We hear from a family of six about how an interior designer gave their seaside flat in Hong Kong a fabulous home design makeover.
Hong Kong via Canada and NYC
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Dr Jessica Bruser met her husband Heath Zarin in Manhattan – she was a concert pianist finishing a doctorate in music; he was working as an investment professional after “retiring” from law. And it wasn’t long before the two made the move to Hong Kong.
“We came here as newlyweds in 2005, shortly after my recital debut at Carnegie Hall,” says Jessica. “Like so many others, we thought we would stay in Hong Kong for only five years, but we immediately fell in love with this wonderful city.” Today, they can’t imagine living anywhere else – especially as their family of two has since become a family of six! “We have four wonderful sons spanning a decade from four to 14 years old.”
Jessica naturally has her hands very full as a mum, so she has taken an extended sabbatical from her work as a concert pianist and university piano professor until her youngest begins full-time school. She also sits on various boards and is involved with the family business’s philanthropic efforts in the region.
Time for a renovation and new home design
Jessica, Heath and the boys live in a flat in Tai Tam on the southside – and they couldn’t be happier with their little slice of Hong Kong.
“We absolutely love the serenity – and nothing beats those seaside views.” Less than perfect, though, was the state of the flat in Hong Kong, which was showing its age and well and truly in need of a makeover. That’s why Jessica called on HK-based interior designer Britta Butler for help.
“I met Britta more than a decade ago when our sons were in the same preschool class. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and I’ve been following her work the entire time. When we needed help with a full gut renovation and interior design project, I immediately thought of her.”
Jessica says that Britta is the type of interior designer who understands what her clients want and need – “even when they don’t necessarily understand it themselves!” She also has a knack of merging both a modern and clean aesthetic with a warm and lived-in homey feel – which was ideal for the family’s needs.
Jessica and Heath were both very involved in the planning and home design part of the project, with Britta providing ample opportunity to answer questions and give feedback. “She and her team then completely handled the renovations, along with the excellent contractors at WHDL Design, as the bulk of the work happened when our family was overseas. That was a huge stress- and time-saver for us.”
So, does Jessica have a favourite aspect of the makeover to her home design?
“I love the floors! And the kitchen backsplash! And the bathrooms! But most importantly, I love the fact that we switched the larger master bedroom and made it into a room that fits two double-sized bunk beds for the four boys. It isn’t easy to make a room for four children feel spacious, but Britta has achieved this with some brilliant problem-solving.”
The master bathroom was also converted for use by four boys, including installing two showers and opting for some teen-inspired charcoal grey herringbone tiles. Elsewhere, the third bedroom was modified to a gaming room/library, with Britta moving the doorway to give more room for books. “It’s something I hadn’t even considered – but who would ever turn down more room for books?!”
Art and accessories
Aside from the changes to the bones of the home, there are some striking finishing touches on display, too. “Britta and I went through quite a journey choosing each and every piece. Of course, we all love beautiful blown glass lights from Italy, but it’s also possible to find unique and wonderful lights for a tenth of the cost right here in Hong Kong.”
Jessica also used Etsy to connect directly with artists, including four in mainland China whose oil paintings she purchased to complete her home design vision. “I couldn’t quite believe how quickly I received them in Hong Kong – less than 10 days including framing a few of them. The others were framed by our tried-and-trusted framers, Arco Fine Art Framing. Kenny was amazing and really took care of me in a tight schedule.”
For the walls of the boys’ room, a graphic designer in New Zealand, PrintsforTeens, created some inspirational basketball quotes; Jessica printed them off as 11×14 photographs. The room also honours Heath’s New York roots, with a fabric of NY landmarks perfectly complementing the hideaway desk and rug.
The gaming room, meanwhile, is home to 3D models of cities that the family has visited, designed by an artist in Kobe, Japan called CITYIN3D. “I also found a wonderful metal artist, Jon Allen from Florida in the US, who designed a copper sculpture to fill our Christmas tree corner when it’s not in use.”
Beyond the home
It’s no surprise that changes to the kitchen figured prominently in the renovation, as Jessica and Heath are total foodies. They enjoy cooking together as a family but also learning about food. For example, they go to cooking classes together (including at the InterContinental prior to its renovation, and The Peninsula), and Jessica has also done an intensive cake decorating class at Complete Deelite. “It has helped me design at least 20 different birthday cakes for my boys over the years!”
Speaking of the boys, they’ve also caught the cooking bug – they’ve started cooking with their parents every weekend, developing a repertoire that they share on their own cooking blog (SigmaEats.blogspot.com). The couple also loves going to wine, cheese and caviar appreciation courses, and most recently were impressed with the offerings at the Hong Kong Golf and Tennis Academy, both in Sai Kung and at the new town club location. “The sommelier at the American Club also has wonderful offerings in the Wine Society series, and Baccarat Hong Kong held a very memorable Cognac tasting experience featuring Louis XIII by Remy Martin.”
Another recent highlight was a cocktail-making class with friends at the Rosewood. “It changed our worldview of the perfect Espresso Martini!” Most of all, Jessica loves sampling the wonderful cakes, pies, tarts and cookies that HK has to offer. “I’m currently obsessed with the out-of-this-world Nutella cookies from Frenchie Toquée; and the Tahitian Vanilla Millefeuille from the Rosewood is a family favourite!”
A word from Britta Butler, founder and design director of B Squared Design
“The flat in Hong Kong hadn’t been renovated in a few decades, so it was definitely due for a full makeover and home design revamp. It was drab and dark, with lots of stone and marble everywhere – very 80s! The project was a gut renovation of the entire Hong Kong flat , so it was exciting to be able to work with a blank slate. We put in a brand new chef’s kitchen, new bathrooms, new flooring and moved the entrance to the third bedroom to turn it into a dedicated gaming room for the boys.
“I was also very excited to work on this project because we had great clients who saw our vision of making the space lighter and brighter, and home design more modern, comfortable and kid-friendly, but also sophisticated enough for the adults to have parties and gatherings. One of my favourite rooms is the boys’ bathroom. We ripped out the outdated tub and sinks and put in two showers, two sinks and four dedicated drawers in the vanity – one for each boy to keep his own toiletries. We used a cool colour palette of greys, whites and concrete with matte black fixtures. I’m also really pleased with how the floor turned out: charcoal black tiles set in a herringbone pattern.”
What’s next for interior designer Britta Butler?
“Well, this year, we’re branching out into designing F&B projects, and have just completed our first bar, Orchard, on Gage Street in Central. We hope to do more bars and restaurants this year and in the future. At the same time, we’ll continue to work on residential interiors; we have several full renovation and interior design projects in the works.”
B Squared Design
Room 2011, 20/F, Remex Centre, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road,
Wong Chuk Hang
2728 8805 | firstname.lastname@example.org
IG & FB: @bsquareddesignhk
Photography by Michael Perini
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.