Text Charmaine Chan / Styling David Roden / Photography John Butlin
Sushi may be the last thing on your mind when you enter Tracy Griffith’s stylish southside home.
But the Japanese dish, given a Californian twist, is one of the items that helps tell the story of the house she has infused with rousing colours, fantastical shapes, unusual materials and boundless energy.
From a family of actors, sushi chef Griffith (whose half-sister is Melanie Griffith, star of Working Girl) entered the film industry at a young age. But the turning point came in 2001, when Tracy had a “seriously horrible day” while on the set of cop show The Division.
“I got shot in the head,” she says. “They had a squib [which explodes to simulate blood splattering] on me and it really hurt.”
Driving home that day and vowing to find a different job, she stopped at a red light and saw workers putting up a sign for the California Sushi Academy in Los Angeles.
“I went in, signed up and they said, ‘Come back on Monday.’” That adventurous spirit permeates the 4,000 sq ft, five-bedroom, three-bathroom rental house Griffith moved into two years ago with her husband, an American who grew up in Hong Kong. While full-frontal sea views take your breath away the instant you enter, move your eyes from the mesmerising scenery and the couple’s artworks and other belongings attract equal attention.
Several of the vibrant works are by Griffith herself. Donning many hats, the “Sushi Girl”, as she has named a mostly autobiographical working script, is also a television host (she travels back to the United States regularly to record shows), a restaurant consultant, a singer and a resin artist, with two cookbooks, four exhibitions and a folk/country-music album to her name. That explains the acoustic guitars in the living room, which sings with cerulean hues. At one end of a big, open-plan ground floor, the living room leads onto a scenic terrace as wide as the house.
It is outside, and in the dining area, that Griffith’s cando streak is evident. Inspired by the scrap-wood designs of Dutchman Piet Hein Eek, she customised two dining tables with layers of acrylic paint and resin.
“I saw his table at Lane Crawford and said, ‘I can do that.’ They are homages to Piet.”
Griffith’s home is also dotted with family mementos and flea-market finds as well as quirky keepsakes, such as the exuberant designs of New York furniture maker Mackenzie-Childs.
Between the formal lounge and dining room is a cosy sitting area, featuring the intricate work of New York glass artist Dustin Yellin and a “sculpture” resembling an extracted molar with roots.
“My brother [Clay] is a production designer in LA and that was a piece of ‘lightning glass’ [created when lightning strikes sand or other materials] used in the movie Sweet Home Alabama. That started our glass collection.”
She is forgetting the yellow, red and blue orbs that began life as fishing floats.
“My mother [actress Nanita Greene Samuels] got them in the 1960s in Italy,” says Griffith.
Art and objets continue upstairs, where the master bedroom boasts a semi-circular window overlooking the sea. The magnificent bed, which faces the sea, may look old but it is just one of several pieces Griffith had made years ago on the mainland from pictures that caught her eye.
It is on this level that Griffith has an office and a studio, which, like the bedroom, boasts an almost disorienting proximity to the water.
“It feels like being on a ship,” she says, displaying one of her newest works, Mantis, which is all swirling greens and dark blues.
Pouring of the resin, however, takes place outside, because of the toxic fumes. From her patch of workspace outdoors, it is a hop, skip and jump to a rooftop that one can imagine James Bond scaling for a fast, scenic getaway.
That may have something to do with the section that resembles a helicopter pad, which repeats the shape of the master bedroom below. It is here that, two days earlier, Griffith held a party and released “sky lanterns” into the inky heavens.
Little wonder that she misses Hong Kong when she’s away, but it’s not just her beautiful home that causes the yearning. It’s the pace that is thrilling.
“I miss the energy here: it’s positive and fast,” she says. “I’m a little hyper and sometimes in America, they say to me: ‘Slow down.’ “But, in Hong Kong, it’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m right with you.’”
Studio One of the sea-front bedrooms has been turned into a studio for Tracy Griffith (www.tracyleegriffith.com), who wears a respirator when she is working with resin. The table and chair are old.
Dining area The long cabinet was bought years ago in Zhuhai. Above it is a mirror (HK$11,980) from Tequila Kola (1/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau, tel: 2877 3295). Also from Tequila Kola are the feathered African headdress (HK$5,480) and the stainless-steel-frame plant stand (HK$6,980), which accommodates an elephant head from Artek (12/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2515 2333). The table, made several years ago by Poly Chance Asia (271 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2802 9819), was personalised by Griffith (see Tried + tested). At the forefront is a dish from Karg Art Glass Gallery (www.rollinkarg.com), in the United States. The Eames-style fibreglass chairs (HK$2,250 each) were from Tree (28/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2870 1582). The trio of 1960s lights were bought in the Marche aux Puces, in Paris, France, years ago.
Sitting area Between the two ends of the living zone is an intimate sitting area, with white armchairs (HK$5,400 each) from Rimba Rhyme (5/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2544 4011) and a red armchair from Griffith’s previous home. Glass art is housed in the shelving blocks (HK$1,900 each, also from Rimba Rhyme), which accommodates a lamp from Ikea (HK$399; various locations, www.ikea.com.hk). On the top shelf are horns the couple bought in South Africa. To the right are stands (HK$8,980 each) and to the left is a shelf unit (HK$7,480), all of which came from Tequila Kola. The red art-glass piece on a stand was from Karg Art Glass Gallery. The Noguchi-style coffee table (HK$5,800) was from JM Lifestyle (various locations; www.jmstyle.com.hk) and the rug (about HK$8,500 for 1.5 metres by 2.1metres) from Carpet Buyer (17/F, Horizon Plaza, tel: 2850 5508). The table behind the white armchairs is old. On the left wall are two artworks by Australian artist Miertje Skidmore that were bought at the Affordable Art Fair (affordableartfair.com). The cow head (HK$5,980) was also from Tequila Kola.
Formal living room The curtains throughout the house were made by Regent Curtain (16 Pok Fu Lam Road, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 2858 3928). They match the blue Cambridge L sofa with chaise (HK$27,725) from Tequila Kola. From the same store were the Cambridge cream sofa (HK$16,980); petrified-wood coffee table (HK$13,980); Notre-Dame armchair (HK$16,100) and ottoman (HK$5,976); round folding side table with mirrored mosaic top (HK$1,280); round side table with a mother-of-pearl mosaic top (HK$1,990); and shaggy wool-and-silk mix carpet (HK$4,980). The owl-like sculpture, from Murano, Italy, was based on the work of French artist Claude Venard. Also from Murano are the sculptures by Frenchman James Coignard that sit on the old console, which has been treated with paint and resin. The large mirror is years old, as are the glass fishing floats.
Living room detail (right) Outside the colourful kitchen, which was to Griffith’s liking when she viewed the house, is sushi rolled in “Gem Wraps” (sold at City’super). These are glutenfree wraps made from vegetable and fruit purées by NewGem Foods (www.newgemfoods.com), a California-based company for which Griffith acts as executive chef. The black-and-white floral cabinet (HK$16,980) came from Tequila Kola. The painting above is by New Zealand artist Rob Tucker (rob-tucker.com) and was bought at last year’s Affordable Art Fair.
Master bedroom The bed, made years ago on the mainland, features bedding from Ralph Lauren Home (www.ralphlaurenhome.com). The bedside table is also old. The Monroe sofa, in Designers Guild fabric, cost HK$37,756 at Tequila Kola, which sells the New Zealand lambskin rug for HK$2,980. The bedside lamp was picked up years ago from the Marche aux Puces, in Paris. The rug came from Carpet Buyer. The painting, by Tucker, was bought at the Affordable Art Fair last year.
Master bathroom (right) The en-suite bathroom enjoys water views through an internal window it shares with the master bedroom. The floral art reflected in the mirror was bought from street artists along the River Seine, in Paris; the blue flower pot was bought years ago at the Mong Kok Flower Market and the glass objet was a gift.
Ageing gracefully Although Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek creates his famous furniture from pieces of scrap, Tracy Griffith was unable to convey the concept to her carpenter, who couldn't understand why anyone would want a table made of "crappy wood". She ended up with a table that looked too new for her liking. To age it, she had him grout the pieces of wood and rub in the material. Then she applied layers of paint and resin until the table resembled a patchwork of driftwood in complementary colours.