We talk to our readers Mel and Derek Crane about their decision to move from Hong Kong island to Marina Cove:
Imagine the perfect place to grow up as a child: a huge grassy garden with a swing set and palm-fringed swimming pool to jump into when you’re hot; a giant playroom filled with all manner of inviting toys and trinkets; and a coterie of amiable house pets, tails wagging and waiting to be adored. Combine this vision with an airy, open space that has more than a touch of Bahamas-style living about it, and you’ve got the Crane’s blissful abode near Marina Cove, a couple of kilometres south of Sai Kung.
“The village stretches the whole way around the waterfront, but people don’t come down here unless they know someone, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem,” explains Mel Crane, who’s lived here for six years with husband Derek and her three little girls (the lucky possessors of that magnificent garden). It’s the couple’s second posting to Hong Kong; they were originally here for three years, moved to Jersey for four, but returned to the territory in 2006 with small children in tow, and a hankering for more space.
“We lived on Hong Kong island before,” says Mel, “but the decision to move to Sai Kung was definitely based on lifestyle: we had a garden in Jersey, and felt we needed one here for the girls.” Faced with an intimidatingly large patch of mud, she set about designing the enviable patio, grassy lawn and lush flowerbeds (with some help from Pedro from Wah King Garden Centre in Sai Kung), then turned her attention to the house.
“I sat with a sketchpad to draw out the design, and our builder sorted out the mechanics of how it would all work,” explains Mel, a former legal recruiter, who doesn’t have any training in interior design or architecture, but possesses a keen spatial awareness and particular talent for creating beautiful environments. “I’m addicted to interior magazines,” she admits with a smile. “I have them sent to my mum on subscription, and whenever we go back to England, she gives me a big stack”.
Sourcing stuff from England – mostly gorgeous interiors items – is somewhat of an obsession for Mel. When we chat, she’s just brought back two eight-foot white birch Christmas trees from John Lewis (complete with already-installed, twinkling lights). So why bring Christmas trees to Hong Kong? “I just loved them,” she laughs. “I did buy two smaller trees too, but I couldn’t fit them all in the car to the airport! I always come back from the UK with boxes. When the girls were younger they didn’t have much stuff, so we’d use their baggage allowance on the plane for interior finds!” Hence the house is accessorised to perfection, with pieces from Selfridges, John Lewis, Heals, Habitat – and the odd antique store discovery, like the stunning bronze metal sun that adorns the dining room wall. Mel found it in an antique store in Cirencester, and immediately knew it would complement the cool tones and whitewashed feel of her Sai Kung living space.
If Mel can’t hand-carry a piece, she finds another way to source it. The giant reclaimed wood dining table – the centrepiece of the downstairs living space – she originally saw in Lane Crawford. “A friend found the name of the designer – Piet Hein Eek – and went directly to him in Holland. We ordered three tables, two large, one small, and it was half the price to purchase them, even with the shipping!”
Mel prides herself on creating beautiful interiors on a modest budget; there is little need to invest enormous amounts of money, she feels, if you do your research properly. “You don’t have to spend a lot, you just have to put enough time and energy into sourcing,” she maintains. So, many of the furnishings – slubby rugs and throws particularly – are from IKEA, some from John Lewis, others from local stores such as Tequila Kola, Indigo or INSIDE, but her talent is to combine strikingly different textures to create something more interesting. In the living room, for example, the fireplace surround and hearth is unpolished concrete, but a delicate glass lamp (from a shop called Morton & Morton in Jersey), a quirky modern clock, and an elegant, treasured antique box belonging to Mel’s granddad, sit squarely upon it. Behind the fireplace is a luxurious wallpaper from Osborne & Little, which offsets the rawness of the concrete to perfection. A sophisticated, modern L-shaped sofa in taupe from TREE, and two chocolate brown chairs work to balance the oriental-style chests at the rear of the room.
One of the “wow” features of the house is located directly off the living room – a hi-tech, ultra-modern wine room hidden behind a smoked-glass screen. Press a button, and the screen smoothly slides back to reveal a covetable man-cave, complete with wine fridges, coolers, ice buckets and every accessory an oenophile could possibly need. There’s a clever sensor built into the room, which means that no one (especially an inquisitive child) can get trapped by the door. True to form, Mel looked through hundreds of images of wine rooms and shelving systems on Google until she found a design both she and Derek liked – and her trusty contractor figured out the mechanics.
Read the full article in April/May issue of Expat Living or in our E-mag here.
Are you looking to live in Sai Kung – we know a fair bit about it – take a look at our Homes section for more imformation.