After more than 15 years in Hong Kong, Dutch expat NICOLE HESSING decided it was time to dip her toe into the property market. The village house she purchased in Clearwater Bay was in reasonable condition – she felt that it wouldn’t need much more than a décor update.
Who lives here: Nicole and her two children, her brother and two dogs
Type of home: Village house
Size of home: 2,100 square feet
Location: Clearwater Bay
A new experience
After considering an initial quote from a renovation company, Nicole decided to go it alone. She would source the materials herself, and use local tradesman, trying to be reasonably thrifty and stick to a modest budget. “Since this was my first time buying a property in Hong Kong, it was quite a daunting experience,” she says. “Of course, you can’t actually get a quote for a renovation until you own the house, so you need to mentally prepare for some unexpected surprises – and have a contingency budget!”
Nicole spent some time planning and researching the renovations, including getting inspiration and ideas from Pinterest. But she was confident with her interior design style, having already built a (stunning!) home in Phuket. “I would say my style is modern contemporary, with lots of accessories and art from global travels – including an Asian influence.” The Thailand project also meant she had practical experience, which was so useful when it came to renovating her Hong Kong home. Of course, as with every makeover, there were still challenges in store.
“The short time for the renovation was probably the biggest thing,” says Nicole. “Also, I was actually travelling and out of the country for most of the time. So, I had to arrange things remotely through WhatsApp calls and across time zones, which was sometimes tricky. Fortunately, my brother was there on the ground to help project manage.”
A new look
Nicole sourced lots of furniture for the house from AsiaXPAT, saving plenty of money in the process and doing the right thing by the environment at the same time. She also upcycled several existing pieces using Frenchic Furniture Paint. The walk-in wardrobe doors are by B&B Italia, and were obtained from a friend who had them left over from a renovation project.
Furniture aside, there are some lovely details throughout the village house. For example, Nicole replaced all the light switches, and had bespoke lights made for above the kids’ beds: a Death Star from Star Wars above son Stijn’s bed, and a fairy-tale forest for daughter Izabella’s room. Another nice touch is the custom-made metal nosing placed on the stairs and skirting boards. Most of the materials were sourced from the stores in various streets in Mong Kok – Bute, Portland, Mong Kok, Nathan and Hong Lok Streets, for example. Nicole found the owners very helpful in general – happy to chat through all the various options and pricing, and, of course, open to negotiation.
Kitchen, bathrooms and beyond
Nicole would have liked a new kitchen – including raising the height of the counter for her tall family! – but the budget didn’t stretch quite that far. Instead, she re-covered the cupboards and added new handles. There was one splurge, however: the tiles – they’re one of her favourites, and quite expensive. The kitchen was also rewired for both UK and Dutch sockets so the family can use their Dutch appliances without adapters. They all love to cook, including 12-year-old Izabella, who is a fantastic baker. Nicole is hoping to put in a new kitchen soon. The priority for now, though, is to install a solar panel system on the village house roof.
With the bathrooms, the idea was for a simple refurb. However, there were three layers of existing tiling, which meant the whole lot had to be ripped out and redone – one of those nasty surprises that can come along with a renovation! The rest of the house received new flooring, too – a combination of timber and tiles, which were laid after a comprehensive termite treatment.
One home reno “hack” that Nicole used to good effect was spray-painting the air-conditioners. They were all in good working order, but had become discoloured (“nicotine yellow!”); so she sprayed them all when repainting each room. They look like new. She also didn’t like the brown-coloured doors and door posts in the house. Those got a spray, too, for a new lease of life and to keep them in line with the rest of the interior.
Elsewhere, new door handles replaced the typical round Hong Kong doorknob; floors were spruced with rugs from Overstock – Nicole’s bathroom mirror and wall cabinets are also from there; and the blinds and curtains were custom made with fabric from Altfield Interiors. If you’re keen to touch up your own home, look for the store’s sample sales, held several times a year.
A final word
In all, the project took three months to complete. The family moved in after two months, so there was the usual tip-toeing around tradesmen for a short period at the end.
If Nicole had her time again, she’d probably have given herself more breathing room with the schedule. “A renovation project of this size would normally take around four months. I’d like to have allowed for that extra time to get everything completely finished, without putting too much stress on ourselves – and on the local tradesmen!” Despite the slight rush, though, the results are impressive. So, does Nicole have a favourite new-look area of the house?
“Definitely my master bedroom and bathroom. I have the best-ever walk-in wardrobe, my bathroom gives me a sense of peace and relaxation, and my bedroom allows for sufficient space for me to get the rest I need; I just wish I could spend more time sleeping!”
Excellent Tiles Company (kitchen tiles) Portland Street, Mong Kok
Overstock (bathroom basins) overstock.com
Sincere Decoration Materials (doors and door handles) Mong Kok Road
Wah Kee Metalware Company (skirting and staircase strips) Portland Street, Mong Kok
Wingo Building Materials (light switches) Mong Kok Road
Woodrite (wardrobes and bathroom cabinets) Kung Yip Street, Kwai Chung
Photography by Col Sim
This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.