Treasure House

Marked on a map not with an address but by two cryptic strings of coordinates, American gallerist Katie de Tilly’s Buffalo Hill residence resembles a buried treasure trove not just in the difficulty of the search, but also in the wealth of artworks that it contains. The abode is situated high above the sparkling waters of Sai Kung at the end of an overgrown mountain road, a surreal approach that has tested the courage of many a taxi driver much as it did to this writer’s.

For a video tour of this house narrated by Katie, click here.

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“I find it an adventure every day,” says Katie with a knowing chuckle when I ask her thoughts on the location, shortly after my taxi emerges from the surrounding bush. “It’s a beautiful drive through nature so I really love it, although the taxis don’t!”

And soon, after several moments spent luxuriating in the generous proportions of the three-storey residence, its vast veranda, and the view of the verdant archipelago beyond, it becomes apparent that the drive isn’t just a necessary hurdle to overcome to reach the residence, but an inseparable part of the experience, dividing the home and its sense of sanctuary from the outside world.

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Here, away from the cacophony of the city, the Los Angeles native’s venerable art collection is allowed to speak volumes, and reads like a who’s-who of the Asian contemporary art scene. In the living room alone, a metal roller shutter painted over by Indian artist Atul Dodiya echoes the tongue-in-cheek designs of the nearby posterior-shaped dining chairs by Fabio Novembre. Sensuous wooden sculptures by Wang Keping are numerous and dot the abode’s many rooms, while an oversized metallic composition by Robert Rauschenberg tempers the interior’s louder canvases.

However, one artist and his creation are particularly cherished by Katie. Indeed, an ink-splashed screen by Hong Kong’s own Frog King takes pride of place in the living room behind a pair of Indonesian ikat sofas. “The brushstrokes and the energy of that artwork really speak [to me] very strongly,” Katie comments. So personal is this connection that the de Tilly residence served as the venue for Frog King’s 70th birthday celebrations where the artist acted out a performance art piece on a rooftop adjacent to the outdoor swimming pool to a crowd of 200 guests.

See more: Street art takes centre stage in this sprawling home on The Peak

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The house lends itself superbly to entertaining, which takes up no small portion of Katie’s calendar. The ability of the floor-to-ceiling windows to completely open up to the patio creates the impression of an expansive, uninterrupted living room, seamlessly blending the interior and exterior.

“I really liked the rectangular windows from 1950s-era Hong Kong colonial architecture,” explains the Los Angeles native. “They’re also very Californian, influenced by [modernist architect] Rudolph Schindler who was in turn influenced by Japanese architecture.” For smaller, more intimate dinners held for visiting artists, Katie receives them at a semi-detached dining room at the near end of the pool, where the burbling sounds of the poolside waterfall feature are allowed to permeate mealtime conversation.

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While the house itself holds no shortage of artistic gems, it’s clear that the true pride of the home is what envelopes it. Separated from their nearest neighbours by several hundred metres of dense foliage in every direction, the de Tilly family enjoys unmatched quietude and absolute privacy, save for the occasional plane flying overhead – a subtle reminder that the house is nestled within one of the most densely-populated cities on the planet.

“It’s a very different climate, but we do have our California days,” says Katie. “It is so soul-feeding to be surrounded by nature like this on a daily basis.”

For more inspiration, pick up a print or digital copy of our art-themed March issue, on newsstands now

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Photography: Edgar Tapan