We’re welcomed into the polished Mid-Levels home of interior designer Sian O’Brien, who shares some smart home-design tips with us.
Sian O’Brien has an infectious energy and an amazing ability to reinvent spaces with up-scaled furniture. She also has two of the cutest dogs in the Mid-Levels and a son who is equally photogenic. This is a home full of visual delights – some Sian has made herself and some she’s acquired with purpose.
British-born Sian moved to Hong Kong at nine years of age. And, like so many third culture kids, she floated between the UK and Hong Kong throughout her school years, finally settling here full-time when she graduated from university. “This has always felt like my home and it’s where I went on to meet my husband and start my own family,” she shares.
Being an artist and an interior designer means that Sian does have an edge when it comes to designing her own home. What sets this home apart are all the clever design hacks and upcycled pieces sprinkled across each room. We can all learn a thing or two from her about reusing what we have, without compromising on aesthetics.
Her son’s bedroom is a great place to start. This bat cave, complete with vinyl wall decals, offers some smart storage solutions that mean less clutter and more space to play. In fact, the whole apartment is free from toddler clutter – not just for our shoot, but even in “everyday” mode.
Sian has taken inspiration from the Montessori method and uses felt boxes and lidded containers to store play equipment in themed clusters. This allows her son to pull out his container of cars, paints or Lego to play, but everything has its place and is returned to a contained storage solution at the end of the session. He even has an upcycled Ikea kitchen, now complete with “marble” benchtops (created through contact) and chalk paint detailing.
Batman’s wardrobe has been created by splicing together Ikea Plasta units, and up-scaled with black leather handles, sourced from Taobao. These look great, add durability and are easy for little bat-hands to grasp! The mounted storage bins are from Crate and Barrel (online), while a Lorena Canals machine-washable rug means toddler and puppy messes are easily dealt with.
Kitchen & Living Rooms
Crate and Barrel handles also have a starring role in the renovated kitchen. This time in a copper tone to match the UK-sourced taps and plug sockets. The kitchen has been given a facelift to be light and spacious, with new cabinet fronts pre-fabricated in China and a quartz worktop sourced locally in Wan Chai. The hexagonal tiling brings an immediate wow factor to the space, which has been opened right up by removing the wall between the kitchen and the helper accommodation.
The metallic detail is reflected out in the living areas, with an intriguing custom-made brass starburst chandelier. It’s mesmerising, and throws an incredible halo of light that showcases the material’s versatility and colour; you can get lost exploring it. The chandelier was sourced through InscapesDesigns on Etsy, and arrived in Hong Kong in parts – Sian put it together. “I commissioned a small brass factory in England to custom-make it, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. The colour light halo it emits is simply perfect.”
The neighbouring wall is covered in some of the family’s favourite artworks. “The wall is a handful of my favourite artists I follow on Instagram, and the Bowie piece is a limited edition I’ve had for years,” Sian explains. There’s also an original Banksy print thrown in the mix. The presence of work by Serbian artist Ivana Besevic is a nod to Sian’s husband’s family heritage.
Artwork is central to this household; Sian is an artist and her son is a budding creative, too. Both of them have artworks featured on the walls. They’re in great company alongside Banksy and Gabriel Moreno. “I coveted that Moreno print for a long time and my lovely hubby gifted it to me,” she says with a smile. If you’re not an artist, Sian’s tip for finding the right piece for a wall is to identify a frame that works on the wall first, and then find the right piece on a website like Society6.
The Moreno print sits above possibly the most comfortable chair on Stubbs Road, the Womb Chair. It’s a seat and a cuddle all in one, and it marks the beginning of a living room that extends right into a lovely view of the Valley. The lounge has been given a second life with bespoke covers created by a tailor in Shenzhen. And throw cushions by Australian designer Kerrie Brown lift the blue to ensure it’s not too dark in the space. Two of the cutest family dogs are kennelled in the corner, snuggled into wooden kennels from Overstock that give rise to more art. It’s easy to see why this family prefers lazy Sundays at home to being out and about!
In the main bedroom, custom fabric covers have also played a role in reinventing the space. “The headboard is a custom-made slip cover to change up the look without having to alter the bed,” says Sian. This room features another two Ikea hacks – two Besta units are stacked together to create a set of draws. Prettypegs legs have been added to lift the unit from the floor and add some style. The bedside tables have also been given a facelift, with more handles from Crate and Barrel providing a bespoke look.
The final Ikea hack is another Besta unit, this time in the dining area. This was customised with self-adhesive fronts by Prettypegs, painted with ultra-dark charcoal chalk paint (ordered specifically), and Sian had side panels created by a local builder’s merchant in Wan Chai. Handles by? You guessed it, Crate and Barrel.
This is a beautiful, accessible, functional home that is a perfect example of an important modern-day design mantra we should all be embracing: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Mid-Levels musing… My parents were based on Stubbs Road for many years before they moved out to Sai Kung, at which point I left the nest. But I never ventured far, and have always lived either in Happy Valley or on Stubbs Road where we are now. I love the area – it’s close enough to everything but is still a quiet oasis that feels very out of the hustle and bustle up in our steep terrace overlooking the Valley.
The decision to redesign… I have a unique agreement with our landlord. I don’t bother him with maintenance. And in return he has given me carte blanche to make the place our own. The unit was tired and hadn’t seen any updates in decades, so redesigning was simply necessary. It also meant I could have what our family needed and wanted, and make changes to suit our personal specifications.
Designing a stylish Tardis… Like everywhere in Hong Kong, the challenge is space. We’re all trying to create a stylish Tardis! Children add to that challenge – having a toddler and a decluttered living space is near impossible. It’s about hiding all that kid paraphernalia in clever, attractive storage!
Sourcing materials… Sourcing materials can be a challenge in Hong Kong because so many of these fabulous European suppliers simply won’t ship outside the EU. My tip: if in doubt, there’s always Taobao!
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This article first appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.