During her five years as an interior decorator and colour consultant in her native Sydney, Melissa McShane built up quite an enviable little black book; from mirrored furniture to plantation shutters, she knew where to get them and how to create the perfect room scheme.
So, when husband Michael announced that they were to move to Hong Kong with his work, it was a curve ball. “I loved my life in Sydney, I had a successful business, a house in the northern suburbs, a weekend beach house and life was great. I had always said I was never going to live overseas.”
It didn’t help that Melissa only had unhappy memories of the city she was now being asked to call home. “We came on holiday after the birth of my first child 18 years ago and I despised the place; I thought it was horrible – I even wanted to go home early which, looking back now, was just ridiculous. I think I just felt uncomfortable, getting around was difficult then, and the language barrier was far worse than it is now.”
Fast-forward 24 months and the Melissa that opens the door to me is certainly not the picture of the reluctant expat wife. She seems very much at home in her new city and loves every minute of this break from her norm.
Melissa’s transition from Sydney suburbia to city chic was certainly helped by finding a truly amazing property with some elements that reminded her of home. The apartment she now shares with Michael and twelve-year-old son Liam (her other two children are studying back in Sydney) is a light-filled 4,000 square foot space in Mid-levels with a sweeping aspect of the harbour on one side and green views up The Peak on the other.
“I had looked at twenty properties before this one but found nothing I liked; everything was dark with parquet flooring, weird angles and seemed difficult to furnish,” explains Melissa. “As soon as I walked in here I said I love it and don’t show me anything else. For me to come to Hong Kong, I had to love where I lived or I wasn’t going to be happy. I particularly liked the polished-wood flooring, the huge windows, the high-spec kitchen – and especially the light.”
One of Melissa’s prerequisites coming from a big house in Australia with a pool and a garden was to have some sort of open space so her husband and children didn’t feel like caged animals. The apartment has an enormous balcony overlooking the harbour with bi-fold doors that give the feeling of bringing the outside in. Melissa has furnished the space with a dining table from Everything Under the Sun and an Aussie essential, a barbecue.
Although Melissa has fully embraced her new life, she still has not come around to the charms of Asian interior style and her design tastes still lie firmly with her Australian roots. “My paintings are the closest I have got to something Asian. The style is just not my cup of tea but some people can make it work.”
When it came to furnishing the flat, she did it all from afar, buying most of the key pieces in Australia and shipping them over. “I was worried I wouldn’t find anything here that I liked and that everything would be Asian style; now I’m here, it seems a bit silly.”
The finished house is packed with Australian favourites including Town & Country and Villa Maison, but Melissa has also wasted no time discovering the gems available in some of Hong Kong’s own interior stores. The result is a stunning yet eclectic mix of Melissa’s trademark French style with contemporary touches in the form of mirrored trunks, chrome lamps and design classics.
“Whenever I’m designing any room, I start with a jumping-off point,” explains Melissa. “With this room it was the armchairs covered in grey and cream toile fabric from Camerich. These started my colour palette and from there I decided I wanted to go predominantly with black and white. I have only recently injected a bit more colour with the yellow urn and cushions from Chapin House that pick up the colour of the painting that we bought in Vietnam.”
The dining area is a slightly more minimalist space furnished with a large eight-seater dining table and button back upholstered chairs. The room is tied together by two ornate black mirrors creating a matching pair.
Along with Melissa’s obvious love of quality pieces, she is also happy to shop at high-street favourites; the upholstered stools are from Francfranc in Causeway Bay. “The key is just to look and see what has been well made and what would work in your current room scheme. I actually love finding things in places like Ikea.”
Hong Kong flats are rarely blessed with state-of-the-art kitchens, but this Mid-levels building is one exception. The light-wood kitchen is a domestic goddess’s dream and comes complete with Gaggenau gadgets from a steam oven to an in-built espresso machine.
Like the kitchens, the three bathrooms and one powder room in this property are immaculately finished. Melissa has a love of all things mirrored and thankfully the developer seems to have the same taste, as the master bathroom is furnished with a stunning chrome vanity unit.
Melissa’s love of coordinated colour schemes is evident in all the bedrooms. Her daughter’s room is perfect for a teenager. The theme colour, deep turquoise blue, began with the large French-style wooden mirror; Melissa then matched that with a butterfly painting that she found at the Mongkok flower market. The chandelier was sourced during a shopping expedition to Shenzhen.
Her son Liam’s room is incredibly tidy for a twelve-year-old but Melissa tells me that he has inherited some of his mum’s flair. “He has certainly got a lot of designer in him. If I drag him shopping, he picks up things and suggests them and often gets it right.”
The grey, black and red colour palette comes from the huge canvas of a London double decker bus from Ikea. The rattan chair by the window ties in with the quirky family of rattan bunnies from Lane Crawford that welcome you at the door.
Melissa’s own room is where she seems to have truly indulged her love of French style, from the ornate wooden dressing table and chest of drawers to the pinky red chintz fabric of the bedspread.
So as a designer who chose to furnish this flat from afar having seen it for only five minutes with no measurements and not even a photo for reference, would she do anything differently? “I honestly don’t think I would; everything has worked perfectly. The only thing I might do is get bigger rugs as they are too small, but I love it and if Michael came home and said we had to move tomorrow I would refuse to go!”