Just because you rent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make your apartment your own. Granted, rules, regulations and landlords may limit your decorating options, but as Hong Kong resident Emma Rochfort has proved in her two-bedroom rental, it’s the details that count. Whether it’s a fresh lick of paint, banishing bare walls with art, graphic accents on cushions and blinds, or even a simple stack of books, the details can work together to send the message that the space belongs to you, not your landlord.
Walking into Rochfort’s airy, light-filled apartment, it’s easy to see why she had an “I want it now” moment as soon as she saw the space. The windows look out onto unobstructed sea and mountain views, and the rooms are spacious, with high ceilings. “I hadn’t expected to find such an amazing flat in Hong Kong. [My partner] Miles saw it on the internet – no photos – and booked us an appointment. Another couple were leaving as we were walking in, and told us it was ‘just awful’. Either they were looking for something brand new or they wanted to put us off,” Rochfort recalls.
The 1,400-square-foot apartment is located in Pok Fu Lam, a residential area on Hong Kong Island that is located at the western end of the so-called Southern District, between Victoria Peak and Mount Kellet.
Rochfort has a discerning eye for design, and she’s made the space come alive through the artwork and furniture that she’s collected over the course of many years.
“Art really makes a room or a home,” she advises. “I get my art when I travel, and each piece makes a great memory of the place you visited. And framing in Hong Kong is super-cheap. I have an apron that I stretched over a wooden frame and it’s honestly the one piece I get the most comments on.”
The apron-cum-artwork, which takes pride of place in the dining area, was bought from the Australian webshop Third Drawer Down, which offers a carefully curated mix of art and design products by niche brands, and ships around the globe.
Rochfort is also lucky that her family is as much into art and design as she is; they even swap furniture – a set of Bauhaus-style, leather-and-aluminium chairs belong to her sister. “My mum found the antique chairs, and my dad has gifted me some amazing art, such as Keith Macgregor’s 1983 photo of Kowloon that he gave me when I was moving to London. It reminds me of my childhood and really captures that old Hong Kong feeling.”
It was while living in London that Rochfort amassed much of her furniture, as it’s generally cheaper to buy there than in Hong Kong. “I love Scandinavian design,” she says, listing Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner, Iittala and Asplund among her favourite designers. “And I have a slight obsession with chairs – particularly the [Hans Wegner] Wishbone chair.”
So she relied on art, striking accents and Scandinavian furniture to transform this white-box rental into a real home. She effortlessly mixed her long-time staples with Hong Kong-heritage-inspired furniture such as an altar table, and eclectic pieces like a cockatoo lamp. A Chinese-heritage-inspired credenza and kooky accessories greet you by the entrance and a lime-coloured stool pops against white.
“I bought the blue dogs in a little china shop that was closing down on Mosque Street years ago. I’m a bit of a magpie – when I see something I like, I tend to buy it,” she admits.
In the bedroom, which is generously sized and includes ample space for the couple’s clothes and shoes, a Thonet Bentwood chair is used as a bedside table, while Korla blinds add character to the space.
Save for the old-school Hong Kong parquet flooring and the kitchen decor, the flat is virtually unrecognisable as a rental. “I feel relaxed when I come home and actually want to spend time in the flat on the weekends,” says Rochfort. “It’s such an escape from the buzz and chaos in the rest of Hong Kong, even though it’s all of 15 minutes away.”
It would seem that the couple has scored the Hong Kong rental jackpot. Rochfort agrees: “If only I could buy this flat – to me, it’s almost perfect.”