Diary of a renovator: Held in check

Xiu Fang

Some things you cannot scrimp on. Long before renovation started on my village house I determined where I could 'save' money and what was worth a splurge, time- and money-wise. After waterproofing and drainage came flooring. So started my obsession with everything underfoot, from wood to laminate to tiles to cork. Carpet was out because of my housemate, who sheds hair and regurgitates kibbles.

Most of the tile and plank shops in Wan Chai and Mong Kok doled out samples. But visualising how a small piece would look covering an entire floor was like putting a bowl on your head to see whether a Louise Brooks bob would suit. Computer programs may be able to conjure impressions and illustrators can provide renderings (at roughly HK$2,500 a sketch), but the result is usually unconvincing.

This is why my collection of samples grew by the week, spread out beside my balcony doors on the existing hospital-look floor. 'Soon you'll be able to cover the whole surface with your freebies,' the boyfriend remarked as I rearranged my goodies into groups. Several hues of Osmo-treated oak sat next to grey tiles and a silver mobile phone (the countertop in the open kitchen was to be stainless steel, you see) and dark ebony rubbed shoulders with light-coloured stone and five tiny honeycomb tiles (that's all the shop would give me). Downstairs would be tiled and upstairs decked with wood, I decided, and the bathroom walls could be clad with mosaic.

Then there were the products picked up on days I felt that some sort of statement was needed: hand-painted Italian tiles that appeared as though they had been tie-dyed (for a feature wall, mayhap?); silver reflective tiles that would bounce light around the flat; and black and white tiles to create a giant chessboard on the terrace (with bottles of booze as the pieces, said boyfriend suggested: lose a knight and down its contents).

When I began tripping over the samples it was time to start the cull. That's when I visited Wonderfloor on Lockhart Road to ask for a full-length oak plank. A 180cm-long piece cost HK$400, although I was promised a refund if I returned it. I carried the plank and a 60cm by 30cm homogeneous tile around the flat for the next month to gauge how they would look in unforgiving daylight, at dusk, beside various artworks and next to the sofa. I laid my feet on them, bare, in socks and strapped in stilettos. I even pressed my cheek on them (you never know, right?).

Just as I had decided we were to have a lifelong relationship uncertainty flounced in. While wandering around Artura Ficus on Queen's Road East for inspiration I realised the store's dirty-green floor tiles were exactly what I wanted.

I quizzed the shop assistant. 'Where are they from?'

'Dunno,' came the reply.

'Are they from Lockhart Road?'

'No idea.'

Back to square one. I revisited outlets whose assistants now knew me by name, realising that if I found those tiles I'd have to start again with the wood. (Un)fortunately they proved elusive and eventually, when blisters appeared on my toes, I gave up. But now those eternal pals seemed B-list at best. I stopped hanging out with them and kept making excuses about why I wasn't ready to commit.

Then a particularly stylish friend popped over and spied my erstwhile buddies banished to a corner. 'Fabulous match,' he said, and suddenly we were on again. Call me capricious, diss me for disloyalty. But some relationships thrive on a bit of tension, compromise and, if truth be told, attrition.