Before & After: A Run-Down Hong Kong Flat Gets a Gorgeous, Ingenious Facelift

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Name: Erin and Ben and their two kids (9 and 4)
Location: Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Size: Approx. 1000 square feet
Years lived in: 1.5 years, owned

Erin Hung is a designer, illustrator, and lettering artist based in Hong Kong. Her work aims to champion mental health awareness through creative expression, and she is passionate about advocating for the marginalized and survivors of trauma. And when it came to designing the current home she shares with her husband and their two young children, she looked at nature. “We found inspiration in the surroundings of our property, where it is low density, quiet, and natural,” Erin says. “We used lots of earthy colors like sage green and terracotta, working in pops of more jewel tones for interest as well as materials like reclaimed wood, rattan, linens, and bamboos for soft furnishing mixed with brass.”

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When Erin and Ben relocated from London to Hong Kong seven years ago, they first moved into a tiny 580-square-foot flat, which they utilized every square inch to add storage and clever ideas to maximize the space. A few years on, a new baby, a pandemic, and a whole lot more experience in renovation made the couple rethink about their home and how they want to live. So they decided to move out of the city center, trading it for a leafy, quiet neighborhood near the sea.

“This flat had been vacant for two years before we saw it. It was totally run down, leaking in areas, and a walk-up, which didn’t appeal to the local market,” Erin tells me. “However, when we saw it, both my husband and I knew it was what we had been looking for. It was a place where we could design from scratch what we wanted our home to be like, plus it had outdoor space for our young kids and for entertaining — that is really rare in a city like Hong Kong, and a huge bonus!”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: There are many faces to my style that are probably represented through different ways. My illustration work tends to be more colorful and whimsical while my interior style is more pared down and calmer for our family, especially during the lock-down days. Being in the neighborhood we are in, I’m drawn to a lot more natural elements such as reclaimed wood and leathers. Our building is also built with a terracotta tiled roofs and terraces in a 1970s Spanish villa style (funnily, in Hong Kong) so I wanted to match that relaxed vibe in places. Overall, in our home you can see an eclectic collection of mid-century modern mixed with bohemian and vintage items, usually finished off with a little luxe edge like velvet or brass.

Inspiration: We found inspiration in the surroundings of our property, where it is low density, quiet, and natural. We used lots of earthy colors like sage green and terracotta, working in pops of more jewel tones for interest as well as materials like reclaimed wood, rattan, linens, and bamboos for soft furnishing mixed with brass. We also loved the old world, relaxed vibe of the Spanish villa tiles, and used Zellige and vintage patterned tiles as well as slabs of terrazzo in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Favorite Element: It’s super relaxed and we’re not super precious about our furniture and things. Obviously I favor things that are aesthetically pleasing but having two kids at home, I’ve also learned to embrace the clutter to an extent — and not to get too hung up on how things look. These are reminders that our house is a home and strewn toys and the odd stain or scratch marks this season of life where beauty is found in the daily chaos.

Biggest Challenge: When you buy a property that had been vacant for a while and needs to be completely gutted out, you’re bound to find a few surprises here and there. The renovation work took a while and, of course, came with a fair bit of drama. Let’s just keep it at that!

Proudest DIY: I have always been an avid DIYer when it came to home decor but after the pandemic hit, with the kids doing home learning on and off for three years, I barely had any bandwidth left to tackle big projects. Instead, I started to pick up practices that felt more in touch with nature to help me feel more grounded, like gardening, and also picked up a little Lego habit! I have loved these botanical Lego designs in the past years that helps me settle into my evening routines by making something beautiful yet feels light and easy. I think we will be feeling the mental health effects of Covid years after the actual pandemic ceases to be a threat so it’s ever more important to me that I get time to unwind, reflect on what’s happened in the day, and catch up to what my body is feeling

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? We knocked down some of the walls that divided the kitchen and storage areas in the back so to extend our dining area because we wanted that to be the heart of the house. In Hong Kong where space is such a scarcity, I love having a big table we can still gather around when friends come over, or when our kids have board game night. To me that’s really special.

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Growing up and having lived in many small spaces in different cities, I’m big into storage solutions. We worked the area underneath the stairs into a half bookshelf, half storage space. The space behind the bookshelf actually stores most of our bulky household items. We also reworked many of the awkward corners and spaces on our roof terrace into outdoor storage for things like bikes and scooters.

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Make rules and then make exceptions. By that I mean, have a plan, stick to your palette and style — that makes your life easier in terms of decisions, especially when you have to make a hundred of them when you’re redecorating. But then, once in a while, break that rule and allow something that surprises you to come into the fold. I’d say that’s my “formula” for a look that feels cohesive but also unique.

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