Decked Out

Hong Kong show-cases a night to remember with AWA's Black Tie Ball

After saying goodbuye to a house full of history New York, Meera Gandhi and family now call a contemporary Hong Kong villa their home, finds Arne Eggers

Family always comes first for Meera Gandhi, the philantropist, socialite and businesswoman known for her high-powered connections. So when the Gandhis were looking for a home in Hong Kong, it was the close proximity to Hong kong International School that was the most obvious benefit of their airy oceanfront residence in Tai Tam.

But with its slick and contemporary design features, beautiful outdoor spaces and, above all, the stunning views out over the South China Sea, this house turned out to be a jewel on many levels. "Living on the ocean makes me very creative. There is a powerful energy coming from the water and this house is a perfect place to work," says Gandhi, who has various projects on the go.

Gandhi has always been a bit of a nomad. She grew up i India, England and Ireland, spent part of her youth in Canada and, after getting married to husband Vikram ("my high-school sweetheart"), the couple moved to the US to complete their university studies together. In the late 1980s, they moved to New York, which becametheir home for many yearsm and was where their two youngest children were born. A turning point came when family was looking for a new home in Manhattan and a property agent drew their attention to Upper Eastside town house that was for sale. The limestone mansion charmed with its high ceilings and elegant fittings, but it was the history that really made the Gandhis fall in love with the place. Once owned by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, this "legacy home" had a past of hosting illustrious guests, from politicians like John F Kennedy, Golda Meir and Nikita Khrushchev, to showbiz figures such as Leonard Bernstein and Melvyn Douglas.

Perhaps because of Roosevelt's known love of India, Gandhi also felt a great connection with the first lady, probably the most influential president's wife of all time. "She was and is a huge inspiration to me" says the commited humanitarian. They bought the town house in 1999 and Gandhi spent two years renovating the home to its former glory. Soon after, she joined the board of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Eleanor Roosevelt Centre at Val-Kill and revived the house's history with her tireless energy. Using her high-profile connections on New York's social and political scene, she hostedcountless dinner parties and receptions at the family's home, most of them fundrasers for the many charitable causes with which Gandhi is involved. She filled the house once again with distinguished guests, including the likes of then-senmor Hillary Rodhal Clinton and the Maharajah of Jodhpur, and turned it into a placethat kept Eleanor Roosevelt's spirit alive.

When a job transfer to Hong Kong came up in 2008 for banker Vikram, Gandhi was determined to keep this social and political whirlwind up. And indeed, her Tai Tam residence has already seen a series of high-profile events, including a coctail party given earlier this year in honour of Cherie Blair, Britain's former first lady and a personal friend of the Gandhis. With its large reception area and airy rooftop, the home is an ideal place to entertain guests on a grand scale. Split over various levels, the house allows the family's private rooms to kept from the eyes of visitors. When guests arrive through the front door on street level, a private lift takes them down to the reception room with its adjacent terrace. An experienced host, Gandhi has skilfully created a welcoming atmosphere by mixing the contemporary space with colourful fabrics and Indian elements, such as a cofee table with a glass top resting on legs in the form of the Taj Mahal's four minarets. "We brought all the furniture from our home in New York. Every cup and every spoon," reveals Gandhi. But in order to give their furniture a fresh note, she decided to change all covers once the pieces were shipped to Hong Kong, choosing bright turquoise and a warm apricot for the sofas. "I wanted colour," she remembers. No less colourful is the art on display in the spacious room. "I see the world as a global village and these paintings represent just that," explains the art lover. There is an abstract painting from an Hawaiian artist, placed over the sofa to mirror the vivid aquamarine of its covers, a naive painting from the Dominican Republic, an artwork by a Bombay painter and a piece by Mexican artist Angelica Labastida, which Gandhi bought on the recommendation of her New York socialite friend, Kimberly Rockefeller.

But the eye is inevitabily drawn to the large windows overlooking the ocean. Divided from the water only by a glass balustrade on the rooftop, one almost feels the home is floating. This effect is achived in an even more dramatic way with the house's infinity swimming pool, situated below the top deck. Open towards the ocean, the water seems to be one with the sea. But the private pool has one advantage over the sea swimming is possible all year around as the water is heated to a pleasant 30 degrees.

The open kitchen, dining area, family room and bedrooms are situated on the top level of the house, where the mix of Indian elements, contemporary architecture and eclectic art continues. The most prominent piece is a beautiful large portrait of Gandhi's three children, Kiran, Kanika and Kabir. The simple but highly effective painting is an artwork by painter Jim Ceravolo, who has also replicated the likenesses of celebrities such as Rod Stewart and Elton John. Gandhi also commissioned Ceravolo to do a portrait of herself, which she placed over the bed in her and Vikram's bedroom.

Having completed the move back to Asia, Gandhi can now dedicate her time to projects close to her heart again. Two books are on the cards for the energetic woman: one will be a coffee-table book featuring photographs from Gandhi's private archive, the other a spiritual self-healing book similar to Rhonda Byrne's bestseller The Secret.

Gandhi has also been producing segments for a DVD, to be sold along with the coffee-table book, on which she worked with two Emmy Award-winning producers. Gandhi interviewed various personalities, including Charlie Blair, at the family's Thai Tam home, which featured as a set for the segments. "It looks stunning on TV," says Gandhi. Proceeds of her books and DVD will fully go to the Meera and Vikram Gandhi Foundation, a charity set up with her husband. For Gandhi, this is a natural move: I have always been so blassed with my life, I have a comfortable life, a great family and global leaders as friends. I think it is my duty to give back."