You’d be forgiven for thinking these interior shots came from a chic French farmhouse in the middle of Provence. With its semi-sheer linen curtains, pale plastered walls, rustic wooden furniture and second-hand accessories, this home looks the picture of elegant Gallic simplicity. Instead, it is a 1,000 sq ft walk-up apartment in Happy Valley, that Mandy Lee and her husband, Jason Tsang, designed and renovated themselves. “I wanted to fool myself that I was living in France. I once went on a road trip around Burgundy and stayed in a chateau and have never felt so peaceful,” says Lee, the brains behind food blog Lady and Pups. This was the second time the couple had redone their flat, which they bought in 2000. Three months after finishing the first makeover, in the style of an industrial New York loft, Lee and Tsang, who works in finance, relocated to Beijing. When they returned to Hong Kong six years later, their lifestyle and mindset had evolved. “We’d adopted two big dogs and needed more open space,” recalls Lee, who was born in Taiwan, raised in Canada and spent time in New York before moving back to Asia 20 years ago. “Our apartment originally had three bedrooms and we initially thought that if we ever wanted to sell it, it would be best to keep them but it was such a waste. Two of the bedrooms just became somewhere to store stuff we never touched so we went for a purely selfish design this time, with only one bedroom.” Inside hotel designer Bill Bensley’s exotic Bangkok home On a budget, Lee and Tsang, who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Taiwan, decided to do most of the renovating themselves, with intervention by a contractor kept to a minimum. Lee was inspired by Instagram pictures by the Jersey Ice Cream Co, an interior design studio that has nothing to do with frozen desserts. It also helped that she had studied architecture and design – although she has never practised – and had a steadfast sense of what she wanted to accomplish. “I go to great lengths to achieve what I want and I’ve got this weird mentality where I always think, ‘How hard can it be?’” she says. “So I end up doing things myself that might have been best left to a professional […] the only problem being that I often get halfway through a project and realise it isn’t as easy as I thought.” A case in point is the subtle, pale-grey plaster finish, which covers most walls and ceilings. Lee managed to track down a company that would deliver the plaster to Hong Kong but when she couldn’t find anyone to apply it the way she had in mind, she decided to do it herself. “The plastering was painful,” she says. “Jason did the ceilings and it took about a year to complete. I did the last piece in November.” Although not a professional chef, Lee is passionate about food and cooking and recently wrote, styled and photographed her own cookbook, The Art of Escapism Cooking . So it makes sense that her kitchen would be functional and her haven, filled with copper cookware that looks like props but is in constant use. When she couldn’t find the exact shade of dark green she wanted, she had it custom mixed and painted everything herself. “I am drawn to dark spaces but I knew I couldn’t paint the whole apartment dark green,” she says. Sourcing furniture, fixtures and accessories from online shopping site Taobao was another way the couple kept costs down. Lee distressed, stained and re-oiled anything that looked too “new”, even going so far as to toast wooden pieces in the oven and scratch others with a serrated knife to age them. She used inexpensive plywood as wall panelling, staining it with oil to achieve her desired antique look. “I’m now a Taobao expert and did a lot of DIY to give things the appearance I wanted,” she says. “If I’d bought all the furniture and materials in Hong Kong, the cost would have been at least double and it would probably still have been made in China.” The result is a far cry from what you would expect from a budget renovation, exuding a peaceful vibe that is a world away from the bustle outside. “Hong Kong is not a very relaxed place and I’m not naturally a tranquil person but I need a space where I feel calm,” says Lee. “It’s not what everyone would like but it’s right for us at this point in our lives.” Living area Mandy Lee and Jason Tsang’s flat is proof that budget items don’t have to look cheap. Great finds from Taobao , many of them second-hand, include, from left, the wooden armchair (5,000 yuan/US$718), side table (700 yuan), stool (300 yuan), sofa (6,000 yuan), coffee table, cabinet (700 yuan), chair (5,000 yuan, excluding the dog), rugs (1,688 yuan for large; 648 yuan for small) and baskets. Living area detail The artwork (144 yuan), curtain rods (323 yuan), beige curtain (415 yuan) and sheer curtain (133 yuan) all came from Taobao. The eco-friendly Roman Clay plaster finish, used throughout, was from Portola . The balcony off the living area was the only area left unchanged in Lee and Tsang’s second round of renovations. Kitchen The green paint, used on the walls, cabinetry and shelves, was custom mixed at Eicó and is called Mandy 2.3. The circular brass sink was € 20 (US$24) from Marrakech, in Morocco. The second-hand copper-bottomed pots and pans came from various sources over the years. The stool (300 yuan) and wall-mounted lights (128 yuan each) all came from Taobao. The kettle was bought via Amazon . Dining area Lee’s favourite part of her flat is the dining nook. The sofa (7,000 yuan), reading lamp (208 yuan), circular table (2,164 yuan), chair (370 yuan) and rug (838 yuan) were all from Taobao. The plywood panelling was bought locally, then oiled and painted by Lee. Dining area detail The sideboard with glass frontage (9,080 yuan) and artwork (27 yuan) were sourced on Taobao. The vintage-looking fan was found on eBay . Bedroom Lee prefers floor-to-ceiling linen curtains rather than cupboard doors to lend a feeling of height and softness (window and wardrobe curtains were 913 yuan from Taobao). The bed (8,800 yuan) also came from Taobao. Bathroom The evocative French farmhouse chic extends to the bathroom. The globe wall light (68 yuan), mirror (about 400 yuan), sink (3,099 yuan), linen basket (119 yuan), shower curtain (410 yuan) and stool were from Taobao. The floor mats came from Ikea . Tried + tested Body of work What looks like an antique marble statue is actually a newly produced piece bought from Taobao for 1,500 yuan. Mandy Lee used a chisel to make cracks across the torso and further personalised it with acrylic paint.