Americana a rising trend in Hong Kong interiors

Hong Kong has fallen for the nostalgia of the glory days of the old US, adapting it to restaurants and homes with remarkable enthusiasm

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 2:57am

Americana, in all its nostalgic glory, was identified by several design forecasters as an interiors trend to watch this year. As with many things emanating from the US, it was only a matter of time before it hit our shores.

What began with the influx of hip American fashion brands is flowing into interior design.

AvroKO, a New York design firm, gave us the Lily & Bloom restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong - a Prohibition-era speakeasy evoking shadowy intrigue, flapper proclivities, and gentlemen's clubs full of leather and cigar smoke.

Another restaurant, the Blue Butcher on Hollywood Road, has as early 1920s look, with the feel of the old New York Meatpacking District.

United States-born interior designers who call Hong Kong home welcome the trend.

Greer Howland, director of Rebuck Howland Interiors says: "Many of the restaurants and stores that have been opening up are doing a great job of realising their individual interpretations of American design. However, after the arrival of Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, I have noticed more shops opening up or decorating with an Americana-style bordering on kitsch, which can be fun, especially if they are targeting a younger crowd."

Designer Alexandra Lauren, who helped source artefacts for the Blue Butcher for Maximal Concepts, feels we have only just begun our American design dream.

"American interior design is a mix of various cultures and styles," says Lauren, of Alexandra Lauren Designs "Our early colonial style was influenced by the early farm houses of America as well as the regal homes and castles of old Europe. The simple and practical American farmhouse of the early 18th century later evolved into more sophisticated and elegant versions of colonial style.

"As settlers purchased larger homes and estates, and wealthy homeowners travelled the globe collecting antiques and furnishings, it created a rather global essence in American style from the beginning."

How this fits the Hong Kong urban environment is explained by Howland, who notes more clients requesting an "open" American feel for their homes. "Many people do not have the luxury of space here, so whatever space they do have, they want to keep open and bright.

"However, Hong Kong is an interesting place, as styles taken from other countries come together here and evolve into something completely new and unique in their own right.

"Take, for example, the new Asia Society headquarters in Admiralty designed by American architects (Tod Williams and Billie Tsien) who renovated an old ammunition building. They kept the parts of the old, original building and then added beautiful contemporary elements to bring the entire structure together. The building is now a tribute to Hong Kong's history and cultural variety."

Howland believes the genre can fill a design gap. Hong Kong flats and village houses typically comprise lots of small rooms. It is tempting to tear down walls and open up the space, which achieves one design goal, but you don't want it to feel empty.

Howland says: "Large, open, clutter-free areas often feel uplifting and calming. Once walls have been removed, though, it can be a challenge to create separate living areas with traditional European furniture. Using over-sized American furniture, along with some quirky and unexpected specialty pieces, can help divide up the space again in an original but cosy way. You don't want your house to feel 'quaint', you want it to be interesting, inventive and inspiring to live and entertain in."

There is big demand for New York loft-style interiors in Hong Kong, Howland says. The law prohibits the conversion of industrial buildings, but it is possible to replicate the theme elsewhere.

Howland says: "It doesn't just have to be a warehouse, We have noticed people converting entire village houses in such areas as Lamma and Sai Kung to be much more open and loft-like. In fact, each floor is often kept completely open for optimal light and space." Older apartments with high ceilings, such as those found in Happy Valley, also lend themselves well to this type of design.

After gutting the space, people tend to keep renovations minimal and cost-effective, Howland says. "Instead of putting money into expensive materials such as marble floors, they are splurging on inspirational and sculptural furniture from designers such as Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi. These are pieces they can take with them if they move out of Hong Kong, and that look good in differently styled living spaces."

Finding such pieces means importing from the US, but Lauren, pointing to the influx of US fashion brands to Hong Kong, expects iconic Americana home kit will follow. She says that the popularity of the Ralph Lauren Home collection points to demand.

"I have been importing Ralph Lauren Home products from New York since I opened my own interior design company," Lauren said. "I've been shocked that with the demand within the expat population alone, there is no distribution here."

She cites Ralph Lauren Home as the interiors brand that covers all of the diverse design themes across the US.

"Jonathan Adler is another designer I get a lot of requests for in my projects. His furniture translates beautifully into our Hong Kong high-rise apartments," she says.

How can you incorporate the look in an existing interior? Our experts offer the following tips:

Buy large but light-colored furniture, says Greer Howland: "Although it's counter-intuitive, larger furniture makes small rooms feel bigger. Introduce elements of surprise into your house. Be creative and open-minded. An old dentist chair or mailbox placed in the right area can transform a boring corner of your apartment into a highlight." Think big when it comes to mirrors as well, as they "are always a great way to make a space look much larger."

Alexandra Lauren likes mixing rustic items with new pieces. "Elements of antique furniture in both farmhouse and colonial styles are finding their way into modern room designs to give a distinct personality. Adding these timeless pieces allows for a sense of timeless luxury and character that will only improve with time," she says.

Lauren's tips for achieving an authentic yet subtle US flavour would include the use of architectural finials as either book ends or a standalone decor piece. Add a signature piece such as a wing-back or leather gentleman's chair, an antique bench at the foot of a modern bed and curtains or window shutters for cosiness, and you are on your way to the great American interior dream.