A simple home is where the art is

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 October, 2007, 12:00am

What makes a home? The original Chinese character for home was a pig under a roof, which described a home's function - to provide safety and comfort.

The English saying 'home is where the heart is', describes a home as being more than a physical dwelling. It also has an emotional dimension. For Craig Au Yeung Ying-chai - writer, artist and designer who has written a series of books and is working on projects on that concept - home is a place where he can be his real self. Where he can consolidate his thoughts and communicate with himself.

'Home is where I can enjoy solitude. It is where I can be happy doing nothing. Where I can immerse myself in the 'meaningful blanks'. It is the only place where I can forget about people's expectations,' Au Yeung said.

He said that although a home was more than just the combination of furniture and design elements, the food, the environment, the people and the design all contributed towards creating the right state of mind. If any of the components were not right the home was not complete.

Au Yeung and his wife Millie live in a 1,400 sqft flat in Discovery Bay. When they moved there 10 years ago Au Yeung tore down walls and made the flat a studio. The flat was designed with only two colours - white and dark wood. No paintings or photographs were mounted on the walls. Everything was kept minimal, even the electrical appliances.

'I don't need more than a phone and a hi-fi. Technology is a disturbance. With little technology I am forced to do more meaningful things such as reading, listening to music, communicating with myself and Millie,' he said.

The only decorative feature of Au Yeung's flat is an installation work with birds, aircraft and other flying objects.

'I put the installation there to remind myself not to be trapped in the physical space. I can always go beyond where I am now and reach further.'

Au Yeung criticised property developers who tried to tell people how an ideal home should be. They projected, through their advertisements, the idea that all people should live like royal families.

'It is brainwashing. No one has a right to control how others should live. Why should anyone living in Hong Kong be forced to feel like they live in southern France? Why can't we create a home with our own characteristics and identity? Why can't the property developers provide just a space with the freedom for people to design their own homes?'

Au Yeung's dislike stems from his belief that a person's home is his most intimate place. Everyone, therefore, should design their own homes rather than rely on interior designers or other people to make design decisions for them. Building one's own home, he said, was like building a relationship with the space one was going to spend the most amount of time in.

Despite his ideal of keeping things simple, however, Au Yeung's home is no longer as minimalist as it was designed to be. Things have accumulated over the past 10 years and his house has become a bit chaotic. He blamed this on the 'home office' concept, which he dubbed as the most destructive living concept.

'I have suffered greatly from it. The home office idea totally destroyed how a home should be. The work disturbed home activities. It turned the home into a workplace and there's no going back.'

Au Yeung started working from home in 1997 but found that he began to neglect the things he thought he should do at home, such as relaxing and meditating.

He has tried hard to separate work from home. He has established two new offices. One is his food laboratory in Sheung Wan, which opened six months ago. He uses the kitchen to experiment with traditional and new dishes to develop his concept of home cooking. The other office is a design and art workshop which will open at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei next February.

He is moving things out of Discovery Bay to the offices. He said the goal was to have fewer possessions until he had nothing left. This idea took hold after he heard how famous Chinese novelist Eileen Cheung Ai-ling had died in Los Angeles.

'When she died, the only piece of furniture at her home was the desk that she used for writing. I have this picture in my mind of her lying dead in an empty house and I found it very romantic and beautiful. A person should live like that. We should return our possessions to society before we leave.'

Craig Au Yeung

Writer, artist, designer