From colourful wall hangings and dangling dreamcatchers, to authentic Tibetan cabinets and vibrant, Indian rugs… we explore the bohemian chic flat of Donna Duckworth in this month’s That Flat! As founder of The Travelled Interior (an interiors business that donates a percentage of all proceeds to various charities close to Donna’s heart!), her Ap Lei Chau flat features eclectic décor inspired by travels in Asia. Think up-cycled furniture from Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Cambodia, big pops of colour and one-off items at every turn, each with an individual story to tell.
We chat to Donna about her love for travel treasures, her inspiration behind bohemian home décor and how she’s made her home a sanctuary. We’ve even bagged some expert styling tips on how to make a space your own!
Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
I’m originally from Essex in the UK but I moved to London in my early twenties, which is where I met my husband. Believe it or not, I’m actually mixed race – my mother is British and my father’s parents are both from the West Indies – but only my hair gives it away!
My husband and I relocated to Hong Kong in 2012 when his job was transferred here. He has since started working for himself but we decided to stay as we really enjoy the lifestyle – we’ve had the best time in this crazy city! Dancing is a huge passion of mine; I trained for many years and won a scholarship to a fantastic stage school in central London. I’ve been very lucky to work in an industry that I love and be involved in so many amazing projects around the world, although pregnancy has put the brakes on that for the time being!
Where do you live and how did you choose this flat as your Hong Kong home?
We lived in Happy Valley for the first three years of Hong Kong life and were very happy there (excuse the pun!) but the apartment was in a walk-up building and on a busy road, so we moved because we felt it wasn’t the ideal place to start a family.
We moved to Larvotto in Ap Lei Chau about a year ago. It’s so peaceful here; we have beautiful views of the mountain from every room, the natural light coming in from the huge windows is blissful – and there are three elevators!
Read more: A-Z Guide for Girls New to Hong Kong
What are the best and worst things about living where you do? What makes the area you live in different from other neighbourhoods in Hong Kong?
Currently, there is no MTR on Ap Lei Chau, so the commute into Central has taken a bit of getting used to. We also have to be a little more organised because we no longer have the convenience of Happy Valley delis or Causeway Bay shops on our doorstep. However, this will all be resolved when the South Island Line eventually opens!
Larvotto is a really great complex with fantastic facilities and, because it’s only five years old, the units are all very well finished.
My favourite thing about living here is the peace and quiet. It’s most certainly more restful than Wong Nai Chung Road on a Wednesday night during the racing season! I love to sit on the balcony and listen to the birds and the boats. We are also close to Horizon Plaza, which is useful, albeit expensive! I suspect we’ll move again next year for a bit more space. I absolutely LOVE flat-hunting and, of course, a new decorating project!
How would you describe your own personal style?
My style is quite bohemian and a little eclectic. I collect things from all over the world so our home is a mish-mash of colour and culture. Our travel treasures add so much personality to our space so it feels lived-in and tells our story. My sister visited for the first time recently and her first words were “you can really tell that you live here” – yes! That’s exactly what I love to hear!
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little bit obsessed with colour and pattern. I’m not into minimalism and modern isn’t really my thing either. My pet hate is IKEA (can I say that?!). It’s very useful for small accessories or temporary fixes but anything I buy from there usually ends up painted or repurposed so that I can guarantee I won’t see it in anybody else’s flat! Individuality is pretty key for me.
I have a lot of fun with up-cycling. I’m always dragging things in off the street – you can imagine what my husband thinks about that! I’ve found some really cool pieces on the side of the road – my favourite being the retro desk that’s in the spare room. It’s awesome. I also make a lot of my own homeware; dreamcatchers, plant-hangers, artwork, wall-hangings… I can’t get enough of arts and crafts! I like the element of originality that handmade items bring and it’s super flattering when visitors pay compliment to a piece that I’ve made myself. I recently set up my own Etsy shop for custom-made homeware and decor.
Where have you taken inspiration? Did you initially have a theme in mind?
The obvious inspiration in my interior is Asia. My husband and I absolutely love this continent and feel so fortunate to have visited so many corners of it. Every time we visit a new place, I buy something for our home, which has naturally created a bit of a theme throughout our space!
When decorating, I generally start with one key feature or idea and work around that. For example, the beautiful Tibetan unit in our living space is such a strong statement piece – there is no denying that it’s the focal point of the room! I chose to use that as the starting point and much of the design evolved from there. In the bedroom, I wanted a very serene and relaxing atmosphere so I’ve only used neutral colours with lots of wood and a low bed.
Which room are you most proud of? Why?
Definitely the nursery. I have had so much fun putting it all together. I bought the crib second-hand, but bought the netting and customised it by adding faux flowers to create a garland around the top. I then added fringing to the base of the cot.
The change table is also second hand but I have revamped it with some new drawer handles, colourful butterflies and hand-drawn motifs. I’ve made use of the large window sill by creating a nursing space, which is packed with colourful cushions. There is a teepee activity gym, which I made from two brooms!
Mobiles, garlands and decorative accents, all handmade by me and a stool, which I hand-painted a mandala style pattern on to. So much time and love has gone into the room, it will be a little haven for our baby girl.
What has been the biggest home improvement you’ve made or wanted to make? Any tips and tricks for easily updating the look of a room?
Because we are renting the property, we are pretty limited on what home improvements we can make. The apartment was completely unfurnished when we moved in though, so we’ve been able to entirely make it our own in terms of styling.
Our home is an ongoing project – I am constantly editing and rearranging. I just cannot stop myself! You can completely update the look of a room just by switching up the soft furnishings. It doesn’t have to be expensive either; be creative with your existing décor, move things from room to room, or do a bit of DIY.
What’s your favourite piece in your home?
This is a very difficult question! Can I name a few? I love the artwork we bought in SaPa. It shows an ethnic minority lady carrying a small child on her back. The artist has used clam shells in the background, which shimmer in the light. Vietnam is our favourite place so it’s a beautiful reminder of our time spent there.
Our dining table, which is a reclaimed Chinese door. I chose the door myself, had it treated and then fitted to iron legs. It has holes in it from where the hardware would have been – I love it because it’s so raw. I definitely prefer the distressed look over anything polished.
Our rugs. One from India, one from Turkey and one from Afghanistan. Rugs are absolutely essential in my opinion; they are an easy way to add a pop of colour, the texture instantly makes a space feel cosier, they balance acoustics, help define areas and they just look great. I’ve layered mine to make things more interesting.
What about your choice of furniture? Why did you choose these pieces?
Every piece of furniture in our home has been chosen with style and practicality in mind. I’m the cheerleader for style and my husband drives the practicality part! My eye is always drawn to pieces which have a bit of character.
I acquired a really cool drinks cabinet from a lady in Hong Kong, I’m unsure where she got it but her initials are engraved on the rotating glass shelf. Her initials are EMS, which we now say stands for ‘Emergency Medicinal Spirits’!
Another stylish yet functional piece is my coffee table, which is an old Chinese trunk. It had been discarded and left on the street. It’s very worn, the brass lock is damaged and there are remnants of old labels – so obviously I loved it! It makes a very attractive coffee table and it’s great for storage too.
Where is your favourite place to shop for homeware in Hong Kong?
I have found it quite difficult to find interesting and affordable furniture in Hong Kong so I started my own online homeware store. Being a dancer, I had no choice but to stop working almost immediately once I got pregnant, so I’ve had a lot of spare time on my hands. I decided that I would put this time to good use and work on starting up a business that I can run from home.
A couple of years ago, I did a course in Interior Design and I’ve spent a lot of time travelling and buying homeware from around the world, so I already had the tools to launch The Travelled Interior. My products are mostly sourced from social enterprises or independent artisans, so everything is handcrafted and authentic but, most importantly for my customers, it’s affordable!
The best thing about The Travelled Interior is every single item has a charity donation included within the price, so not only are you buying good quality products from small businesses that need support, you are also contributing to the welfare of vulnerable people or poor communities.
Our home is filled with The Travelled Interior products, things I’ve bought back from overseas or things I’ve made, found and customised – and not a lot else!
Read more: Best Homeware Stores in Hong Kong
Describe your dream flat.
I absolutely love my home. No matter where we travel, there is no feeling like returning to our little nest. We’ve made it our own, full of our memories, and that feeling when I walk in the door is incomparable to any hotel room or wooden hut. It doesn’t have to be anything special, it just has to be ours. If I could change anything to make our home more comfortable, it would be a bit more space (obviously!) and perhaps a bit more charm in the architecture. Hong Kong’s residential high-rises are hardly unique!
We will eventually return to the UK and live in the countryside. I prefer green spaces to the city or the beach and I want plenty of space for my babies to run around in! My dream home would be an old conversion or something – bundles of character. It would have lots of natural light, I’d fill it with boho patterns and plants and we’d all live happily ever after!
How have you made a small space work for you?
I think most people get quite intimidated when decorating a small space. The knee-jerk reaction seems to be buy white furniture and push up it up against the wall in an attempt to claw-back space. Personally, I’ve not let a small space restrict my style.
I drew up a floor plan of our apartment to give me an idea of how our existing furniture would work in the space. We didn’t rush into buying all of our furniture at once. We took our time and lived in the flat for a good few weeks to get a feel for how we wanted to use the flat and agree on what furniture we actually needed.
We then added bits in, piece by piece, which I subsequently changed and rearranged, piece by piece! I’m always inspired by things I see on Instagram or Pinterest or in magazines so I’m experimenting with the layout or design of our home all the time.
Any tips for combining style with functionality?
I recently added a new storage unit to our bedroom, which I designed myself. I’ve met some great suppliers in this part of the world since starting my business and this has opened up the world of custom design to me. As I’ve said before, it’s nice to own something that is unique to you and in Hong Kong, where many of us are a bit tight on space, there’s nothing better than having a tailored piece of furniture that does exactly what you want in both the style and functionality departments.
Open shelving is a great way of combining style and functionality; you can fill them with all the bits and pieces you have no other place for and at the same time you are adding depth and interest to the room.
What advice would you give before you move in? Any tips for styling a home?
My tips are:
- Make it your own. Don’t just copy something you’ve seen elsewhere. Put your own stamp on your home by showing off things that say something about who you are.
- Hide clutter. Our home is full of knick-knacks, but it isn’t cluttered. I hate clutter, especially when I can see things stuffed under or down the side of furniture. It makes me uncomfortable. You can achieve a lived-in look without the chaos of over-crowded surfaces. If you can’t be disciplined about this, get some cool storage boxes.
- Plants and flowers. They come in all colours and sizes to suit any interior, masculine or feminine, and they can dramatically improve the feel of a space. Oh, and they improve the air, which we could all use a little bit of in Hong Kong!
- Hong Kong apartments tend to lack natural light so it’s really important to try and recreate it. Lots of lamps and mirrors opposite windows to reflect light back into the room will work wonders in a small space.
- Put some real thought into your furniture layout and don’t be afraid to experiment. If it doesn’t work, change it. I often walk out of my apartment and walk back in again to see the space from the entrance perspective. Sometimes, I’ve just been looking at it for far too long so I give myself a break and come back with a fresh look.
Keen to feature your home on Sassy? Simply send in your photos to email@example.com!
Thanks to the wonderful Belinda Bamford of Belinda Bamford Photography for the gorgeous pictures of Donna and her home! Check out her Facebook page and Instagram feed, and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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