Shiny and sleek might be how some people want their homes to look. Not Shelly Hayashi. Hers is an abode filled with old gear given new beginnings. Underpinning the look – which speaks of market finds rather than mall buys – is a design philosophy that finds character in the blemished and appeal in the worn.

“We have great reverence for the wabi-sabi style,” Hayashi says, referring to the Japanese aesthetic that appreciates the beauty in imperfection.

Filling the 1,600 sq ft Shek O rental the Floridian shares with her Nagoyaborn husband, Hiro Hayashi, vicepresident of creative services at Ralph Lauren, and their two children, are carefully collected pieces of furniture, art and ephemera from various eras.

Which is perhaps why, when Hayashi opened her shop, in 2011, shortly after moving to Hong Kong from London (where she worked in fashion after stints in New York and Tokyo), she was surprised to hear customers ask whether her furniture was second-hand, meaning second-best.


Watch: Shiny and sleek might be how some people want their homes to look, but not this Hong Kong decorator


It is a personal extension of General Store, the shop Shelly Hayashi opened four years ago on Gage Street, selling furniture and accessories bearing the patina of age.

Before they moved into the threebedroom, two-storey beachside house half a year ago, the 1950s property was spruced up, with walls painted white and woodlook floor tiles laid in a herringbone pattern, as the couple had requested.

“It’s part of our personal style to mix eras,” says Hayashi. “Think modern furniture with antique and vintage pieces.”

That’s why a Cherner chair from the 50s mingles with a Ligne Roset Togo lounge chair from the 70s; 20s blueprints of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair share wall space with posters of Edward Wormley’s 40s Dunbar collection; and shoe lasts from a slower age sit on shelves with the hollow-eyed head of a doll. This eclectic design ethos extends into the adjoining dining area, where George Nelson Bubble lamps hang from the ceiling and a window into the kitchen is occupied by a stuffed penguin (a mate stands to attention nearby).

“They were a gift from my [business] partner in Japan,” says Hayashi. “The story goes that they’re from the first Japanese excursion to the Antarctic. They are probably my most prized possessions; they’re well over 100 years old.”

Other favourites include a wooden baby’s high chair, in which her children, now five and seven, sat for meals. And hanging from a ladder by the entrance are boro blankets made of patched Japanese indigo fabric faded over time. Their name comes from the expression boro boro, loosely translated as ragged, mended, even “about to fall apart”. These fabrics, however, look as though they’ll be around for many more years.

“To me it’s more that we are the next custodian of these pieces,” she says. “They’re made beautifully and [are of ] such high quality they can last generation after generation.”

Time-consuming hand-crafting is something Hayashi understands well, having spent hundreds of hours sewing miniature fruit and vegetable toys for her children.

“That one took me a month to make,” she says, pointing to a pineapple with yellow puckered skin and exuberant leaves.

She stores fabric for these toys in a trunk on the top floor, which accommodates a bathroom and the scenic master bedroom. One level above this, accessed by a step ladder, is a furnished rooftop.

Old suitcases are also used for storage on the main floor.

“The thing I love to do is find a modern take on a vintage piece,” she says. So old mugs now serve as plant pots; cigarette cases store earbuds; easels make picture stands and a drafting table doubles as a place to display knick-knacks.

Books – mostly large-format, hardcover volumes – enhance the decor, although, they are also reference tools. “We love to research our design projects through the books we collect,” Hayashi says.

To keep them from looking messy, she colour codes the covers. “This is our way of organising and celebrating each book.”

Hayashi’s enthusiasm for her finds begs the question of whether she has difficulty parting with those at her shop. It can be a struggle, she acknowledges, but “when somebody picks a piece I personally bought for the store it gives me such joy to know they appreciate and understand it”.

And who will be the guardians of her personal collections?

“I wonder if my children will be interested in them or if there’ll be an episode of Hoarders where specialists will be called in to clear up their parents’ home,” she jokes.

“I hope we’re teaching our next generation to love and appreciate these old pieces.”

Dining area The table was custom made in Britain years ago. At the head of the table is a rosewood and leather Modus chair (1961), by Kristian Solmer Vedel, bought at auction in Chicago. The others are 1950s school chairs (£25/HK$300 each), by James Leonard for Esavian, bought on years ago. The George Nelson pendant lamps, from Modernica, were purchased at Aluminium for about HK$4,000 each. The high chair was bought for about £75 seven years ago (when Shelly Hayashi was pregnant with her first child, Jax) from an antiques fair in Britain.

Living room The sofa, from ABC Carpet & Home (, in New York, was one of the first pieces of furniture Hayashi bought with her husband. The Togo chair, by Ligne Roset, came from an antiques market in London. The Ribbon chair, by Norman Cherner; the 70s Barcelona coffee table, by Mies van der Rohe, and vintage fly ashtray on it; the antique Goyard trunk; and the 1890 drafting table and OC White lamp (circa 1900) by it, all came from General Store (prices on application; 41 Gage Street, Central, tel: 2851 8144). The gunmetal pendant lights came from City Foundry (, in New York, years ago. The “Notions” vintage hand-lettered sign circa 1890 (about US$500) was from Paula Rubenstein (21 Bond Street, New York, tel: 1 212 966 8954) and the set of six black-and-white Ralph Gibson original prints, above the bookcase, were bought at an auction in Chicago. On top of the bookcase sit a vintage model of Brooklyn Bridge; a modern brass sculpture from CB2 (, in the US; wooden owls from a market in Thailand; a Native American vase; and a vintage expanding brass container from Egypt. On the far left of the bookcase is an OC White lamp (circa 1900) from General Store.

Living room detail The Indian cabinet (about HK$2,000) came from a market in Thailand, and the chair is a school chair bought on a road trip in the American southwest. The Allen Grubesic signed print, I Was Young … (2007), is available on Girl In Water (1997) is by Barnaby Hall. The cart was bought from a vintage shop in Brighton, Britain, for £12. The Brompton floor lamp (US$2,400) came from Ralph Lauren Home. Above the collage of photos (see Tried + tested) is a Man Ray lithograph from

Rooftop The outdoor furniture was bought years ago. The floral ornaments on the coffee table came from The Conran Shop (, in London. The Bonbonne lamp in clear glass (HK$3,400) came from Ligne Roset.

Master bedroom The signed print, Open, is by Robert Rauschenberg and was bought at auction in Japan. The Damien Hirst skull poster came from Other Criteria (, in London. The American mid-century bedside tables were bought at auction in Chicago years ago. The Tolomeo desk lamps (US$470 each), by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina for Artemide, came from Design Within Reach (, in the US. The Jean Prouve chair (HK$5,000), remade by Prouve Raw by G-Star for Vitra, came from Aluminium, which was also the source for the Tom Dixon pendant light (about HK$3,000). The “birds” on the window sill came from an antiques street in Shanghai.

Son’s room The old English school desk was bought in London years ago. The HAY steel shelf (HK$670) came from Lane Crawford, and the Normann Copenhagen wall pockets (HK$150 to HK$300 each) are from Homeless. The framed overalls were acquired years ago.

Daughter’s room Kilala, five, shares space with crates of fruits and vegetables handmade by Hayashi. The painting, by Elizabeth Sporleder, came from Steven Amedee (, in New York. The Moulin Roty Toy Oven (HK$2,500) is available at Petit Bazaar (


Picture perfect For their 2004 wedding in New York, Shelly and Hiro Hayashi rented a photo booth that printed two pictures at a time, one for them, one for the guests.

"This is a fantastic way to remember that fun night," Shelly says.

The frame contains 100 strips displayed in 10 rows.