Tara Jenkins visits EL Reader Maria Khan’s Mid-levels apartment, showing us her interior design, furniture, stunning handmade jewellery, and why Mid-levels is the best place to live in Hong Kong.
Maria Khan has made the most sublime chocolate treats. “There’s a black salt called chaat which is commonly used in Indian street food; it’s spicy and has a citrus flavour. I added it to dark chocolate along with crushed chillies, and it tastes divine!”
The chillies are sent to her in Hong Kong from India, along with a specially ground turmeric, and saffron, cardamom, zatar and sumac, are shipped from her sister in Dubai. Kilos of fresh pomegranates arrive to her Mid-levels, Hong Kong home regularly from Pakistan, and Maria’s fridge and store cupboards are overflowing with exotic spices, seeds and ingredients from all over the world.
Snoop around Maria Khan’s Mid-levels apartment in the gallery above
Clearly this is someone who is passionate about cooking, but ask her for a couple of favourite recipes and she shakes her head: “My husband often says, ‘This is delicious, can you write it down?’ and I say, sorry, it’s gone! I don’t remember how to recreate the dish. I never follow recipes, but am always experimenting with different flavours and combinations. My dishes are true fusion fare.”
This principle – the clever combining of disparate elements to create something truly original and authentic – carries through into every area of Maria Khan’s life. It’s true of her handmade costume jewellery, which is an amalgam of influences from a variety of different places – India, Turkey, Korea, Peru, the Orient – to name but a few. Turquoise pachi work from India, reminiscent of a peacock’s tail feathers, has been combined with opaque white coral beads from China, and the Chinese technique of hand-knotting to create a stunning necklace; a pair of delicate circular earrings are gold-plated silver with tourmaline and zirconia sparkly stones.
“The stones from each piece come from different places; I don’t consciously mix things up, but simply put things together that look good. It is always unique because no one can copy it!” says Maria, a former fashion designer who trained at the London College of Fashion.
She began to make jewellery seriously five years ago, when the clients of her custom-made fashion business repeatedly asked for copies of the pieces she was wearing herself. Her eponymous business in Hong Kong has taken off, with private sales, a retail presence and an online store launching in May. Today, her entrepreneur-style shines, as her clients are drawn from a huge assortment of countries and cultures, true to Maria’s own ethos and cultural mix.
“My mother is Arab and my father was a migrant from India who lived in Pakistan. My grandmother is Turkish, and most of my family now lives in Dubai. I married an Indian man, we lived in London for ten years, now we are living in Hong Kong, and we also have a home in Thailand – there’s a lot of influences going on there!” she laughs. “Whatever fascinates and inspires me, I put in my jewellery. It could be intricate gold Thai handiwork, a mosaic floor in Turkey, an architectural building in Dubai. I always find things on my travels, and they are my inspiration”.
The principle is also true of her airy, light-filled home, perched within the best place to live in Hong Kong – Mid-levels neighbourhood – with a breathtaking view of Victoria Harbour. As with her jewellery, Maria has put together a hugely eclectic mix of furniture, accessories and paintings to create a comfortable home that is truly elegant and modern. Most striking are several hand-carved wooden pieces of furniture from Pakistan, including Maria’s bed and bedside tables, dining table chairs, and several easy chairs scattered around the apartment. The fine curves, rattan fretwork and lightly distressed finish are reminiscent of antique French pieces, but Maria sourced them all from Victoria Furniture in Pakistan, a family business that has been hand-carving furniture for 150 years. “They used to make furniture for the colonial British, who were living there at the time” explains Maria. “These pieces have been with me for a good fifteen years; I take them along with me, wherever I move – it makes wherever I am living, truly home”.
The European feel of the furniture fits perfectly with an antique writing table from France that sits in the corner of the living room. The cabinet is crafted from rich black rosewood, inlaid with exquisite paintings of classical scenes and mother-of-pearl. “When I knew we were leaving for Hong Kong, I wanted to bring something with me that was European” says Maria. “I found this at a London antique fair and immediately loved it”.
The cabinet at the other end of the living/dining space is quintessentially British; a wood- and glass-panelled tallboy with shelves to house Maria’s generous collection of tea sets, drinking and wine glasses. It’s surprising then, to learn it was custom-made in Hong Kong. “I was very nostalgic when I moved from London, so I had this made at the furniture shop Artura Ficus in Horizon Plaza, and they did a good job, it has an old feel. Now I have London with me!” laughs Maria.
Also noteworthy in furniture shopping in Hong Kong, she also found an elegant corner sofa at TREE, side tables at GOD, a custom-made marble table at a shop in North Point, and invested in a pair of Swarovski smoked glass chandeliers from a store in Morrison Hill Road. One sits above her dining table, one above her bed, adding just a touch of grandeur and reflecting light throughout the apartment.
But just like the most stylish dressers combine high-street finds with a few key designer pieces, Maria’s particular talent is sourcing and buying furniture from unusual locations and combining them with more expensive pieces. So her hand-carved Pakistani furniture sits alongside a selection of inspired finds from Shenzhen. A set of elegant Buddhist sculptures on the coffee table; a fantastical contemporary light in the room her daughters share; contemporary rattan balcony chairs; a huge assortment of dishes and crockery.
She is an avid fan of the border city, exploring far and wide beyond the usual expat haunt of Lo Wu shopping mall. “It has changed so much in six years,” she says. “It used to be one little mall with a couple of furniture shops, and now the malls and shops have multiplied. There’s even a grand piano playing in one of the plush malls!”
There are other quirky and unique touches around the apartment. A beautiful red glass lamp sits on one of her Pakistani carved occasional tables; Maria designed and had it custom made in Murano, in Venice, for her thirteenth wedding anniversary. In six-year-old Ibrahim’s room, Maria has hand painted a life-size mural of the ubiquitous Cat In The Hat. Elegant hand-painted beds – again from Pakistan – are juxtaposed in daughters’ Zayna and Noor’s room with an industrial chest of drawers from Aluminium Furniture, complete with decorative old car number plates. A striking distressed black dressing table in her own bedroom, started life as a bleached wood piece – again from Victoria Furniture – until Maria decided to re-model it. Old-fashioned portraits of her parents and parents-in-law from the 1960s, resplendent in traditional dress, jostle with modern photographs of her children and husband in the hall. A series of exquisite ink on paper etchings, created by Maria’s sister, is framed in the study.
The other artwork around the apartment is, naturally, an eclectic mix. There’s a piece from Hong Kong artist Victor Lai, a couple of paintings brought from Pakistan, and a stunning abstract by Thai artist Map Abday, that Maria bought in Phuket. “It’s called Earth Evolution. It’s so inviting; something pulls you in every time you look at it.
“Paintings keep my memories of places intact, I buy things I connect with,” says Maria. A colourful abstract tapestry hung above the sofa is by Rajan, a famous Indian artist from husband Arif’s hometown. “The subject is horses and women. It was originally a painting, but the artist is primarily known for his tapestry; my husband asked him to transfer it.” Lastly, an impressive eight-piece canvas covers almost the entire wall opposite the sofa. The piece is by Austrian artist Clemens Krauss, and is so textured, the renders of the figures are practically three-dimensional. “I love texture and this is very much my sort of thing; it’s like a sculpture on canvas,” smiles Maria.
Of course, her mix-and-match philosophy extends to her own wardrobe, an inspired combination of her own designs and selected pieces. “I don’t follow trends and I don’t buy labels. I just buy whatever I like, even if it’s on the roadside,” she says. Maria misses the vintage stores in London, although she acknowledges similar shops are starting to spring up around Sheung Wan. “I have a few incredible vintage pieces I picked up in London, such as a snakeskin 1950s handbag. I’ve never found anything as interesting here – yet!”
So aside from better vintage clothing, what does this seasoned and rather clever shopper consider Hong Kong needs more of? “More affordable options. So much is high end, and everyone is brand conscious, which can be quite suffocating,” says Maria. “Taste should be very personal; you should not blindly copy what someone else has without developing your own ideas, understanding what you love, and want to live with everyday. Style has to be completely allied with comfort.”
MARIA’S RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ART, RESTAURANTS, and FURNITURE IN HONG KONG
Furniture in Hong Kong
36 Cochrane Street, Central
28/F Horizon Plaza, Ap Lei Chau
Art in Hong Kong
Plum Blossoms Gallery
14/F Cheung Tak Industrial Building
30 Wong Chuk Hang Road
57-59 Hollywood Road, Central
Restaurants in Hong Kong
G/F 26 Peel Street, Central
The Brick House
G/F 20 D’Aguilar Street, Central
Skycity Nine Eagles Golf Club
20 Sky City Road East, Lantau
Where to buy spices in Hong Kong