An artist couple’s wacky, whimsical Hong Kong flat
A simple and earthy palette provides a backdrop to a carefully collated collection of design objects and furniture in a 1,400 square feet Tai Hang walk-up, writes Catherine Shaw
Artists Jesse McLin and Julie Progin design quirky bowls, vases and tableware inspired by nature. So it comes as no surprise to find that their home pays homage to all things organic.
“We’re designers and design collectors. We feel at home surrounded by the objects and furniture we have carefully collated over time. Each piece has a story behind it that inspires us,” Progin says.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Progin studied textiles at École Duperré, in Paris, before undertaking a product-design course at Parsons School of Design, in New York. It was there that she met McLin, whose works span a wide range of media, from wooden sculpture to painting, glass and ceramics.
After five years in New York, the couple relocated to Hong Kong and, in 2008, they opened a studio in Chai Wan, where they produce a range of contemporary ceramics, and host exhibitions and creative events.
“We named our studio Latitude 22N, thinking of the lines connecting kilns we work with in Asia with our own kiln in Hong Kong, at 22 degrees north,” Progin says.
Their work is also on show in their 1970s, 1,400 sq ft, colonial-style walk-up apartment in Tai Hang, which is blessed with high ceilings.
“My parents have lived in this district for 36 years,” she says. “This area of Hong Kong is part of my life, so we already felt at home here.”
The fourth-floor apartment had not been renovated for years and rearranging the three-bedroom layout was not possible because most of the internal walls were structural.
“The main change we made was to relocate the doorway to the kitchen away from where it had been, just inside the apartment’s entrance,” says Progin. “That significantly opened up the kitchen and dining room while creating more of a sense of entrance.”
The couple mostly kept the palette simple and earthy, adding a touch of irreverence with playful objects such as repurposed school lockers for storage and a series of glass jars that contain dried seeds found while hiking in Hong Kong’s country parks.
Throughout the apartment, a mixture of vintage and modern furniture hints at their distinctive style. Many items were sourced in flea markets or were salvaged finds: a richly patinaed vintage barber’s chair was discovered in upstate New York and is now a feature of the living room.
Unexpected objects reflect the couple’s sense of humour: a tiny painting of Lucy’s Bar, in Zurich, for example, hangs near the food bowls of their cat (called Lucy) while artworks range from McLin’s abstract collage pieces to vintage Japanese toys.
“We love the typography and design of their boxes,” says McLin. “They are such an inspiration for graphics.”
A wall that extends from the dining room through to the kitchen has been painted the couple’s favourite hue.
“It is a simple touch but works nicely because it is quite light but adds an interesting backdrop,” says McLin. “We can’t quite work out what to call the colour. We just both really love anything that is in the range of celadon.”
The apartment’s most surprising feature, though, is the enormous eucalyptus tree that peers into the living room. Its leafy crown is framed by glass doors that lead to the balcony.
“We love having a little oasis of trees and plants at home,” says Progin. “Many of our new designs stem from long conversations we have sitting on the balcony, soaking up the sun and the surrounding nature.”
Bathroom The wall tiles were HK$21 per square foot from Hop Hing Lung Material (235 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2511 3013). The mirrors were bought years ago from Ikea. The vintage Jieldé wall lamp cost the equivalent of HK$2,000 at the Paris Saint-Ouen flea market.
McLin’s office The room features an artwork in the making with three Christmas trees recycled as distinctive suspended objets. By the Ikea desk (HK$1,010) is a chair sourced from Rainbow Asia. The filing cabinet (HK$20,000) was custom made by Lista and Rainbow Asia. The beer fermentation kit cost HK$1,120 from HK Brewcraft (4/F, Kwok Lun Commercial House, 15 Cochrane Street, Central, tel: 5925 2739). The floor is covered in plastic found at a street stall in Wan Chai.
Julie Progin transformed a row of simple clipboards (HK$45 each, from Sam & Company, 38 Stanley Street, Central, tel: 2523 0338) into a practical yet decorative display of clippings and artwork, including Jesse McLin's sketch of a rabbit for Latitude 22N's Lunar New Year cards. The Herman Miller Airia desk (HK$22,000) is available from Lane Crawford. The wall shelf cost HK$199 from Ikea.