A day's outing for Hong Kong householders often used to involve a trip across the border for the cheap and plentiful homeware and furnishings on sale in Shenzhen. These days, cheap is no longer considered cheerful and fake is not fashionable. Retailers say the direction of trade has reversed as mainland designers and higher-end consumers come to Hong Kong in search of quality products. They're not just coming from Shenzhen, still riding the crest of a housing boom, but from first-tier cities as well. Michelle Koller, founder of local lifestyle brand Tequila Kola, says she first noticed interest from mainland designers about two years ago. 'They would come in and look around', she says. Some of her earliest mainland buyers were from a Shanghai development company looking to furnish a show flat. Koller says they wanted the kudos of a non-mainland brand but were cautious not to reveal their sources to other mainland designers. 'But when those designers left and went to other companies, they introduced our name and products to their new firms,' she says. 'One went to a Beijing firm, another to a Shanghai firm, and it just kept growing as they eventually let their new colleagues in on the secret.' Today Tequila Kola has good relationships with mainland designers and it is also selling to increasing numbers of individual customers from the mainland. Koller, who has hired Putonghua-speaking sales staff, says they 'do not even look at the price'. 'There are a lot of nouveaux riches in China and decorating their homes is important for them,' she says. And since their homes tend to be bigger than many in Hong Kong, they also tend to buy more. Koller says they like products from around the world, and that they generally shun anything made on the mainland. Younger designers prefer rustic-style furniture as opposed to a polished, more formal look - again, a new trend for Chinese interiors - but wood should not be completely raw, Koller says. Department store Lane Crawford reports a similar trend. Ross Urwin, a merchandise manager in its home and lifestyle department, says economic growth has boosted mainlanders' spending power and that they are travelling to Hong Kong to find brands and products they cannot buy at home. 'We have seen an increasing number of customers from the mainland since 2003,' Urwin says. He says a key reason is the diversity of interesting products available in Hong Kong. 'Mainland customers are beginning to step away from their traditional home furnishings and turn towards a more modern look.' Hong Kong's slick image also appeals to mainland Chinese, who are travelling more and are more aware of design trends abroad. 'They're able to see first-hand what other societies fill their homes with and wish to sample this in their own homes,' Urwin says. 'Since the mid-90s in Europe, people have become more aware of individual expression through their interiors. That's now true of many Chinese.' Urwin says mainland buyers are looking for products that cannot be found locally. 'They have an eye for innovative design and are buying contemporary European creations. They're also looking for items from well-known brands.' Australian home interiors store Spotlight, which entered the China market by opening its first store in Hong Kong last year, says research on the habits of mainland buyers influenced its decision. 'Our product range and price point makes Spotlight a very attractive option for shopping day trippers from the mainland,' says Spotlight CEO Stephen Carter. The 55 sales staff in its Kowloon store are mostly multilingual to reflect its customer base. Carter says that mainland shoppers like the glamour of western products. 'They see that Hong Kong offers a global marketplace and many now have a greater share of personal wealth, giving them the option of seeking out alternative shopping and retail experiences - which Hong Kong offers.' Spotlight's Hong Kong store has five major departments, but the hottest items with which mainland shoppers are most likely to fill their bags are from the manchester department, and they're especially fond of 400-thread fitted-sheet sets and bath towels. Both offer the sense of at-home luxury that, according to a study by the Trade Development Council, increasingly affluent mainland consumers have come to expect. In a report, the TDC concluded: 'The need for a sense of achievement or recognition is rather strong among the new generation. They are willing to spend money on acquiring symbols of success to prove that they have made it in life.' Interior designer Steve Leung Chi-tien is not surprised that mainlanders are crossing the border to furnish their homes, because the range of imported branded products available in Hong Kong is 'incomparable' to that on the mainland. 'As tastes are upgraded and the pursuit of quality increases, high-end household goods will surely be in higher demand,' says Leung. He says the look of mainland residential interiors is changing. 'When we first started doing mainland show flat projects in 1997, developers were asking for classical design. The trend was that classical style meant luxury, he says. 'Today, it is much easier to persuade them that a modern, minimal design can represent luxury.'