Creating a stylish home doesn’t have to be a matter of throwing every­thing out and starting over. Many of us already have a household full of pieces too good to discard. Some­times all it takes is a fresh eye to make a fresh beginning.

This was the case for American yoga instructor Sarah Woodall, her chief executive husband, John, and their two children – Josh, aged seven, and Erica, three – when they moved from Happy Valley to a 2,075 sq ft, four-bedroom rental in Shouson Hill. Theirs is a classic expat tale of a two-year adventure in Asia that turned into four years, then six, and is now indefinite.

The kid-friendly Hong Kong flat that was inspired by a hidden waterfall

“My Mom has stopped asking when we’re coming home,” Woodall says, laughing. “We arrived in Hong Kong from San Diego about six years ago with literally just a suitcase each and a few family pictures. We wanted to keep it simple, and to live somewhere local and urban. We learned that we didn’t need a lot of stuff.”

But with a larger family and plans to stay, the couple decided to move to a quieter, more relaxed neighbourhood.

“We had a great spot in Happy Valley, but it always felt transient, we never felt settled. So when we moved here, we wanted it to feel like home,” Woodall says.

Sarah wanted a calm, uncluttered, Zen-like feel to the space [...] So I used their existing pieces and tied them together with a new carpet. We added a pair of armchairs, and a lot of plants, for tranquillity
Amrita Khanna, interior designer

Enter Amrita Khanna, of Zip Code 888. The interior designer had been recom­mended in a post on the Hong Kong Moms Facebook group.

The two clicked immediately and Khanna was commissioned to design the Woodalls’ new living area, pulling together pieces they already owned with a few new elements.

“Sarah wanted a calm, uncluttered, Zen-like feel to the space. They have young children and didn’t want to buy all new furniture. So I used their existing pieces and tied them together with a new carpet. We added a pair of armchairs, and a lot of plants, for tranquillity,” Khanna says. “To refresh the space, we painted one wall a warm sandy colour. White curtains also helped to freshen it up.”

Khanna rifled through the couple’s artwork, combining pieces in new ways on the living room walls, and created a gallery of family photos in the hallway, using frames the couple already had plus a few new ones (“mainly from Ikea”). And Khanna brought new life to a mirror that Sarah had fallen out of love with by painting the frame.

A Hong Kong dream home: why it took an Australian couple three years to create the perfect house

“Once we’d had the living room done, we said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’” Woodall recalls. And so Khanna’s magic touch spread throughout the flat.

“She treated the children like mini clients, asking what they wanted from their rooms,” Woodall says. “Josh was like, ‘I like Minecraft!’ And Erica wanted pink walls and princesses – we had to talk her down from that ledge. They got a bit of what they wanted and a bit of what I wanted.”

The compromise in Erica’s room was soft grey walls with pops of pink – a chest of drawers, a chair, a bunny-ears mirror – while Khanna acquiesced to Josh’s Minecraft obsession with a set of pixelated artworks she made herself.

[Amrita]’s made this apartment feel like a home. In our old place, we felt we had to get out all the time, but now even the kids want to stay in and relax. It’s our sanctuary
Sarah Woodall

The main suite is almost entirely composed of furniture the couple already owned. “I just rearranged it,” Khanna says. But she did have a clean slate in one room: John’s study, now a masculine haven in shades of grey, black leather, reclaimed teak and steel.

“It was an anniversary present,” Woodall says. “I asked Amrita to do the room for him while he was away on a business trip, so it was a big surprise. He loves it – it’s his man cave.

“Amrita nailed it. I don’t like over-the-top design; I like it to be calm. I like that she did it within budget and didn’t make me feel bad for not spending a lot on items that my kids would rub their spaghetti-stained hands all over. She’s made this apartment feel like a home. In our old place, we felt we had to get out all the time, but now even the kids want to stay in and relax. It’s our sanctuary.”

Dining area The chairs (HK$1,950 each) were from Tree. The artwork, from Indigo Living, has a mandala-like quality and was picked by Amrita Khanna, of Zip Code 888, as a nod to Sarah Woodall’s love for yoga. The glasses, cutlery and candlesticks all come from iDecorate. The Beacon of Light ceiling lamps (HK$995 each) were from Sonder Living.

Living room Khanna based the living-room design around pieces the Woodalls have owned for years, including the sofa, dining table, sideboard and mirror (an unloved piece that the interior designer rescued by painting the frame with an antique finish).

The Sakandi rug (HK$9,995; from Sonder Living) echoes the pattern of the mother-of-pearl inlay on the cabinet (behind the sofa), which the family has also owned for years. The Marianne lounge chairs (HK$10,855 each) also came from Sonder Living. The American walnut coffee table was HK$6,205 from Organic Modernism. The Missoni cushions were HK$800 each from CHC Concepts.

Kitchen The kitchen cabinets and appliances came with the flat. The bar chairs (HK$790 each) were from Ikea and the colourful melamine crockery was from Anthropologie.

Main suite The space is furnished with pieces from the Woodalls’ previous home. Similar Papa Bear armchairs can be bought for HK$3,980 each from Decor8; the TS coffee tables are available from Gubi for €509 (HK$4,680) each; and for the table lamps, check out the Birdy range by Birger Dahl from Northern. The mirror-and-paper artworks were from Indigo Living and the Maskros pendant lamp (HK$899) was from Ikea.

John’s study The black leather chair and ottoman were HK$6,990 in total from Decor8. The Tuareg open shelving (HK$10,950) and Ferum recycled teak desk (HK$8,950) were from Tree. The Harlequin desk chair (HK$4,990) and vintage glass ceiling lamp (HK$6,090) were from Indigo Living.

Erica’s bedroom The American walnut bed was from Tree’s Vintage series (HK$13,950). The Stockholm sideboard (HK$3,990) and Myrheden wire noticeboard (HK$150) were from Ikea. The pink chair (HK$780) and “hello” metal sign (HK$380) came from Mirth. The pink chest of drawers and white coat rack came from the Woodalls’ previous home.

Toy storage The Ikea Gualöv table (HK$499) in Erica’s room makes perfect storage for her soft toys. The tribal rug cost HK$3,400 from Miss Amara and the bunting was HK$380 from Mirth.

Tried + tested

Bright idea The focal point of the living space is a two-metre-long bubble ceiling lamp, which came in two designs: horizontal and vertical. “The only one in stock was vertical, but it was too long for the space, so we used a matching brass chain to pull it up into a horizontal position,” says interior designer Amrita Khanna. The lamp cost HK$5,980 from Organic Modernism.