Hong Henwood is one super-inspiring interior designer – especially for those of us who are decorating our homes on a budget. I came across her work for the first time on Instagram back when she was living in Perth and showing pictures of her former home in Perth, White Picket Cottage, and I was immediately enthralled.
Hong, who runs interior design consultancy Affordable Style Files, is brilliant at styling without spending a lot. She has a knack for finding the best things from places like Kmart, Target, Super A-Mart, Bunnings, Cotton On, IKEA, Freedom and secret secondhand places and tying them all together so they look a million bucks.
Hong's relaxed, effortlessly put-together style will make you want to jump out of your chair and immediately run to Kmart or Bunnings to score a gorgeous homewares bargain that probably cost only $20. I am not exaggerating. While I was browsing her Instagram coming up with questions to ask her, I spied a beautiful zebra print from Kmart in her feed that I instantly HAD TO HAVE, sped off to Kmart and $12 and half an hour later it was hanging in our living room.
This woman knows all the inside secrets and she is also so generous about her sources. You know how some people will never reveal where they got something because they don’t want to tell you it was from Kmart or Coles or something? Hong is not like that and I love her all the more for it. I feel like I should put a big sticker on here saying ONE TO WATCH because I think the name Hong Henwood is going to be one of the biggest names in Australian interior design in a few years’ time! Even as we spoke she was being flooded by requests for her services. You must follow her feed already and if you are over east and looking for an interior designer I would get in quickly now! Hong is also on Facebook here.
Hong comes from Vietnamese heritage. Her husband David is Australian and works as a lawyer and they have two children Miya, 4, and Charlie, 2. Hong came to Australia when she was a baby, before she was even one. She and her family were sponsored refugees. “My mother, pregnant with me, and my father took a rickety boat from Vietnam to the Philippines to find a better start and place to raise their family,” she says. “I’m eternally grateful for such an act as I would not be living such a great life I have today without them sacrificing all they had to do so.”
Raised in Brisbane, Hong lived there all her life until she moved to Tokyo with now-husband David. Hong is an inspiring example of someone who has decided to follow her true passion despite originally pursuing something else. At university she studied a double degree in Law and Asian studies while working in homewares stores on the side. After she completed her law degree, she and David moved to Tokyo. “I did a bit of legal work there too but never enjoyed it at all,” she says.
After having her first child, Miya, 4, she began to dabble in designing clothes for children. It came to an end after the horrific 2011 tsunami and earthquake hit Japan. “We decided it was time to move home after seven and a half years there,” says Hong.
David accepted a position in his native Perth and he and Hong lived here for two and a half years, first in Bicton and then in Mosman Park, with their son Charlie, now 2, who was born in East Fremantle.They bought a little cottage that you may have recently seen on TV! “David’s grandfather Charles Bailey started Bailey’s fertilisers, which is still a family owned and operated company and supplies WA residents with all their garden needs. Our little white cottage was on their commercials recently,” says Hong.
It was back here in Australia that Hong found herself falling more and more into interior design. In Japan, she and David had designed and built a three storey home in central Tokyo on a teeny-tiny 83sqm block. “Yes, insane I know, but our living space was around 154 sqm - plenty of room and it had all the bells and whistles!” says Hong. “I got to appreciate design and space so much more living here and I guess my desire to do something in this field just grew stronger.” Once she was back in Australia, she enrolled herself into CATC Design School. “And there my journey begun!” she says.
Hong admits she is not entirely sure why she loves interior design so much, but says it is just great to stand back, look at a space you've created and just smile. “I always love finding the perfect piece for that little nook or surface in the home,” she laughs. “It’s weird - I get so excited about buying a cushion or new linen and can’t wait to get it home and start styling.”
After two and a half years in Perth, recently it was time to say bye to their little Mosman Park cottage and move to Queensland to be closer to Hong’s family so their kids could grow up with their cousins.
Home now is a classic 1940s Queenslander that has been restored and renovated keeping with the historic lines and architecture. There are original floorboards, tongue and groove walls, VJs (vertical joins), French doors at every turn and beautiful open plan living spaces. I love old Queensland homes and love all the character bits in Hong’s house. And there are views. “We live in a little pocket high up on a hill and from our back deck we see only rooftops, treelines and the Cunningham Ranges,” says Hong. “Perfect for us as when we left Perth to move here we were leaving the city between the river and the sea… how can you beat that?”
The climate allows for wonderful indoor-outdoor living. “Being in such tropical climate we wanted to turn the deck into so much more than just a deck, so we decided to add a lounge, install a TV and a ceiling fan to make this our living space,” says Hong. “So much easier for us especially with having kids. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve actually sat inside to watch TV or eat!”
Hong has a gorgeous distinctive style of her own. Signature elements that come to mind include spindleback chairs, relaxed couches, cane, old lockers, vintage textures, black and white and fiddle leaf figs - but she is continually mixing things up, updating and evolving. She describes her own aesthetic as “contemporary with a twist of vintage, and affordable without sacrificing style.”
Hong is super passionate about styling without blowing out your budget. “A lot of my friends and family can’t afford just all the designer looks in all the mags that I love, so I wanted to show people that you can create similar looks with a more affordable pricetag,” she says. “I shop at Freedom, IKEA, Kmart, Target and vintage shops. And I love Gumtree – I’m always looking for seconds or vintage finds! A lot of little nik naks in my home are from places we have traveled or things that I have found on the verge.”
She gets many comments from friends and clients on how well she designs her spaces – she has a distinct knack for piecing together modern with old and vintage pieces. “It seems to just all work well,” she tells me. “I get asked how or where I found this or that, and how they want the same in their home too. Sometimes I do get comments like, “You know that's junk, right?” I get that a lot from my husband - especially around verge collection time! Once he sees how it can be restored, he sees my vision too... but now when it is verge collection time he shudders at the thought of what else I’ll bring home! It’s actually quite funny as friends send me pics of what they find on verge sides and we all get so excited for each other!”
Hong's new online folio is still in the works, but those interested in having Hong work her Affordable Style Files magic for them can still get in touch. These days she works on home staging, e-design and also takes on individual resident consults for new interiors. “I am also working with online boutiques and small companies and artists to help them style their products to bring a bit of extra appeal to it,” she says. “I love styling homes and interior spaces and I am looking forward to a couple of bigger commercial-sized projects in the near future. I love minimalist looks but that is a dream as I own way too much! Nordic design with a twist of vintage is also something that I aspire to create.” Thank you Hong for letting us peek into your lovely family home. I highly recommend following the Affordable Style Files on Instagram for great budget interior design secrets and ideas!
Do you style your house on a budget too? What are your tricks, where do you love to shop without breaking the bank? What’s been your favourite budget buy for the home? I think mine might be the antique Singer sewing machine I got for $100 at a market when I was a teenager. It’s been one of my favourite pieces of furniture ever since. Maya x
Affordable Style Files interior designer Hong Henwood, her husband David and their children Miya, 4, and Charlie, 2
A renovated, traditional 1940s Queenslander
Annerley in Brisbane, Queensland
THE INTERIOR DESIGNER
Owner Hong Henwood of Affordable Style Files (new website coming soon)
STYLING AND PHOTOGRAPHY