Homes Readers Homes

How to balance colour with neutrals for a chic look in your home

A collaboration with an interior designer encouraged skydiving mum-of-two Kaylene Mattner to temper her natural inclination towards flamboyant colour, resulting in a chic and balanced look for her home in Sai Kung.

colour: Kaylene and Cam Mattner in their Sai Kung home
Kaylene and Cam Mattner in their Sai Kung home. Picture: Michelle Proctor

When exuberant Sydneysider Kaylene Mattner moved into her new Sai Kung house, the first thing she did was paint her bedroom a bright, lime green. “Love of colour is part of being Australian,” she maintains. “You can’t help but be influenced by those cobalt blue skies and beautiful green vistas.” Six years later, when Kaylene and husband Cam decided to renovate their Phoenix Palm Villa home, colour was very definitely on the agenda. Enter an interior designer with a bent for cool greys and natural palettes, and battle lines were drawn – or were they?

“It was a beautiful battle of compromise,” laughs Kaylene. “We had very strong ideas, but everything worked so perfectly with Sarah Bettle: somehow we came together, and met in the middle. I’d say, ‘I want a bright red Chinese cabinet,’ and Sarah’s eyes would bug out of her head! She’d reply, ‘Let me just sit with that for a few days.’ Then she’d come back and say, ‘OK, I can see how we can make it work!’ Ultimately, we’ve managed to combine Sarah’s penchant for grey with my love of colour, and she’s taught me that, where brights are concerned, less is sometimes more. When I walk into the living space downstairs, I think: yes, it balances perfectly.”

colour: The lounge room shows the blend of colour with a neutral palette
The lounge room shows the blend of colour with a neutral palette. Picture: Michelle Proctor

The room in question is an airy open space where the famous cabinet and some cherry-red cushions perfectly offset Sarah’s neutral colour scheme: the dark grey of the kitchen cabinets complements the lighter grey of the wood-effect floor and the delightful little patterned chairs from Indigo Living, and it’s all pulled together by a slubby black rug that was Kaylene’s triumphant find. “I saw a rug in a shop in Horizon Plaza; it was vintage, Turkish and hand-woven, and I desperately wanted it, despite the eye-watering price,” she explains. “I then went down to Shambala and saw the exact same rug for a quarter of the price – it’s a copy, but it works much better for us. With two little boys and a dog, I didn’t want to feel precious about getting grass or other stains on it; but, as you can see, it doesn’t show up anything at all!”

The Mattners invested more of their budget in the fitted kitchen, but Kaylene’s thrilled with the result. “All the cabinetry and carpentry was done in Hong Kong by a local firm called Patata, who promise super-short lead times – they completed everything in four weeks! I can’t fault anything they’ve done, the finish and quality are great, and all the sections are beautifully functional, with properly designed and engineered drawers.” Sarah suggested two different complementary finishes to add interest, so one wall of units is a smooth, matt-sprayed grey, and the other is a textured wood laminate.

colour: The Mattners invested more of their budget in the fitted kitchen
The Mattners invested more of their budget in the fitted kitchen. Picture: Michelle Proctor

Aside from the imaginative mix of textured materials and fabrics and the tranquil colour scheme, the beauty of the room lies in its effortless blend of everyday furniture with select designer pieces – and a few clever copies. The table is from TREE, but the dining chairs are Eames-style; the light above the dining table is a classic Danish design, but a copy was sourced more cheaply on the internet. The occasional tables in mango wood by the sofa are genuine Danish designer pieces and came from Manks (Sarah suggested buying three different colours and sizes), and the stylish lights above the kitchen counter are also Danish, but sourced from a Finnish website.

A huge mirror in the dining area bounces light around the room and is finished in exactly the same shade as the table, but they weren’t bought together. Instead, the couple begged TREE to stain and refinish the mirror – which originally came from Macau – to match the table. “It took a lot of persuasive phone calls because it’s not something they usually do, but eventually they agreed,” explains Kaylene. “Cam prepared it, sanded it down, and we told TREE we’d happily accept the result, however the mirror turned out. But they did a perfect job. It matches beautifully!”

colour: The living space flows seamlessly to an outdoor oasis
The living space flows seamlessly to an outdoor oasis. Picture: Michelle Proctor

One of the best things about the downstairs living space is the way it flows seamlessly from inside to enviable outdoor oasis. The beautifully designed garden is Sarah Bettle’s speciality; she has a particular knack for creating luxurious outdoor rooms. And as the Mattners were gutting and changing the entire layout inside the house, it seemed logical to open up the ground floor by creating a brand-new entrance and a sleek barbecue area by the side of the house, all flanked by contemporary concrete planters, slate pebbles and a riot of lush greenery. “I wanted to give the garden an air of tranquillity, and to enclose the area so it felt more private – somewhere that wasn’t overlooked by neighbouring houses,” explains Sarah. She used a composite, recycled wood for the outdoor decking. “It’s got a really nice pattern on it, which ties in with the tiles on the ground floor.” When the large French windows are pulled open, there really is no obvious division between inside and outside.

Not content with giving the family a gorgeous green space to hang out in downstairs, Sarah also worked her magic on the rooftop and, because it overlooks the green peaks of Ma On Shan on one side and the blue of Sai Kung harbour on the other, the comfortable outdoor sofas are now easily the best seat in the house. “The sun sets behind the peaks and on a blue day the view is spectacular,” says Kaylene. “The rooftop is Cam’s favourite place – if I can’t find him, I know he’s there. Funnily enough, all I wanted was a new fence, but – thanks to Sarah – we ended up with stylish decking, a beautiful new place to sit, and an ultra-modern laundry area. Sarah has created a stylish nook using white teak and watertight louvred shutters. They’re powder-coated aluminium, in a lovely shade of grey!”

colour: The upstairs balcony offers a view of the sunset
The upstairs balcony offers a view of the sunset. Picture: Michelle Proctor

Now that she has two Aussie-style seating areas with an embarrassment of green and blue vistas, does Kaylene still pine for her hometown? “The thing I miss most about Australia – apart from family and friends, of course, is being able to jump in the car and be somewhere really different in a couple of hours – the mountains to ski, for example,” she explains. “But what I love about Hong Kong is its compactness: the fact we live in the countryside, but are only 30 minutes from an amazing city, with incredible restaurants and nightlife.”

The family are also a 25-minute walk away from the beach, own a little speedboat at Pak Sha Wan, and are keen scuba divers; they spend a lot of time on and in the water in Hong Kong, but avidly travel in search of the best dive sites. Kaylene and Cam are both adventurers, and like to take their boys, aged eight and ten, off the beaten track. “We’re so fortunate to live near some of the best diving in the world,” says Cam. “We started diving at Malapascua in the Philippines; when we went 15 years ago there was literally no power or running water, and the huts on the beach cost $5 to rent. Now there are five-star resorts and, lovely as it still is, we do miss having the dive sites completely to ourselves! We love the Philippines; there’s another place we like to go called Apo Island. It’s a bit like being in a local village, and the kids end up hanging out with the local children. I hope they remember all those experiences as they get older! Another favourite is Sipidan in Malaysia; you can only reach it by flying to Kota Kinabulu, and then taking an internal flight to Tawau. You stay, literally, in the middle of the ocean. We try to keep finding places other people haven’t discovered, but it’s getting more and more difficult!”

Kaylene's love of colour is evident in the lime green feature wall
Kaylene’s love of colour is evident in the lime green feature wall. Picture: Michelle Proctor

Cam’s well versed in global destinations owing to his job as a pilot, but he hasn’t always been employed by a major carrier, and he first met Kaylene while working as a jump pilot for the Australian National Skydiving team. Kaylene – taking adventuring to a new level – is part of the team: “I’ve been skydiving for over 20 years and I suppose I’m an adrenaline junkie – I’ll try anything once!” she laughs. “The first time I jumped it was terrifying and exhilarating all at once, but it changes over time. You’re so focused on the competition and getting the job done, it’s only afterwards you think, wow, that was incredible!”

Now she combines up to six skydiving-related trips a year with her busy Hong Kong job as a fit model, being a mother of two young children, and – naturally – the mastermind behind further renovation plans for Phoenix Palm Villa. Bathrooms are next on the list, and repainting some walls, in particular those lime green walls in the master bedroom. What shade is Kaylene going to paint them this time? “I’m going to use a similar colour,” she grins. Which just goes to prove you can take the girl out of Sydney …

colour: The dining room blends designer and everyday pieces
The dining room blends designer and everyday pieces. Picture: Michelle Proctor

Kaylene’s Recommendations


Piccolo’s – 20 Wan King Path, Sai Kung

2791 9233 |

May’s Sawadee Thailand – 4 Sai Kung Garden, 16 Chan Man Street, Sai Kung

2791 6399

The Monogamous Chinese – 59 Caine Road, Soho

2523 2872 |


Bowerbird – Horizon Plaza 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau

2552 2727 |

Habitat Windsor House – 311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay

2310 1964

Indigo Living – 221-224 Landmark Prince’s Building, Central

Manks – Cheung Tak Industrial Building, 30 Wong Chuk Hang Road

2522 2115 |

Sarah Bettle

sarah@sb-dé | sb-dé

TREE Stores – Ap Lei Chau, Sha Tin and Sai Kung

2870 1582 |

See inside more reader’s houses in our Homes section!

Mid-century Repulse Bay home

Where to live in Hong Kong

This article first appeared in the June/July edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.