manager Francis Tse. This, he says, is prompting them to incorporate designer ware into their homes. Top picks at the shop are the famous 9093 kettle by Michael Graves, PSJS Juicy Salif citrus squeezer by Philippe Starck, 9090 Espresso coffee makers by Richard Sapper and cutlery by Stefano Giovannoni.