THERE'S one vista many of us hanker after when house hunting - a sea view, ideally with a beach thrown in for good measure.
Philippe and Florence Grelon rent a three-floor house in Chung Hom Kok, Hong Kong Island. This is a rare luxury in Hong Kong, where living conditions for most local residents would described as cramped, at best.
However, the view was a decisive criteria in the choice of this house, explained to the French couple. "It's this view - with no neighbors in sight, only birds and the constant procession of cargo ships in the distance - that we find amazing," Florence said.
"The fact that the house is on three floors with a terrace is great, too. It reminds us of some London houses and it keeps you fit, even without going to the gym."
Even though the house was not in a great condition when the family moved in, that didn't worry Florence too much. Like many French women, she has a talent for combining colors and styles to create a good mood and foster an optimistic outlook. Her talents have created a soothing and cheerful vibe here.
Each corner of the house exerts an aesthetic appeal at once comfortable and tasteful.
"I was never into a typical 'deco' style that you see in every magazine and that everyone seems to try and imitate. We haven't changed sofas for 20 years and now I would buy a very different one, with more straight and simple lines," she said.
"I want people to feel they are coming into a real family house. The inside of your home should tell a bit about the inside of your heart. If you want it warm and welcoming, it is natural to have wood and warm colors, such as deep red."
Florence says she never buys items from home decor shops. Having been a newspaper correspondent for almost two decades, she has travelled the world. Each object in the house has its own story.
In the living room, you will find a collection of objects from countries including Papua New Guinea, India, the Solomon Islands, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Colombia, Italy and France.
"But you don't want to have a house looking like the Cairo Museum," Florence said. "The only thing that creates unity between many different objects from different cultures is your own taste."
Florence has carried her love of mixing, matching and adapting to her furniture. The coffee table that has pride of place in the living room started life as Indian bed.
"We loved the color of the wood but it was too high. Looking at the legs, we realized that the shape would allow for a straight cut. We decided to try that and it worked perfectly.
"Many people notice the table and wonder where it comes from, as you don't find antique Indian coffee tables," she added.
The Chinese wedding cabinet has had quite an incredible life too, said Florence.
"Long before we ever thought we would end up in China, we were living in New Zealand. I had spotted this red lacquered cabinet from a distance in the auction place and decided to go to the auction night. I had never placed a bid in an auction before and felt a bit intimidated but fought for this cabinet and got it," she said.
Some Chinese furniture ended up in New Zealand in the second half of the 19th century, when Chinese attracted by a small gold rush settled and sent for their furniture.
"It is funny to think that this wedding cabinet traveled from China to New Zealand more than a century ago and came back to Hong Kong with us. I wish objects could talk sometime as they carry fascinating stories."
Talking about her favorite furniture style, Florence said that "simplicity is the utmost elegance. It is tempting to add, but it is often much better to remove."
Colors, materials and artworks are essential to create a cozy and welcoming look. "I don't mind things getting a bit old and damaged. Cushions get damaged by the light, but that's OK as I don't like things to be perfect."
Florence firmly believes that home is a safe haven where a family can rejuvenate and rest.
ASK THE OWNER
Q: What's the best thing about living in Hong Kong?
A: The energy of the city.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Homy, warm and personal.
Q: What's the first thing you do when you get home?
A: Go and check the view and the sea on the balcony.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: I rarely do …
Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?
A: At my desk …
Q: What's the best view from your window?
A: I can see the sea from most of the windows, a little island called Round Island and further away Lamma Island. But it changes all the time.
Q: How do you scent your home?
A: Good cooking, first of all! And the occasional home fragrance when I feel like it.
Q: What's your favorite object at home?
A: Too hard to tell. I like some for their beauty, others for their symbolic value, others for their stories, others because of where they come from or who gave them to us … It's impossible to establish a ranking.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Hong Kong?
A: The dark red armchair, covered in Italian velvet, was purchased at Pure. Some lights were purchased at Lane Crawford. But all our previous houses in other countries were larger, so there is little space for more.
Who is he?
Pekka Salminen is the founder, president and senior partner of PES-Architects. Fellow partners are Tuomas Silvennoinen and Jarkko Salminen. They have their main office in Helsinki, Finland, and a studio in Shanghai. PES-Architects has undertaken more than 60 projects since 2003.
Tell us about some of your works, and say which you are most proud of.
My main work in Finland is Helsinki Airport, and in Germany I built St Mary's Concert Hall in Neubrandenburg. Both projects received many international awards.
I am most proud of the Wuxi Grand Theatre, in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, in China, because with it I realized an old dream of combining an opera house and the language of form. I admire the beauty of organic forms found in nature. These were my inspiration for the Wuxi Grand Theatre.
Are you currently involved in any projects?
Yes. Xidong New City Cultural Center; Xiehe International School; and the hanging "Dancing Pedestrian Bridge" - all in Wuxi. In Finland, I'm designing a small studio apartment as an annex to my home. I am also busy with publishing projects related to the Wuxi Grand Theatre. My hometown Helsinki is appointed World Design Capital this year and I participated in Shanghai Radical Design Week.
Describe your design style.
It can be described as Scandinavian style: modest, clean, functional and user-friendly. It was great that I could create some Finnish features for Wuxi Grand Theatre public lobby area. It has a large wall with almost 20,000 specially designed glass bricks, giving a feeling of Finnish lakes.
Are there any designer you look up to?
Architect IM Pei who designed Suzhou Museum. As as student, I was drawn to the work of Danish architect J?rn Utzon.
Who and what inspires you?
Nelson Mandela and old Chinese poetry.
What do you collect?
I'm interested in Mediterranean citrus plants and modern yachts, so I collect info about these things.
What does your home mean to you?
My home means a building I have designed and where I can live and work. I have designed six small private houses of this type for myself. This is also a hobby.
Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?
I always first take my Finnish friends to the Jinmao Tower in Pudong. It is a fine skyscraper from where you can admire the rapid growth of Shanghai. I also stayed with my wife in the hotel in Jinmao, when signing the design contract for the Wuxi Grand Theatre. It was a memorable time.
What will be the next big design trend?
In China, it's to understand the value of bamboo as an important local and sustainable interior material. Bamboo is neglected in China, perhaps because it's become known as a "poor man's timber." Technology makes it possible to use it in many ways.
I believe that the bamboo interior of Main Opera Auditorium in Wuxi Grand Theatre has started sort of "bamboo boom" in China.
Another trend is green roofs and green facades, which both embody sustainable design.