South African couple David and Sandra Gilbert had no problem finding a Mid-Levels rental apartment that ticked all the boxes, but it was their ability to translate decorating ideas into reality that fell short. A lack of spare time to even repaint their new home didn’t help. Then a friend mentioned interior designer Aviva Duncan. “We had a fairly clear idea of the place we wanted but it was hard to recreate that image,” says businessman David. “[Working with a designer] wasn’t something we’d ever thought about but the result went far beyond anything we could achieve on our own. My original assumption was that Aviva would execute our plan but it developed in a much better way. What she did exceptionally well was to help us build a home that speaks to us.” Duncan achieved this by getting to know the Gilberts, who have lived in Hong Kong for two years, and building a picture of the way they wanted to live. She then guided them towards furniture, lighting and art that she felt would look good in their 1,300 sq ft, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment and reflect their characters. She also challenged them to explore adventurous options rather than gravitate to their comfort zone. “I teased out their identities,” says Duncan, “and since we couldn’t structurally change the apartment, I used objects to tell their story.” I thoroughly enjoyed the whole design process and I love the geometric rug we’ve created – not least because there’s a story behind it David Gilbert One discovery was David’s talent for photography. He’d told Duncan about going on safari and shown her some of his “snaps”. The images were so incredible, she persuaded the couple to have them printed and framed to create a feature wall. “I wouldn’t have had the confidence to display photos I’d taken myself and I wouldn’t have made them look so nice,” David says. “I’d have maybe shoved one or two in a bathroom somewhere but Aviva went the whole hog.” The Gilberts had natural-wood furniture but Duncan felt they needed bold accents to break up the brown. She suggested designing a bespoke rug. Although the idea was well received, the couple’s tastes were diametrically opposite, with David happy to go with plain grey and Sandra wanting something more flamboyant (or, as David describes it, “the carpet equivalent of flamingos”). With Duncan’s help, they found common ground and ended up with a highly individual piece that David believes will stay with them forever. “If you’d said to me on day one that this is what I would end up with, I’d have said, ‘Absolutely not’,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not at all artistic but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole design process and I love the geometric rug we’ve created – not least because there’s a story behind it.” The couple particularly appreciated the way Duncan steered them towards pieces that would work in their current home (a glass-fronted cabinet, the rug) but also fit in elsewhere, should they decide to move on. She identified areas worth investing in (art, for one) and others where they could save. And she advised against spending on purely functional items for a specific space, and to this end kitted out one of the small bedrooms with Ikea cupboards to turn it into a dressing room. “I like nice things and want them to last forever, and that resonates quite strongly with Aviva, too,” says David. “What she did really well for us was to focus on pieces that were not only good quality and practical but also valuable in terms of the feeling they gave us.” The result is the perfect mix of form and function, and two “super happy” clients. “The success of it is there is no single piece or room that we prefer,” says David. “It all works together so brilliantly and makes me smile every time I walk inside.” Living/dining area The open-plan living/dining room was one of the main reasons David and Sandra Gilbert chose this apartment; the fabulous urban view was the other. The focal point of the living room, the paintings are by Australia-based Finnish artist Agneta Ekholm . The Elliot sofa came from Nook Living a few years ago and the bespoke Erte rug (HK$18,000/US$2,323) was designed by interior designer Aviva Duncan . The Newton coffee table (HK$18,660) and the black Owalo 7010 floor lamp (HK$8,740) were both from Manks . The pendant lamp was HK$38,000 from Zodiac Lighting . The sideboard (HK$31,500) accommodating the record player was from Lane Crawford . The leather armchairs, speakers and bar stools were all bought years ago. Living room detail A Channels Gillespie walnut-and-glass cabinet (HK$58,000 from Lane Crawford) houses David’s drinks collection, amassed simply because he likes the bottles. The framed wall mirror was HK$2,760 from Manks and the silver cocktail set was a housewarming gift. Picture wall Photographs taken by David Gilbert while on safari were framed by Artmen Gallery to create a feature wall in the living room. The circular mirror was HK$9,800 from Lane Crawford. Record player The record player is a Rega Planar 3 by Rega Research . Kitchen The developer installed the open-plan kitchen, which also has a separate wet area for more intensive cooking. Dining area The artwork, by Camie Lyons, came from Australian Galleries in Sydney and the Blossi 1 pendant lamps (HK$4,690 each) came from Manks. The dining table (HK$28,000) and the Eames chairs by Herman Miller (HK$8,500 each) were from Lane Crawford. Main bedroom Wooden furniture adds warmth and natural colour to the master bedroom. The Fissure II sideboard (HK$16,950) that accommodates the television was from TREE , as was the nine-door Fendy locker (HK$19,950). Tried + tested Plug in A tangle of plugs and cables behind a credenza used to drive David Gilbert “insane”. That is, until interior designer Aviva Duncan had them encased in a purpose-designed and built wooden box (HK$3,000), visible behind the leg. “It is the stupid little things that give you a disproportionate amount of pleasure,” says Gilbert.