Interior designers are an egotistical lot, eager to leave their stamp everywhere they work and too proud to share the spotlight with anyone else. Right?
Not quite. In this Pok Fu Lam apartment, young Hong Kong designer Wesley Liu Yik-kuen agreed to play second fiddle to veteran Taiwanese artist Hsu Wei-bin. Holding the baton was their client, China-born perpetual traveller Grace Shou Tianyu.
She had fallen in love with the work of the Taipei-based artist and was determined to find a way to display his sleek, rustic creations in her new home. The only way to realise her dream was to put the two creatives together.
“I followed Hsu’s style,” acknowledges Liu, who, as founder of PplusP Designers, had renovated one of Shou’s previous apartments in Hong Kong. “I needed to do interiors that would fit his furniture.”
He has done that in spades, taking cues from the artist and injecting some of his own ideas into the 1,700-sq-ft, seaview flat Shou bought last year.
An open-plan apartment with generous living spaces, it has two qualities Shou holds dear in a home: airiness and loads of natural light. It also afforded space for Hsu to display his creative transformations of other people’s rubbish.
“He’s famous for using wood that would have been thrown away because it has a flaw,” says Shou. Not for her were the lumpen shapes that often blight furniture created, with the best intentions, from cast-offs. Her three-bedroom, three-bathroom flat features a container-load of unique pieces including seating, tables, lamps and consoles. Where a cracked piece of timber may have become firewood or scrapped, Hsu uses metal to celebrate its imperfections.
Hsu’s handiwork is random but systematic, says Liu, pointing to what look like knots on steel struts holding up open shelving in the sitting area.
“You don’t know if it was like that or if he welded it and intentionally made it that way.”
To understand better the setting needed for the bespoke items, Liu visited Hsu in Yangmingshan, on the outskirts of Taipei, where he lives with his ceramicist wife, Tsao Shih-mei.
“I learned a lot from the masters, in terms of another perspective on natural aesthetics and handcrafted techniques,” Liu says of working with the couple, whom he met again when they brought to Hong Kong the materials to be assembled into bespoke pieces. “Hsu is an artist’s artist.”
In the couple’s home Liu not only saw pieces (“They can’t really be called furniture,” he says) that give new meaning to recycled chic; he also came face to face with the type of exposed concrete feature wall they wanted for Shou’s apartment. No Le Corbusier-style béton brut or Tadao Ando-esque surfaces with evenly spaced holes for them. Instead, Liu was instructed to produce something that might not look out of place in a bombed-out shelter (see Tried + tested).
He adopted a similar what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach in the kitchen, which opens onto the dining area.
“I said I didn’t want cabinets in there,” says Shou, adding that her choice of open shelving and pot racks (made from pipes) was influenced by a desire to limit cooking paraphernalia. “[With cabinets] you tend to keep a lot of things you don’t need; this way you have to be disciplined because everything is visible,” she says.
That goes for the two rooms on either side of a corridor leading from the living room. A spare room (now used as a dressing room-cum-private sitting area) on one side segues into a passageway it shares with an open study. That office leads to the main bedroom, which features a walk-in wardrobe and exposed bathroom.
In her bedroom, as elsewhere, there is evidence Shou wanted design (in)consistency. Just as imperfect – nay, low-cost – materials were elevated in her grand scheme, so she didn’t shy from mixing high-end with low in the few mass-made products bought for the flat. This includes a clothes rack sourced online from China and practical wood-look laminate chosen for the heated floors.
“However much it costs you to buy your home, go look on Taobao,” she implores. “Sure you can fly to Italy and pick all the brands, but isn’t that too easy?”
In a city of instant gratification that approach is admirable. It also explains why she would go the extra mile to have two parties design one interior.
But perhaps Shou best expresses why she didn’t take the usual, simpler route: “You don’t have the fun of getting exactly what you want,” she says.
Living room The living room, which extends onto a balcony, is furnished almost entirely with pieces by Hsu Wei-bin and Tsao Shih-mei. That includes the rocking chairs, which homeowner Grace Shou saw in the Taiwanese artists’ home in Yangmingshan, on the outskirts of Taipei, and requested be part of her collection. Complementing the look are curtains made by Tsao. The hide rug (A$250/HK$1,500) came from Australia’s Glicks Furniture.
Corridor The tree coat-stand was by Hsu and Tsao, who hung a birdcage on its sole branch. The study and main bedroom are to the right, and separate sitting area/dressing room to the left.
Study The shelving, desk, chair and lamp were by Hsu and Tsao, who made as a gift the wire clock that hangs by the window. The inbuilt cabinet came with the flat. The telescope (A$80) belongs to Wesley Liu, of PplusP Designers, and came from Bottom of the Harbour Antiques, in Sydney, Australia.
Dining area and kitchen The large living space segues into a dining area, in which a section of the original tiled floor remains. Hsu and Tsao created the dining table (angled at his insistence), chairs, pendant light and console. The wooden sliding doors (HK$22,500) that can close off the kitchen were designed by Liu and made by ND Workshop Plus, in Shanghai. The calendar on the console was bought through taobao.com.
Master bedroom Before the en-suite bathroom is a walk-in wardrobe (not seen). The clothes rack (2,180 yuan/HK$2,535) was sourced through taobao.com. The bed (HK$11,950) came from Tree. Hsu and Tsao made the lamp and bedside chest. The round mirror (above the basin) cost HK$299 from Ikea. Liu supplied the bed cover and cushions.
Guest room A former helper’s room was turned into an en-suite guest room, with a bed (HK$13,950) from Tree and a small table and stool (HK$880 in total) from Nikkon.
Bathroom The concrete basin was made by Liu and the black-and-white tiles were from Anta.
Rough cut When Grace Shou sent her father photographs of her new apartment, he was confused. Had renovation just started, he asked, to which she answered, “No, this is the finished product.” She laughs at the memory. Shou gave the go-ahead for a brutal feature wall in the living room after seeing its effect at Taiwanese artist Hsu Wei-bin’s house in Yangmingshan, near Taipei.
Replicating the look, however, was no easy task. Equipped with a drill and other tools, Wesley Liu went at the wall, not just removing paint and plaster but also penetrating the concrete to reveal bits of stone and other aggregate that made up the original mixture.
Despite its rough appearance, considerable effort went into getting it just right. “They had to pick which holes to leave and which to fill in,” says Shou. “It was difficult to get it perfect.”