IT STARTED as a joke. A new flat, but no furniture and no money. I'll make it out of papier-mache, I told friends. It's only processed wood, and paper is the one thing I've ready and free access to. Of course, I couldn't make a television so I scoured the small ads and that's how I met Christina Roe. The only time I'd ever made anything with paper was when I was seven - a shocking pink piggy bank which consumed just three weeks' pocket money before being savagely dismembered. But entering Christina's Park Road flat early one Sunday to buy a second-hand TV was about to change that. Christina was selling a spare set to create room for her classes, her papier-mache classes. Here was my mentor. No more pigs for me, no black leather couch, no rattan furniture. A modernist papier-mache table, Philippe Starck-esque paper chairs and, a few months down the line, a sculpted black male torso to stand in the corner of my small but oh-so-chic apartment. Anything's possible in paper, I thought, and after visiting Christina's flat I now know it's true. It's impossible to walk around without picking up vases, pointing to hanging 'baskets', feeling the texture of 'pottery' ornaments, 'wooden' frames, 'plaster' plaques. 'Paper?' 'Yes.' 'Paper?' 'Yes.' There's virtually nothing that isn't, but if it's not there's no reason why it couldn't be. 'Within certain limitations, there's virtually nothing you can't make out of paper,' Christina says, putting her wine glass down on a paper-covered coffee table that in a past incarnation was a dining table. Christina sawed off the legs, created a marble-effect with overlapping handmade paper and is now considering painting a central design. Things grow and evolve in this flat. 'If something hangs around long enough I tend to redo it or add to it,' she says. Certainly nothing is safe from her artistic hand: the wooden floor has been painstakingly stencilled and a papier-mache design is gradually creeping its way around the frame of the bathroom door. Now she has her eye on a large white pillar that she plans to decorate with a giant, twisting papier-mache serpent or Chinese dragon. While Christina admits she didn't actually make the coffee table, she says there's no reason why she couldn't have, or a chair for that matter. 'The only thing is it probably wouldn't hold a 250 lb man,' she laughs. Historically, paper has been used for construction in many cultures. 'There's a piece in one of my papier-mache books about a paper church that was built in Norway. It lasted for 20 years. Not bad for a building made out of paper,' she says. Like most people, Christina discovered papier-mache at school. Unlike most people, she was hooked straightaway. 'I was instantly taken with it. It never dawned on me it was something just kids did. Whenever anything came up throughout my life that I wanted or needed to make, papier-mache was the first thing I thought of.' In the past five years, Christina, a magazine editor who arrived in Hong Kong 25 years ago from Wisconsin, has started getting more serious about her hobby. 'I did it badly for years. I broke all the rules. I figured I should stop fooling around and follow the rules or invent some myself.' This she did, taking Hong Kong's humidity into account, and now Christina is undoubtedly the territory's foremost papier-mache expert, and held her first exhibition at the Pottery Workshop last year. Now she gives lessons for beginners and advanced students, and this summer ran her first sculpture class. Papier-mache, which to most extends little beyond creating misshapen containers from irritatingly small pieces of torn paper and glue, is endlessly versatile once you've discovered the joys of mash. While layering creates a paper finish and feel, mash, be it boiled or not, produces concrete or pottery-like textures, depending on the mixture and finishing techniques used. The basic difference is, with mash, paper is added to glue to make a mixture which is then moulded or applied to an object. With layering, you apply glue to paper and then layer the paper. Applying mash to a constructed core creates endless possibilities for 'bronze' busts, 'concrete' containers, 'gilded metal' frames. Christina builds cores from discarded items, including corrugated cardboard, styrofoam, plastic bottles and tops, and then applies layers or mash. But is this pure papier-mache? 'Either you're a purist or an eclectic like me. As long as the main ingredient is paper, then it is papier-mache. I am an avid paper collector and I like pieces to have a paper feel or look to them, but they don't have to. 'With papier-mache, you construct the item and then decorate it. It's not just about buying ready-made items and then applying surface decoration. 'Whether it's a bowl, a box, a chair or a sculpture, you start from a core and build it up the way you want. If you have seen a shape you want, you have to strip away to the core and then build up. You're either stripping away mentally or building up physically. 'I have to make my students think from the beginning. To me that's really interesting. In the process you can see things you hadn't imagined and change directions. The whole process is very artistic.' Christina admits even she's had her fill of containers and is concentrating on sculpture, which helps her part-time costume-hire business. 'These days I'm making hats, masks and props for my costumes. People ask for certain things and if I haven't got it the first thing I think to do is make it in paper if I have the time.' It's certainly a time-consuming art form and isn't profitable. The most Christina has charged for a commission is $2,000 for an ornate, giant vase-like container that took hours to make. 'I am working on an art or a craft, whatever you call it, that is not well appreciated in Hong Kong's throwaway society. But I am committed to it and I'm not commercial.' It seems to appeal to those who like the whimsical look of paper, others who enjoy folk traditions and some who simply want to have a go at something fun and different. What is surprising is few Chinese have taken Christina's classes. The Chinese invented paper and papier-mache has its origins there. Anyway, my poor niece is getting a gold mash-made sun plaque for Christmas, I have just started covering a side-table I hauled up from the dump a few weeks ago, and, while Philippe Starck's job is safe, my male torso is coming along just fine. Christina Roe can be contacted on 2858-0323.