Smart Home Design For Healthy Living

Influenced by her time living in such far-flung locations Yemen, Sharjah, Somalia, Bahrain and Dubai, London native Natasha Grays has put her fashion and textiles design background to work in Hong Kong. Grays does do wholesale redesigns, but if you’re a cowardly renter looking to jazz up your flat, she may be your solution. Squarefoot chats with Grays.

You do full spec design but you say you’ve started doing more of less, so to speak?
I was thinking about what I could offer people who don’t want to do full interior design and spend a huge amount of money? So I started doing consultations where I’d come in and say, ‘What can we do today?’ It’s about different furniture plans, adding storage, where kids’ toys go, eliminating the “boring” … I would go around every room, do sketches and 3D floor plans and provide a list of contacts and then it’s up to the client after that. And that fits into a certain price bracket that suits a lot of people. Some want more, so I do what they ask after that. This is more about pure design than suppliers and contractors.

So it’s more like you’re providing guidance for furture DIY work?
I don’t do that much structural work. It’s everything from curtains to paint to fabrics to furniture. I do furniture design as well, like fitted cabinetry; I design rugs … I also offer a moving/settling in service that works with [clients’] existing furniture and offer ideas about what they might need to add. I think most people don’t have the visual acuity or skills to imagine what a space would — could — look like. It can be intimidating. People are scared of things that are not beige.

But one of the challenges I find in Hong Kong is in sourcing the items I want to use for my jobs. There’s a lack of accessories … in the middle bracket. There’s lots of very high end and lots of very cheap, but it’s that middle ground that’s lacking.

There’s also a distinct lack of colour in a lot of Hong Kong spaces.
That’s one thing I dislike in Hong Kong. It’s this sea of white and beige with no colour or texture. I do love white for some spaces; for small spaces white high-gloss units against the walls are great, but you can still put an injection of colour with lacquer or cushions or lamps. Not everyone does that, obviously, but on the whole there’s too much white.

How did that even become a standard?
Where does it stem from? I think in the ’90s interiors went towards the very pristine and contemporary. It’s also very safe. If you don’t know how to use colour you go for white and beige and it’s tasteful and it doesn’t upset anyone and it’s the safe thing to do. You don’t have to think about it. That’s what I’m trying to offer: The option to use someone like me and not spend a fortune.

You have something of a holy trinity for homes.
I believe in lighting, flooring and [walls] should be first. Those are the basics of a home. If you can get the light and the flooring right the rest will follow. Light positioning in rental flats can be horrific. A lot of people think you can’t take out existing fittings. You can. Keep the old ones and new ones can be repositioned quite easily. Light gives such atmosphere. Then you set up your sofa and TV and so on and all the accessories come in last.

Do you get many requests for healthier interiors? You talk paint a lot, which is a bad guy these days.
I think people are aware of it, especially families with children. Air purifiers are of huge interest now. People are very aware of what’s in the air so the next step is, ‘What about your walls? What about the floors?’ Why would you buy a rug with polyester or some man-made fibre if you could get all natural wool or cotton? I try to use VOC paints that generally healthier, which are good for the environment and for children. I often try to re-use an old piece of furniture instead of getting a new one; change the personality of the piece instead of tossing it in the garbage.
There’s a real shift in healthy environments as well as this quick buy-and-throw-away mentality. People are thinking more long term now, and they’re willing to save up and buy something that will be with them for many years. Using antiques and retro furniture is great because a home should look loved and lived in, and not pristine and precious.