A family who are invested in staying put in Hong Kong asked interior designer Joyce Taufer to carry out a partial renovation of their rented home

Interior revamps are nothing new in Hong Kong—though few people choose to carry them out in rented properties.

Having living in apartments in Happy Valley and Mid-Levels for nearly 15 years, Anita Davis, who is from the US, and Mats Dewitte, originally from Belgium—a couple with a growing young family—were “ready to graduate into a house,” says Davis. “We were looking for a home that we could grow into, even as renters,” adds Dewitte.

The couple, who has a house in France, cast a wide net in search of the ideal family home in Hong Kong. In 2021, they moved into this beautiful house in Clearwater Bay—a rental. The home offers “the quintessential, picturesque Hong Kong bay view”, according to the couple.

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“Because we are committed to living in Hong Kong [for the long term], and we have tended to stay in the same home for a number of years, we thought it was only rational that we invest in our own living space to make it liveable and customised to our life,” says Davis on the decision to revamp a rented property.

With the support of their landlord, who the couple says has been exceptionally accommodating, they commissioned Hong Kong-based Joyce Taufer Interior Design Studio to carry out a partial renovation of the house.

Encompassing 2,400 sq ft of interior space, the house has five bedrooms and three bathrooms. A generous living and dining area on the ground floor leads to the oceanfront terrace, which measures an additional 600 sq ft. It is the epitome of indoor-outdoor living, with expansive ocean views.

Upstairs, a kitchen adjoins a play area and tea room. The master bedroom features an en suite bathroom, while the kids’ bedrooms and reading room offer plenty of space for the younger residents to roam around. 

“When I visited their previous home, I realised they are organised, with amazing taste,” says Taufer, a Brazilian native who founded her eponymous firm in Hong Kong in 2019, of her first meetings with the couple. “They were looking for an elegant and comfortable family home in which they could entertain and have fun with their kids—and a living space where they could enjoy music and relax after the kids went to bed.”

The house had a lot of potential, says Taufer, but “needed a bit of love”. It simply “didn’t appear to be a true ‘family home’ at the outset,” says Dewitte.

The process, from design to completion, took nine months. Taufer conceptualised transforming the house into an art gallery-inspired space. In the uncluttered foyer stands an Artura Ficus wooden table: this is where the family tells its story through a series of photos and art pieces.

“The idea of this display is something very dynamic—[this is] where the client can change objects based on their stages of life,” she says.

We thought it was only rational that we invest in our space to make it liveable and customised to our life
Anita Davis

A wall separates the foyer from the expansive living and dining rooms. Stepping into this area—a “colourful space with a vibrant and positive energy”—a beautiful bespoke cabinet display designed by Taufer comes into view. It is inspired by historic cabinets of curiosities, originally referring to rooms designed for the display of whimsical objects by aristocrats that date back to the Italian Renaissance. Made of solid teak wood, it has several openings that allow cherished pieces of art to be displayed.

“Its design was intended to surprise its audiences with nooks in different shapes and sizes, doors that open in different ways and objects hidden behind closed doors,” says Dewitte. It’s one of his and Davis’s favourite pieces in the revamped home, he adds.

The room is anchored by a painting of the late Shanghai-born actress Li Lihua, who is Davis’s grandmother and best known for her work with the Shaw Brothers Studio in the 20th century. Adding a splash of colour into the space, it was created by the St-Tropez-based artist Corinne Dalle Ore. Other bespoke pieces also decorate the space, including a marble table featuring walnut cabinets on either side in the dining room.

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The bedrooms, meanwhile, were previously floored with ceramic tiles and lacked warmth. One of Taufer’s recommendations, which offered a dramatic change, was to place vinyl wood flooring atop the tiles in each of the bedrooms. The high-quality material offers a natural look, yet is less expensive than traditional wooden flooring.

In the master, a handcrafted green velvet headboard elevates the room and offers “the feeling of luxuriating in a hotel”, says Taufer. Davis says it is far more than a place to sleep: “We wake up every day feeling like we are on vacation—we actually spend a lot of time hanging out in the room and enjoying the view.”

The kitchen—which had no windows—was lacking natural light. This is where the most labour-intensive part of the project took place. Taufer attributes the success of this process to her partnership in this project with Hong Kong-based architect and structural engineer Enrique Moya-Angeler, who developed a practical and safe structure that matched the concept of the space.

To bring sunlight into the enclosed space, a large gap was cut into the kitchen wall. It has a sliding glass opening and ledge, looking into a space used by the previous tenants as a casual dining room and now converted into a playroom and tea area.

“This gives anyone in the kitchen visibility into the kids’ room to supervise them while they are playing, but maintains the integrity of the original enclosed kitchen,” says Dewitte. The area is completed with an Adventures of Tintin theme: the concept was suggested by Taufer, and the Belgian cartoon happened to be a childhood favourite for Dewitte. He then commissioned hand-drawn posters from his home country to decorate this room.

All the work we did will have long-lasting benefits and add value to the property
Joyce Taufer

Previously, the lighting throughout the home was flat and it was hard to create mood, Taufer says, due to a lack of dimming options. “When the lights were on, it looked a touch clinical.” New lighting fixtures were installed, and existing ones were rewired; all can now be customised and controlled via remote.

The guest bathroom on the ground floor, which had an especially dated look and feel, received similar treatment to the bedrooms: new tiles were placed over the existing ones, and a new door and cabinets were added. “They were ultimately very basic renovations that didn’t cost very much but made a world of difference in overhauling the look and feel of that bathroom,” says Davis.

It was challenging to find a contractor to work on this project, says Taufer—given that it is a partial renovation. Another difficulty was changing the structure of a home that dates back to the 1970s, especially when ownership was not in the hands of her clients. It had all paid off in the end, however, says Taufer: “I believe all the work we did on the house will have long-lasting benefits and will add value to the property.”

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