For those beginning a completely new endeavour or itching for a career change, there’s no better place than Hong Kong: that magical combination of can-do spirit and the ease with which one can set up a new business makes the city a veritable magnet for enterprising souls. So when ex-banker Mika Green arrived six years ago from Tokyo with her New Zealand-born husband and family, she decided to ditch the financial markets and explore her more creative side. As a talented and Cordon Bleu-trained chef, it would have been logical to concentrate on food and cooking, but she opted instead for her other great passion – interior design. Our Homes showcase reveals her talent in her sister-in-law’s Tai Tam townhouse.
“My Japanese father was horrified when I told him I was working as an interior designer,” smiles Mika. As a Michelin-starred French chef, pre-eminent in the Tokyo food scene since the 1960s, he has always been Mika’s inspiration. “He believes that food is art, and you can see it in every dish he creates. He loves minimalist design, and I grew up admiring his choice of style in everything from cooking to table setting; it was natural that I’d become a minimalist myself!” The restaurant is still located at the base of the Tokyo Green building, which was designed by Philippe Starck two decades ago. “Although it’s now 20 years old,” says Mika, “the interior hasn’t aged at all; it still feels thoroughly contemporary. My father felt that I just couldn’t compete with this kind of designer!”
Still, even Philippe Starck had to start somewhere, and Mika’s natural flair for interiors meant she landed a couple of new interiors projects almost immediately – and a coveted role as home designer for established Hong Kong furniture company, The Red Cabinet. “I was originally a client of theirs, and I adored their pieces, especially the delicate craftsmanship,” says Mika. “However, while they were clearly expert at sourcing one-of-a-kind works and creating their own traditional designs, I felt there was a great opportunity to build beautiful modern furniture too. For me, working as an interior designer has never been about the money – it’s about the whole experience of making a space exquisite. There are so many gorgeous houses, it’s a waste if they don’t fulfil their potential!”
Now Mika has transformed sister-in-law Yuki’s new place in Tai Tam, an attractive Spanish-style townhouse. Yuki is married to Michael, the brother of Mika’s husband Jonathan, and they moved to Hong Kong two years after Mika and Jonathan. “We both met our husbands in Tokyo, and we all worked in finance,” explains Mika. “Our husbands are very close, and there was an immediate connection between Yuki and myself: we’re good friends.” As a result, they spend a lot of time together as a family. Yet Mika didn’t initially suggest that she should design their new house. “I thought it might be awkward, in case they didn’t like my style and felt they couldn’t say no! But Yuki kept asking questions, and in the end we mutually agreed I should do it.”
The result is a light, bright and coolly Zen space that overlooks the peaceful blue expanse of the South China Sea. Standout rooms include the family’s living area on the first floor: a generous sitting room that opens out onto an attractive patio with an enormous outdoor sofa, and a smart zone designed for dining. The eye is immediately drawn to the organic shapes in the dining room: a trio of spherical copper and glass hanging lights above the glass table, two beautifully sensuous standard lamps sourced from Italian company Artemide, which glow softly with white light, and the convex speaker. Hanging above the modern side cabinet is a triptych photograph of one of New Zealand’s spectacular mountain ranges. In fact, there are photographs or paintings of magnificent Kiwi scenes throughout the house – Michael is an avid collector, and a passionate advocate of natural light.
“My husband didn’t want any curtains or blinds in the living area, so we could banish any dark or dreary corners, and let the luminous quality of the sky and sea inside as much as possible,” says Yuki. The sitting area is definitely full of light – partly because there are no curtains, but also because Mika has created a gorgeous homage to minimalism and clutter-free living. Blue-hued white walls, a modernist white sofa and glossy white accessories mean the large rug in shades of pink and orange really “pops” – and, cleverly, the sofa cushions are a similar pattern, but in a different colourway to add interest. Mika designed the white TV cabinet herself; all the AV equipment is neatly hidden away, but can be operated from a single remote. So how does one keep a sitting room so elegantly minimalist, with young children around? “The kids know that when Auntie Mika is here, there is no clutter!” smiles Mika. “But as long as it’s tidied up at the end of the day, it’s OK!”
Mika sought the children’s opinions when decorating their rooms, but has managed not to compromise on style: in fact, she has achieved the impossible by creating possibly the only sophisticated soccer-themed bedroom in existence! It’s true that framed jerseys from Messi and Ronaldinho hang on the wall, but by an inspired choice of cobalt blue paint, gorgeously tailored blinds and sumptuous, layered bedding, somehow they complement the design scheme to produce an overall boyish but stylish effect for eight-year-old Ayrton. The oatmeal and blue rug, and all the monogrammed bed linen were shipped from Pottery Barn Kids, Mika’s go-to supplier. “So far, I’ve found it impossible to find good linens in Hong Kong – there just isn’t the choice of material or designs, or the overall quality,” she muses. “Pottery Barn has the largest and most beautiful range of linens and furniture for kids, and it’s so easy to ship to Hong Kong. The furniture came from the US, but all the linens were shipped from their warehouse in China!”
There is more from Pottery Barn Kids in six-yea-old Kahala’s dreamy room. The bed is princess-style, with a net canopy and more of that luxurious monogrammed bed linen. Another stunning photograph from New Zealand – this time of a spreading pohutukawa tree on a beach, with a bluer than blue Antipodean sky, is hung above the white desk. “Kahala’s not a very girly girl; in fact, she probably would have opted for a soccer bedroom herself!” laughs Mika. “But she chose the aqua blue colourway, and she loves the canopy. It’s quite a sophisticated room for a little girl, but Yuki and I agreed the children needed rooms that would grow with them.”
Let’s hope little Ayrton continues to feel as passionately about football as he does about his new enthusiasm, go-kart racing. “He tried it for the first time three weeks ago, and of course he is hooked,” sighs Yuki. “Michael’s big hobby is car racing, and he goes to Japan every other month to compete in eight- or nine-hour endurance races; he’s part of a team, and they keep their car in Tokyo. It’s not as fast as Formula One, but it’s still fast – and dangerous! But it’s Michael’s passion – Ayrton is even named after Ayrton Senna! And he claims you must think and move at the same time when racing, so it teaches important life skills.”
Yuki and Mika are both bringing up their children to be bilingual, but it’s an uphill struggle. “I speak to them in Japanese, and they reply in English,” laughs Yuki. “They’ve spent much more time in New Zealand than in Japan, but our outlook as a family is naturally international. Growing up, I went to school and university in the US, and of course my husband has spent many years in Japan.”
Perhaps the surprising thing about the house décor, then, is that there is no overt Japanese influence. “I don’t see myself as typically Japanese, but I like simple designs, which must be from my Japanese origin,” explains Yuki. “I’ve never been drawn towards Japanese knick-knacks like traditional dolls, or ceramics. The children both attended the Japanese kindergarten in Happy Valley when we arrived in Hong Kong – more for the cultural experience than to learn the language – but they’re now at the Hong Kong International School, and we spend most holidays at our house in Queenstown,” she explains. “They love the wide-open spaces, the skiing, and the beaches in New Zealand. I do miss Japan, but it’s undeniably easy to live in Hong Kong, even if the pollution is tough to handle. But I do think we’ll be here for a while.”
Mika & Yuki’s Recommendations
The Red Cabinet, 11/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau | red-cabinet.com.hk
Zara Home Harbour City, 3-27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | zara.com
Ralph Lauren Shop G1-3, Landmark Prince’s, Central | ralphlauren.asia
298 Nikuya Room, 2/F, Pearl Oriental House, 60 Stanley Street, Central | 3568 9298
Sanka Teppenyaki 11 Stanley Street, Central | 3460 2285
Sushi Rozan The Oakhill, 18 Wood Road, Wan Chai | 2574 1333
NOM Winly Building, 1-5 Elgin Street, Central | 2540 7988
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