Hip of the old block
A lovingly restored SoHo walk-up is an elegant art deco refuge that allows its tenant to time travel away from the party scene below
Text Nadine Bateman and Charmaine Chan / Pictures Jonathan Wong / Styling Fox Daniels
Enter Mary Ho’s refuge, in the heart of SoHo, and instantly the hustle and bustle of the district disappears. In her 600 sq ft walkup apartment, Arabesque tiles, diaphanous curtains and an old-Hong Kong aesthetic whisk you back to the glamour and romance of a gentler era.
The stand-up comedienne knew what she wanted and didn’t think twice about commissioning interior designer Andrew Bell.
“I had the advantage of having stayed at his flat and trusted that the result would be beautiful,” she says.
Bell calls his style “Romancing old Hong Kong” and says he loves the tong lau tenements because they allow village-like enclaves to exist in the centre of “this otherwise claustrophobic and isolating city”.
“My attitude towards tong lau is that their period charm helps define ‘old Hong Kong’. In their original state, they have quite an art-deco look about them, partly because of their austere Bauhaus architectural simplicity, but particularly because of the original, decorative, iron security grilles used on windows.
“I believe that even when you step inside the building, you should still feel like you’re in Hong Kong – hence my inclination to recreate a romantic version of Hong Kong’s past on the inside as well as the outside,” says Bell.
The entire interior of the one-bedroom apartment, built in the 1960s, was demolished and rebuilt. Not an inch was wasted, from the open kitchen near the entrance, to the living area it leads onto, and the private zone along one side. To enhance the “old feel”, the walls were stripped back to bare concrete, over which a thin coat of paint was applied for a whitewashed effect.
A Chinese four-poster bed and desk, a red velvet chaise longue, and several well-worn suitcases piled on top of each other further add to the mood.
Bell says the apartment, like many tong lau in Hong Kong, had “suffered” an earlier renovation. A false ceiling had been put in to hide beams and the iron window frames had been swapped for incongruous aluminium ones. Now the ceiling is back to its full height and the windows have original-style frames with art deco-like grilles.
This style is echoed in an interior wall separating the living areas from the bedroom and en-suite bathroom, and again in the folding glass doors to the small balcony.
The striking encaustic floor tiles – in which the pattern is burned into cement – adds to the Asiancolonial era effect, says Bell, along with the subway wall tiles in the kitchen and the claw-foot bathtub, which Ho had her heart set on from the start.
“I like having the bathtub a lot; it’s a luxury in Hong Kong,” she says.
The sheer curtains in the living room and bedroom were inspired by a scene from the film The Lover. Bell recalls “long, sheer curtains stirred by a soft breeze” in the lovers’ hideaway.
It’s difficult to believe that just beyond the balcony is one of Hong Kong’s most play-hard hot spots. Not that Ho feels the need to party 24/7. “I’m over that,” she says. “Even though I’m living in the most convenient place to do all that, I don’t go out drinking that much. But it’s nice to be able to meet friends whenever.
They can ring me and say just come down for a few minutes, which is awesome.”
Her investment is also helping to revitalise the tong lau. Says Bell: “My goal is to beautify, romanticise and add value to Hong Kong’s tong lau enclaves to preserve these threatened urban villages.”
Bedroom (top) The 19th-century lacquered canopy bed (relacquered black) cost HK$22,000 from Art Treasures Gallery (42 Hollywood Road, tel: 2543 0430). The built-in wardrobes (HK$28,500), with lacquered doors, which run the length of the room, was made by Winspeed, as were the glass bedroom door, the bathroom doors and wall panels in the living room and bedroom, which cost a total of HK$44,400.
Balcony The concertina doors were made by Winspeed Engineering (6/F, Tsun Win Factory Building, 60 Tsun Yip Street, Kwun Tong, tel: 9034 9504) for HK$33,200. The floor tiles were sourced from Thailand by Andrew Bell of Earth Home (3/F, 97 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 9459 7174) and cost HK$600 a square metre, plus shipping and labour. The Deja-vu stools, designed by Naoto Fukasawa for Magis, cost HK$4,300 each from Aluminium (various locations; www.hk-aluminium.com).
Bedroom detail Lila the Scottish Fold perches on a desk (HK$3,300) from Kin Seng Mobilias (19D Rua de Sao Paulo, Macau, tel: 853 2830 2565). The Forsa desk lamp (HK$199) was from Ikea (various locations; www.ikea.com.hk). The poster was purchased on Cat Street for HK$50 and framed at Yiu Kwong Glass (46 Hollywood Road, tel: 2544 8642). The iron grilles on the windows throughout the apartment were made by Winspeed for a total of HK$50,750.
Kitchen The island, made from oak veneer painted black, with a marble countertop, was built by Winspeed for HK$60,000. The subway wall tiles (HK$660 a square metre) came from BMC Asia (7/F, Car Po Commercial Building, 18 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2591 0686). The bookshelf was made by Winspeed for HK$16,400. The stools (HK$1,800 each) came from Homephiles (58 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 3622 1622).
Bathroom The reproduction Victorian bathtub was bought from Luen Hing Hong Building Materials (370 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2836 5183) for HK$9,800. The Czech & Speake bath taps with hand shower and overhead shower cost HK$36,400 from ColourLiving (333 Lockhart Road, tel: 2295 6881). The drum stool (HK$675) was from Indigo Living (18/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2555 0540).
Living room The deep red velvet sofa and chaise longue were made for a total of HK$20,900 by Luxhome (80 Queen’s Road East, tel: 2528 3223). The table against the wall cost HK$3,800 from The Birdcage (16/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2580 5822). The coffee table, small side tables, trunk and large vase were acquired second hand. The painting, by Martha Zuik, came from the Puerta Roja gallery (Wai Yue Building, 15 New Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 9729 1773), as did the bronze figurine, by Roberto Cortazar. Bell bought the Hunter Pacific Aurora 2 ceiling fan (HK$1,930) from Life’s A Breeze (16/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2572 4000).
Entrance The drop-leaf round table was bought second hand and the drum stool (HK$675) was from Indigo Living. The oil on canvas, by Fernanda Brunet, came from Puerta Roja.
TRIED + TESTED
Window dressing This 19th-century stained-glass and etched window panel by the balcony door was used to make a feature of the window. It cost HK$3,800 from Art Treasures Gallery and was installed by Winspeed for HK$1,500.