By: Rebecca Simpson
Chris Allan’s home in Discovery Bay (DB) is the type of residence you might find described in a novel. It’s a modern bazaar of design classics and intriguing one-off pieces, with most items offering a wow factor and many carrying an anecdote about his fascinating expat experience.
That’s the best thing about the home of well-travelled people – there’s rarely a dull corner. Comment on a coaster and you’re bound to uncover a tale of an astonishing friend or a journey with a twist. This home presents so many stories of that nature. With Chris having spent 30 years away from home, in more countries than you can count on your hand, it’s no real surprise. Having said that, this is an uncluttered space that’s at once welcoming and well designed. Not all homes present with such poise.
Far from Mid-Levels
The semi-detached house sits on a quiet residential street in the family-focused neighbourhood of Discovery Bay. It’s a spot that offers a unique Hong Kong experience. Unlike most addresses here, there’s not a high-rise building to be found along the street. Instead, it’s almost reminiscent of inner-city Sydney or London, offering a long line of double-storey homes. Each is graced with its own front yard and even a private lawn – quite the indulgence in a city like Hong Kong. As I stickybeak along the street, I can’t help but think that this is a long way from the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong Island – both in distance and design.
At the front of the house, a frangipani tree stretches over the lawn in a great yawn of white flowers. Guests are greeted from the burning sun of a Hong Kong spring day through an iron gate, along a short path and into the crisp air-conditioned comfort of this light-filled home. It’s not just the air-con that’s crisp; this home opens suddenly onto a sweeping view of Lantau’s waterways. “Are we even in Hong Kong!?” I think to myself. It’s DB, so it’s really Hong Kong “lite”; but even then, it seems a world away from the city.
It’s immediately clear from that first moment in the foyer that this is a beautiful home, filled with beautiful things – and all of it done without the help of an interiors or architectural professional. There is 2,250 square feet of space here, with many of the usual suspects we find in high-end homes, like Bang & Olufsen electronics. Traditional furnishing classics are present, too, such as a Le Corbusier chaise longue in cow hide.
What really sets the place apart, though, is the openness of the architecture and the abundance of artworks. The former is achieved through split-level open-plan living areas and glass balustrades both inside and outside the home. Both stories offer generous balconies, with glass facings to enjoy the full splendour of the view. Even the internal staircase features a broad ribbon of natural light, thanks to a skylight that funnels daylight into an area of the house that would have otherwise felt too dark.
An interest in art
These striking features beg the question: how does a pilot with a military background end up curating a home so deeply affected by creativity and smart design? You may be surprised to know the creative conduit is his life-long passion for photography. “I do a lot of photography. I’ve published four books on aviation, with a photo library in the UK.”
Hong Kong’s proximity to Asia, along with his own curious nature, have allowed the owner to explore the region and meet artists. Chris recalls a trip to Vietnam many years ago when he encountered a group who did their painting on newspapers. He bought a whole collection of this Vietnamese art and has since introduced friends to talent in the developing market.
Chris bought his first Chinese painting in 1995 on Wyndham Street – a portrait by Zhu Wei. Fast-forward almost 25 years and his interest in the study of human form hasn’t waned. Faces and torsos can be seen everywhere – on coasters from Sri Lanka to bodices by Gustav Kraitz, and cheeky Ritzenhoff champagne flutes; even on his-and-hers chairs by Fabio Novembre.
For all his art investments, it’s surprising to hear that Chris doesn’t use a broker. Rather, he prefers to explore a city’s creative hub in person. “I just walk down streets, walk into galleries, and meet people,” he says casually.
Classic cool and a modern touch
Chris has spent 31 years abroad, with stints in the Middle East, Thailand and Indonesia, but always with one foot in Hong Kong. That’s a lot of moving, some of which has been facilitated with style, in the form of a 1920s Louis Vuitton trunk.
In this current home, the trunk is aptly used to store a collection of Louis Vuitton luggage. Open the lid of this vintage beauty and you’ll find a treasure trove of LV pieces, all lovingly maintained and nestled within the protective confines of a bigger piece of heritage luggage.
The outdoor areas of the home offer a scale of entertaining space that few Hong Kong properties can boast. The Dedon furniture can survive even the most brutal of weather, including 2018’s mighty T10. The weight and craftsmanship of the brand make this a smart purchase, and he has invested in pieces that adorn different areas of the balcony.
This interest in faces and modern furniture meet in an epic moment inside the home office. The Fabio Novembre chair looks theatrical against the backdrop of Lantau – fitting for an Italian designer who studied both cinema and architecture.
Among all these international pieces, there’s an Asian influence. Not only do Asian artists and faces appear sprinkled across the walls and shelves of the home, but there are Buddhas, too – and they have their own stories to tell.
For example, the Buddha in the outside area is from Chiang Mai – it serves to protect all the art in the house. “We brought it back from Thailand and placed it on the table in the dining room. That night, we were woken up by a noise; it was a bat flying around our apartment. It had been in the back of the Buddha! It ended up on our balcony and then flew away.”
Seated above the movable Conran stacking draws is another brass Buddha. This one holds a few precisely folded notes of foreign currency. When asked about the notes, Chris shares another tale: “When I was 18, my girlfriend’s mother gave me a folded five-pound note. She said, ‘Keep this and it will draw money’ (because of the particular way it’s folded). She told me to place it in the corner of my wallet and leave it there. I’ve had it since I was 18. I still have it today.”
So far, so good – her advice and the luck of the note seem to have served him well.
Has this beautiful Discovery Bay home inspired you? Here are some of the brands and suppliers that can help you get the look.
Bang & Olufsen has stores in IFC, Elements and Causeway Bay. bang-olufsen.com
Zhu Wei is a prominent contemporary Chinese artist renowned for his ink painting technique. zhuweiartden.com
Dedon outdoor furniture is renowned for its quality and is ideal for Hong Kong’s harsh climate. dedon.de
Kenneth Cobonpue is from the Philippines but his beautifully designed furniture is all over the globe. kennethcobonpue.com
Conran is an interesting brand that spans both product design and design services. conran.com
Fabio Novembre’s chairs are sexy and fun, all at once. novembre.it
Ritzenhoff’s cheeky champagne glasses and other homewares can be purchased online. ritzenhoff.com/en
A Le Corbusier chaise lounge is a classic piece of furniture and can be bought locally through Decor8. decor8.com.hk
See more in our Homes section
This article first appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.