Belying the busy nature of Staunton Street below, the Soho home of Filipino-Canadian and certified professional organiser MARIANNE OBENA is a calm, clutter-free retreat. We chat with her about what brought her to Hong Kong and the story behind her home organisation business Home Makeover HK.
Where are you from originally? What do you miss about it?
I was born and raised in the Philippines. Apart from some of the best beaches best in the world, I miss the pancit peking from the family-owned restaurant where my grandma used to take me whenever I visited her in the school break. I think Filipino food is underrated in Hong Kong, so allow me to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to give it a try!
What brought you to Hong Kong?
I lived in Canada for a time, where I worked as a flight attendant – Hong Kong was a frequent layover destination. Even before I met my partner, who lives here, I’ve always been fascinated by the city’s vibrant vibe. Of all the places I’ve travelled, HK captured my heart the most because of its impressive hodgepodge of Eastern and Western cultures.
What do you do here?
I’m an English teacher for children aged two to six, and a certified professional organiser – and I’m passionate about both professions. The latter was spawned by my desire to inspire and motivate people to achieve sustainable home organisation efforts that are relative to maintaining a good sense of emotional and mental wellbeing.
Tell us a bit about Home Makeover HK.
It’s my quarantine brainchild! The idea dawned on me after I organised my mom’s home while on a holiday vacation in Toronto. When I came back, I got my certification and business plan sorted out while in quarantine. Home Makeover HK was launched in April 2022.
Living in a cluttered space, let alone a small one, can be overwhelming. Old habits die hard. Procrastinating around home organisation efforts is a habit that needs attention and practice before it can be rectified. But taking easy baby steps won’t hurt – especially when they can lead you to achieve emotional and mental benefits of a clutter-free environment, at home or in the office.
At Home Makeover HK, we introduce systems that are tailored to fit your decluttering situation and ultimate goals.
Tell us a bit about your home: how long have you lived here, and where were you previously?
My partner had been living in our older apartment – just two blocks from where we are now – for over six years before the cats and I moved in. It’s located in a high-rise building on Elgin Street where the views are nothing short of amazing. As much as we loved keeping the place, though, we had outgrown the space and felt we needed more latitude for our lifestyle.
Since the neighbourhood worked perfectly for us and because our friends lived nearby, we made an effort to find something close at hand.
What attracted you to this particular place?
The character is what first drew me in. Do you know the feeling you get, as though something dormant in you has been reignited? That’s how it felt the moment we entered the house. The high ceiling kind of gives us a sense of liberty and power. Since we love entertaining guests, an open-floor plan makes socialising while attending to individual activities feasible. The large windows allow in lots of natural light, which not only saves energy but gives you a happy mood when the sun’s rays tap your face.
What do you like about the location?
We’re right in the heart of everything – there are restaurants, bars, supermarkets, a sports ground, hiking, shopping, and it’s also within walking distance from the harbour if you suddenly feel like a relaxing walk. Being right in front of PMQ lets us enjoy occasional events and pop-up shops with local vendors showcasing their products.
Is there a spot in the home that you enjoy the most?
My piano area by the window. I started taking lessons last year as a form of stress release. At night, I plug in my earphones and blast the volume, draw the curtains and enjoy the peace and serenity of being alone with the music!
Run us through any changes you’ve made to your home.
The apartment was completely empty. We furnished it with every piece we previously owned and added multipurpose furniture where we can stow things. Everything we have right now was carefully selected based on our personal style, where functionality and good taste aren’t mutually exclusive. Our home is a safe haven that’s perfect for our relaxation – we didn’t want to add any unnecessary items to compromise the feeling of serenity.
One necessity was an upgrade of the walkin closet in the bedroom. The apartment was so bare that it didn’t even come with closets. While this would be a turn-off for many, we saw it as an opportunity to create a functional walk-in closet. Now we have a storage space that fully serves its function along with aesthetics.
We also created a small bar area that works for serving drinks and as a coffee station. Whenever we have friends over, my partner mixes Aperol Spritzes (our favoured aperitivo – he’s from Venice!) while food is prepared on the other side of the room. That way, we don’t overcrowd one area, and our guests can have a good time.
What are a few things you like to do in Hong Kong when you’re not working?
I enjoy peaceful solo activities like yoga, walking on Bowen Trail, and calligraphy. Sometimes, the more I socialise, the more I get distracted; so whenever I see a pocket of time, I summon positivity through these activities. But I don’t bar myself from hanging around with good friends, doing karaoke on rainy nights or wake-surfing!
Marianne’s Tips – for living a more clutter-free life
Problem: A messy home
Solution: Clutter is just delayed decisions!
#1 Ask yourself if you tend to delay actions in other aspects of your life and understand why that’s so.
#2 Only handle everything once, and do 1 Minute Daily Micro Cleaning.
#3 Make 1 Minute Daily Micro Cleaning a habit.
Problem: Too much stuff
Solution: Don’t just organise, minimise
#1 Be aware of your shopping habits, and stop accepting castoffs just because they look nice and “you might need it later”.
#2 Always shop with a list.
#3 Buy for who you are now, not for who you want to be later.
#4 If it isn’t a need, you’re not saving money, no matter how good the sale is.
#5 Keep one bin in your home where you can put stuff you don’t need. When you fill the bin, drop the items off for donation. A lot more people will benefit from things you don’t need than keeping them in storage.
Hacks for small spaces
#1 Utilise vertical space. If you don’t have space, build it!
#2 Large Styrene Dividers by MUJI are one of my favourite organising products. They can be used for organising bakeware, books, bags, towels, files – pretty much anything you can think of.
#3 Designate a command centre in your home where you keep your family calendar, school slips, mail, memo board, grocery list, cleaning, decluttering schedule and so on, plus a landing zone where you keep your keys, wallets, bags, shoes, jackets and sporting equipment at the end of each day so you don’t waste time looking for them in the morning.
#4 Most importantly, bins and baskets alone won’t make you organised. You have to create easy-to-maintain and sustainable systems based on your lifestyle and your family’s needs. Be patient; once you clear out your space, your visual field is no longer overwhelming and all the effort is worth it!
DINING & DRINKS
The Chinese Library for the one of the best ducks and dim sum
Man Mo Dim Sum for a quality fusion of Eastern and Western cuisine
Giando for an intimate full Italian experience
AMA Ristorante for Roman and Italian dishes with the freshest ingredients
Junels Restobar for Filipino food cravings
The Brunch Club for easy Sunday brunches
The Old Man for unique and creative cocktails
Stazione Novella for a casual aperitivo
SHOPPING & SERVICES
Tablo for Italian lifestyle items such as tableware, kitchenware and home décor
Plantin Kaviari for online delivery of fresh truffles, caviar, and fine foods
Lilly and Co Shop for handmade Canadian jewellery
@White for one-of-a-kind sustainable fashion, accessories, crystals and shoes
LaMy Dragonfly for garments and kimonos, towels, tea towels lovingly crafted by hand Jack Of All Trades for the best handyman in the area
Silvia Ye Photography for family-friendly event shoots and portraits
To find out more about Home Makeover HK professional organisers, visit homemakeoverhk.com.
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