How Interior Designer Emma Maclean created contemporary, cosy homes in Hong Kong
Having grown up among a family of architects and designers, and with almost a decade’s worth of experience in commercial and hospitality projects for esteemed clients such as HongKong Land and Four Seasons, it is not an overstatement to say Emma Maclean, founder and creative director of EM Bespoke, lives and breathes interior design.
The award-winning interior designer’s most recent residential project in the Western District, where she was tasked to combine two units in an older building for a growing family of four plus two cats, skillfully bridges old and new and maximises light, space, flexibility and comfort to remarkable effect. Here Emma tells Habitat about what fuels and inspires her work, how she overcomes challenges and shares a few expert tips on creating a comfortable home.
What does your work reflect of you as a designer?
My work reflects my passion for problem-solving and for listening closely to a client’s needs to create the best possible design. I believe collaboration is at the core of every successful project, and that the best designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also deliver practical, timeless solutions.
For example, we recently completed a residential project in which we combined two separate units to create a seamless living space for a young family of four. We really focused on the functionality of the space, creating a layout that enhanced the interior flow, and also clearly designated spaces for private enjoyment and entertainment. We used materials and finishes that are not only super durable, perfect for children and pets, but also feel refined and sophisticated. We also used colour to delineate the public and private spaces, applying a blue-colour palette to energise the common areas, and a calming green for the personal quarters.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration is always project specific and very much guided by the needs and wants of the client. On a recent project for a large multi-use development in Kwun Tong, the client wanted to create a Clubhouse that would serve as an oasis from urban living for its residents. The outdoor gardens and landscaping were an integral part of the project, so we wanted to make sure to bring this element seamlessly indoors. We turned to Kew Gardens in London for inspiration and the great diversity of flora it showcases. We used natural elements to guide the colour palette of the interior, and also in the choice of decorative objects and artwork throughout the space.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in residential projects in Hong Kong? How do you overcome this?
Space is always the biggest challenge in residential projects in Hong Kong and the greatest driver for innovation. Some designers may balk at the constraints that many old buildings pose in Hong Kong, but for our team it’s a great opportunity to come up with clever solutions. On a recent project in SoHo which was purchased via Habitat Property, we made the space appear larger by using a mirror finish as a backsplash in the kitchen and hung in panels along the main wall of the dining area. We used a floor to ceiling wardrobe to divide the bedroom, yielding two separate spaces that can accommodate visitors and offer plenty of storage. We also applied custom seating along the windowsills, offering more options and flexibility.
What is your favourite spot in Hong Kong and why?
I love being outdoors and one of my favourite spots is “The Twins” atop Tai Tam Country Park. I am a twin, and I grew up in Hong Kong, so perhaps that’s why it also resonates. It is while doing this challenging hike that I can recharge, get exercise, and spend quality time catching up with old friends. It is where I am also reminded of the great beauty of my home, Hong Kong.
What are your top tips for creating a comfortable, cosy home?
My top three tips for creating a comfortable, cosy home are: light, texture and layering.
Light plays multiple roles, not only in trying to maximise the natural light that comes into a space but how it reflects within it. There is also the choice of light fixtures, to ensure different needs are met, such as ambient or task lighting. I also find that candlelight can add a nice glow and change the mood of a space.
Textures add interest and appeal to any home. I particularly love adding natural textures, such as wood, marble, leather and natural foliage. The use of different tactile and visual experiences make a home feel warmer and more welcoming.
Finally, layering offers an opportunity to be playful and expressive. For example, in my home, I have an assortment of artwork, books and objects along a cabinet that offer visual interest and just make me happy to look at them!
To maximise budget and style, what are the 3 things that would make the most difference in home interior? Are these necessarily the same things you would recommend allocating the most budget for?
The answer depends on whether you are buying or renting a home. If you are buying, it is usually a good idea to invest in built-in solutions that can address and adapt to your own personal needs. Clever storage is so important in Hong Kong where space is scarce, so having something that works for you is a real luxury. Investing in durable materials is also a great use of budget, as Hong Kong’s climate can be unforgiving on many material surfaces.
If you are renting, then investing in items that offer flexibility and can be taken to your next home is a smart choice. For example, seating that can double as storage, etc.
Most common pitfalls in interior design and how to avoid them.
The biggest pitfall is underestimating the budget. It is important to have a good understanding of how much things cost and how long things take from the outset, particularly in this climate which has been and continues to be impacted by the pandemic and supply-chain constraints. Continuous research and being readily transparent with the client is always our priority and key to every project success, in addition to setting out realistic expectations and having regular, open channels of communication.
What are the ways interior design can help accommodate our evolving needs at home during the pandemic?
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for flexibility inside the home and for having comfortable and functional furnishings. With so many people working from home, a good work area is imperative, however, you also want the ability to entertain and host people inside your home. This is why at our residential project in SoHo, we anchored the main living space with a beautiful, round dining table, not the expected sofa and coffee table, and is further anchored by a linen pendant lamp. The former not only provides a solid work surface when needed, but also readily serves to host a group of friends for dinner or card games. It is like having many different rooms in one.
*Photos by Lydia Cheng