In Helen Boyd’s light-infused Sai Kung home, life doesn’t so much imitate art as spin dizzily around it.
The one-bedroom flat on the top floor of a village house has expansive sea and mountain views.
Nestled in a secluded corner of Tui Min Hoi village, at the far end of Sai Kung harbour, it is within strolling distance of the seafront seafood joints but far enough from the neon signs for quiet contemplation.
Boyd and her husband, Wendell, who have lived in Hong Kong for 13 years, hail from Sydney. They lived in Sai Kung’s Costa Bello complex, but “had been looking for years to buy because rents are so expensive”, says Boyd, a visual artist.
“We’d looked at 200 places, at least, everywhere from Fo Tan to converted industrial units in Aberdeen,” she says. “The day I saw this place, I thought, ‘Wow!’ I was excited right away.”
Boyd had an artist’s eye for how to rework the flat, which had been a two-bedroom rental property.
“We bought it about a year ago and the renovations took four months. Except for the glass-brick [feature wall] and staircase up to the [roof ], the whole place was gutted.”
With their three sons having returned to Australia, Boyd says the couple had become “empty-nesters” and were ready for a smaller place – “but there just are not enough bloody walls!” Boyd owns so much art that moving from 2,100 square feet into a 650 sq ft space was always going to be a problem.
“Downsizing by two-thirds was bloody hard,” she admits. “I gave so much away to friends. The hardest to deal with was the nostalgia stuff, like old cassette tapes.
But we did want a balance of old, new, upcycled, recycled: I’m not into that whole shiny new thing.”
The furniture in their new flat came from “op shops [charity shops] in New Zealand and Australia, garage sales, Sai Kung antiques shops that were closing down and Stanley Market, as well as Horizon Plaza, Ikea and G.O.D.”
Some of the art was bought from galleries or artists around Southeast Asia, many pieces were painted by Boyd or her son Lachlan, who studied fine art, and others were acquired through “art swaps” at the painting and life-drawing classes she runs at Skink, the Sai Kung studio she shares with fellow Australian artist Sharyn Ridley.
The sculptures, paintings, photographs, prints, rugs and objets around the home add a personal touch. White walls provide a perfect backdrop for the collection and maximise the natural seaside light.
“I can’t not do colour,” says Boyd.
And colour there is; it is found in rainbow rugs picked up in Mexico, a quilt made by her mother and an acrylic wool blanket crocheted by her grandmother that adorns the leather sofa.
Family memories can also be found in the wooden jewellery box made by her father, the Russian nesting dolls that were a gift from her sister and the vintage Tasma radio, with wave lengths marked “Vic, QLD, SA, WA, Tas”, on which “Wendell used to listen to the cricket, with his Pop”.
“I’m a hoarder of specifics these days,” says Boyd. “When downsizing I kept some things functional, some sentimental. I asked my husband, ‘Which am I?’ “‘You’re a bit of both, you can stay,’ he said.”
Stairwell The glass-brick feature wall conceals storage space for Helen Boyd’s “cleaning clutter and Christmas decorations”. The stairwell to the roof is a virtual gallery, featuring works by Boyd, her son Lachlan, Marite Norris, Kathy Liu, Tony Cheng Chi-ching and Amber McCarthy, among others. Boyd uses Artmen Gallery (110 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2573 0819) for framing.
Living area The blue leather sofa was bought from a Tsim Sha Tsui store that closed years ago; the armchairs, which were purchased in Australia years ago, cost HK$6,000 to reupholster, with fabric from Canaan Curtain & Decoration (Sai Kung Building, 42 Fuk Man Road, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 9892). The cushions on the sofa were from Ikea and the Hello Sailor cushion (A$20/HK$110) came from Target (www.target.com.au), in Brisbane. The LED ceiling lights were bought on the mainland by Boyd’s contractor, Pacific Alliance Engineering (tel: 2111 9890), and the retro-futuristic wooden fan (HK$2,775) came from Manhattan Lighting (20 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2572 5222). The Ikea rug (HK$1,000) and wooden chest (HK$500) were picked up at a garage sale. The antique Tibetan cabinet (HK$10,000) was found in a closingdown sale and the wall-mounted white boat light (HK$2,000 for a pair) came from Vintage HK (10 Hoi Pong Street, Sai Kung, tel: 2792 0212). On the kitchen table is a Denby Pottery tea set, bought second-hand from Sai Kung Marketplace on Facebook for HK$300. The wax sculpture is from a plaster cast of Lachlan’s torso made by a friend for a high-school art project.
Stairs The arabesque tiles came from J Power (157 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2596 0001) and wood-style floor tiles from Ga Hing Building Material Centre (318 Portland Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2142 7183). In the bedroom at the end of the corridor, the Persian rug was HK$11,000 from CarpetBuyer (17/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2850 5508). The wall by the stairs was partially opened to create a step effect, making the area feel roomier and brighter.
Dining area and kitchen The table, a bench and three desk chairs cost HK$5,000 in total from online furniture outlet Stockroom (www.stockroom.com.hk). The Smeg fridge (HK$17,000) was from eCox (194 Tong Mi Road, Prince Edward, tel: 2396 0166). The linen anchor tea towel was HK$200 from Mushroom (14 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2851 7688). The acrylic on canvas painting was by Lachlan.
Roof The outdoor furniture and umbrella were bought years ago from various Horizon Plaza stores. The map-of-Australia tablecloth (A$20) came from Sydney’s Glebe Markets (www.glebemarkets.com.au). The glasses (HK$60 each) were from Zara Home (Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2880 5068).
Bedroom The Matisse print was a gift from Boyd’s husband 27 years ago. It was reframed at Artmen Gallery, as was the wedding photo montage. The lamp was one of a pair from Sum Ngai Brass Ware (195B Kam Sheung Road, Kam Tin, tel: 2477 7202). The quilt was handmade by Boyd’s mother. The pillowslips and cushion covers were from Ikea and Zara Home. The custom-made wooden four-poster bed (HK$12,000) came from a Sai Kung antiques shop that has since closed. The wooden walk-in wardrobe doors were painted by Boyd and installed by her contractor.
Bathroom The marble-topped basin unit was designed by Boyd and built by her contractor for the extended bathroom. The ceramic knobs were from Shambala (2/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2555 2997). The wall tiles came from Crystal Mosaic (205C Lockhart Road, tel: 2423 3188) and the bamboo ladder (HK$100) from a now-closed Sai Kung antiques shop. A mirror from Old Shanghai (15/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 3527 3135) was converted into a cabinet by the contractor (HK$3,600 in total). The drawing, by Australian artist Lori Foster, came from Studio Skink (helenbronteboyd.squarespace.com).
What's cooking? Thanks to a clever design by Helen Boyd and her contractor at Pacific Alliance Engineering, the open-plan corner kitchen at the rear of the lounge - the two areas were previously separated by a wall - feels spacious, despite its small size. It uses stainless steel that "scratches up nicely and adds character, but doesn't stain", says Boyd. Beyond its peacock-blue, double-glazed 45cm by 30cm window lies a miniature kitchen garden, with plants from Sai Kung florist Kwan Kee (31 See Cheung Street, tel: 2792 6962) contained in a metal alloy frame purpose-built by the contractor and obscuring the neighbours' side wall.