By: Tara Jenkins; photography by Helen Jenkins
We all know the last word in interior design is eclectic cool – that enviable ability to effortlessly mix old and new; a contemporary painting with an antique frame; a French armoire with an Eastern artefact. But what if the huge quantity of stuff you’ve amassed over the last twenty years doesn’t really hang together, and you’re also struggling to cope with a rising sea of clutter produced by two small children? If you’re Julia and Laurence Denvir – who bought their 1,800-square-foot Sai Kung home six years ago – you call in an expert.
Enter interior designer Sarah Bettle, who has transformed the Denvir’s four-storey townhouse into a funky yet tranquil space where all those precious mementos not only have their own niche, but also provide this home with a special and wholly unique identity.
Inspired by the Denvir’s collection of Union Jack-themed gear and vintage British posters, Sarah has created a cool Britannia feel for the house, underpinned by the clean lines and grey blues of contemporary Scandi-chic.
Standing in the living space on a sunny day, with the shifting hues of the endless sea-and-sky view framed by a huge double-height picture window, a striking feature wall brings outdoor and indoor seamlessly together. It’s a Dulux shade – Sarah’s a great believer in replicating design ideas or items with budget-conscious alternatives – but the colour is a gorgeous hybrid that, depending on the light, can be smoky grey or petrol blue.
Sarah commissioned a floating cabinet beneath the wall-mounted TV to be painted in exactly the same shade, as well as the central square of the asymmetrical shelving unit on the other side of the living area. Everything is beautifully unified with a luxuriously soft, geometric-patterned rug in a tonal shade, and a gorgeous seascape painting on the wall that picks up the grey-blue colour scheme to perfection.
Have a snoop around the Denvir’s home in the gallery above
Sarah has given Laurence and Julia’s existing club-style brown leather seating a facelift with a myriad of textured, cosy, colour-toned cushions, while the addition of a slubby slate-blue sofa from IKEA invites you to sink down in comfort and admire that endless view.
There are lots of clever little touches to admire within the room as well. Sarah has deftly hidden the air-con unit behind a decorative panel at the top of the shelving unit; the geometric pattern of the panel fits perfectly with the rug, and with the overall style of the unit. On the shelves and around the room sit a diverse assortment of trinkets and photographs Julia and Laurence have collected from all over the world: a stone Buddha head from Thailand, a champagne bucket from France, a leather kangaroo from Australia, stone lions from China, wall mounted masks from Indonesia. Rather than jarring, though, the room is a peaceful and calming space. There’s a reading nook, a cosy place for children to play, and a comfortable spot to sit, watch TV or reflect – all within one small area!
Using space wisely
“Most houses in Hong Kong are space-inefficient, especially in the New Territories,” explains Sarah. “You start with a tight footprint in a box arrangement; different floors have to work really hard for large families; everyone has sizeable pieces of furniture and endless stuff to store. So I begin by understanding how people use their space, then create a plan that is not only efficient and considered, but also beautiful. How you dress a space is key to how an interior will look, but good design is all about good planning and if a space is badly planned from the outset it’s not going to work – even if you have the most expensive pieces of furniture!”
Armed with knowledge gleaned from her studies of architecture as well as interior design, Sarah started by altering ceiling heights, painting shiny dark floors white, dispensing with unnecessary alcoves, and ripping out dark wood balustrades.
A new glass partition separates the living room from the tiered dining area and kitchen, helping Julia keep a watchful eye on six-year-old Scarlett and four-year-old Oscar, but its main purpose was to open up the entire downstairs into one elegant, airy space. Now the kitchen is truly the heart of the home, with a large, sleek white corian-topped island dominating one half of the room, and an Indigo dining table and chairs from TREE, the other. Using an existing dresser in the corner of the room as inspiration, Sarah has created a fashionable Shaker-style kitchen with a difference.
“It’s a traditional style but by painting it in a mellow grey tone and mixing it up with on-trend hardware we’ve given the kitchen a contemporary chic vibe rather than classic country!” she says.
She designed and had the central island made by a contractor in China, utilising not only the existing appliances but also sections of the wooden floor: “We took pieces from under the original kitchen island and re-laid them into the spaces we had to rip out,” she explains. Now not only is there substantially more storage space, but the island acts as a happy social hub both for family and guests. The funky metal bar stools are from Mirth, and Sarah has even carved out a nook for a computer, so the children can surf the web under supervision.
With a touch of genius, she has opened up the wall between the kitchen and an under-utilised patio area, changing the decking, installing attractive built-in seating and planting a number of lofty banana plants and fan palms to cover ugly drainpipes. The result: a previously tired little decking area transformed into the perfect place to sit and have a glass of wine before dinner.
Upstairs, Sarah has also worked miracles by somehow carving five airy rooms from a space that previously comprised only two bedrooms and one large bathroom. The biggest change was the remodelling of what is now little Oscar’s room – previously reached by a steep staircase running down from the roof, the space consisted of a dark wooden bunk-bed with heavy, built in cabinetry beneath. Today, it’s the perfect little boy’s room in shades of dark denim blue and brilliant white, with a funky ceiling-suspended chair (a bargain from IKEA), a couple of panels of blackboard paint so Oscar can express himself, and a high ceiling that lets in loads of light. The door to the room now opens off the family floor, and there’s tons of built-in storage under the bed – cleverly fashioned out of the original staircase!
Next door in Laurence’s study-cum-man-cave-cum-family-den, the mood is rather more grown-up. There are plantation-style shutters covering the window, and soft grey custom-built cupboards line the TV wall, offset by a desk fashioned from the most awe-inspiring chunk of wood.
“I didn’t want this to be another generic office space, and fancied doing something really different,” explains Sarah. “I knew of a supplier who made these magnificent dining tables where he literally shaves a slab off a tree, and I thought I could use one as a countertop!”
Going local is another of Sarah’s trademark policies. “For me, it’s all about using craftsmen or suppliers in the local area,” she says. “Of course, for things like fixtures, fittings, sanitary ware and soft furnishings I have to go onto the island, but I get as much as possible made in Sai Kung and the surrounding area”.
Ever-resourceful, Sarah has fitted the countertop so it can be easily removed and shipped to the next house, and the beautifully rich and grainy wood combines with the modern aesthetic of the shutters and colour scheme to create a soothing, tranquil space – just the place to watch a family film, or rugby match of an evening. And rugby is big in the Denvir household – Laurence used to play for Hong Kong, and his precious framed rugby jerseys and press cuttings adorn two walls of the study. The remaining wall is given over to vintage British posters beloved by the couple. “They’re the type of things people are always trying to source, and they cost a fortune, but they were already here!” says Sarah. “Along with all the Brit-themed gear, they’re very much part of who the Denvirs are – a very cool couple, who love entertaining and enjoy life!”
The master bedroom is another restful space with the same incredible view as the living area. Sarah designed contemporary his and hers wardrobes for the room (made of course, by her talented local contractor), but has offset the modern vibe with lightly distressed bedside and dressing tables in a teal period style – all raised off the floor to give the illusion of more space. The tables are from Red Cabinet – a favourite of Sarah’s – and the French-style bed with the impressively high headboard, she designed herself. “I wanted to offset the headboard to work with the scale and proportion of the wardrobes,” she explains. “Lastly, I had planned to buy concrete lights to tie the colour scheme together, but found these suspended bedside lights and fell in love with them!”
She’s also worked her magic in the ensuite bathroom, creating more illusions of scale with a long trough-style sink in corian. “I made the sink extra-long, which creates the feeling the bathroom is longer than it actually is,” Sarah says. “The ensuite was originally quite a large space, but even so it was quite a challenge to get two bathrooms out of one!”
Now, the adjoining family bathroom is a smart, vintage-inspired room, with white metro tiles, a sleek black painted wall and an extra-deep bath. The advantages of two bathrooms are obvious: “The kids now have their own bathroom, so for us, no more being woken up in the night by little people!” says Julia, who maintains the renovation has completely transformed the way the family lives.
“Before, the house was somewhat hectic and jumbled, and I never felt I could relax in it,” she says. “There were kids toy’s everywhere, furniture we’d been hauling around from house to house since we were students, and fixtures and fittings left by previous owners we wouldn’t have chosen in a million years! The changes have enabled us to relax and enjoy being in our home. Instead of feeling we always need to be up and out at the weekend, we now take our time and have lazy mornings with the doors and windows thrown open, the breeze coming through the house, and the kids playing happily in their rooms while we sip coffee and read the paper!”
Sounds like the perfect place to live.
IKEA, Upper Basement, The Park Lane Hotel, 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Indigo Living, 6/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau
Mirth, The Mezzanine Floor, Yip Kan Street, Wong Chuk Hang
The Red Cabinet, 2/F, One Island South, Wong Chuk Hang
TREE, 28/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau