In a warehouse somewhere in Kowloon is an Aladdin’s Cave with Harold Ho Wai-leung’s name on it. It is stuffed with treasures unearthed at markets and in antique shops and furniture stores in Paris, Rome and New York, over the past 20 years.
“I couldn’t help myself. I kept shopping and bringing things back to Hong Kong and putting them in storage ‘for my future home’,” says Ho, waggling his fingers into quotation marks.
In August, he finally moved into that home, a 2,100 sq ft apartment in Mid-Levels that he shares with his financier partner. It was a chance to rediscover some items from his hoard: perfectly worn leather armchairs (“the cushions were a bit saggy so I had to replace them”), a vintage gym horse, an antique glass dome, a French chandelier and an ionic capital – the scrolled top of an ionic column – from Rome that now serves as a bedside table.
Against snowy-white lacquer walls and teak floors, the vintage pieces look like gallery items, and sit comfortably beside the contemporary marble-block coffee table from the interior design arm of Ho’s long-established fashion manufacturing firm, Forest Fortune.
“I like new things, but I’m getting more into antiques as I get older – I like things that will last,” he says.
The exquisitely crafted floor encapsulates Ho’s love for old and new: the untreated teak blocks have been sanded to suede-like perfection and laid in an unusual pattern inspired by one of Ho’s shopping trips.
“I went to Japan and saw this pattern in an antique shop, so I took photographs and asked a supplier to come up with a sample for me. If the floor and walls look good, everything looks good,” Ho says.
Indeed, the satin-smooth hand-lacquered walls are unmarred by electrical sockets (see Tried + tested) or little fingers: “It takes twice as long to apply as regular paint, but it should last years and it’s easy to wipe clean – not that we have kids.”
Overseas trips have inspired other design elements.
“The rose arch around the balcony door is modelled on one I saw by a pool in Thailand,” he says. “But my favourite piece of design is the bar shelf that runs around the balcony railing.”
The kitchen is separate from the living and dining area, and there is a suite of utility rooms, including a dog room with a sink for the grooming of Ho’s Yorkshire terrier, Fa-fa (Flower).
“I knocked down all the walls in my last place, but it was hard to sell,” he says. “So this time, I kept a few.”
Ho let the sledgehammer fly, however, in the bedrooms, which are tucked behind a door marked by a shelf that doubles as a handle (traditional handles are not to be found in this flat).
Four bedrooms became two en-suite bedrooms: three of the original rooms formed an indulgently large master suite, with an adjoining “shopping room” (the other bedroom) with floor-toceiling cupboards storing the fruits of Ho’s retail habit. One cupboard is filled with pre-packed sports kits, ready to hit the gym, trail or water; another with rows of Diptyque candles.
“We don’t have guests, I travel a lot and I like to stock up,” Ho says. “It’s crazy … but why not?” The suite also has a walk-in dressing room and a marblewalled, black-floored bathroom with a standalone tub. The separate shower, designed by Marcel Wanders for Boffi, rears from the floor like an industrial pipe, complete with oversized daisy-shaped red handle.
“We moved the bathroom to the front of the apartment and the [master] bedroom to the back because it has a green view and more privacy,” Ho says.
That view comes into its own in the dining area. Ho installed a clever bi-fold window in its corner, which when flung open catches the breeze and cheerful sounds of a gurgling stream.
“On Sundays, we have brunch here and can say ‘hi’ through the window to the people walking on the nearby hillside. It’s like being in a cafe,” Ho says.
A giant painting of Kim Jongil kissing Vladimir Putin dominates the dining room (“I’m just starting to get into art,” says Ho). A friend helped source the dining table from Berlin, Germany. The chairs were a French flea-market find retrieved from Ho’s Aladdin’s Cave.
“I had bought modern dining chairs from Lane Crawford and I pulled one of these old French dining chairs out of storage to go in a corner,” Ho says.
“But the old chairs went so well with the table that I used them instead. Now the modern chairs are in storage, waiting for a future home.”
Living room The Moroso Nebula Nine sofa (HK$135,000), by Diesel; silver-coated Tecnolumen floor lamp (HK$52,000), by Eduard-Wilfrid Buquet; FLOS wall lamp (HK$6,700); Backenzahn wooden side table (HK$7,600); and Castagna ceramic dog house (US$840) all came from Nature Evolution (242 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2857 3830). The armchairs (€2,000/HK$16,500 each) were a flea-market find from Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen, in Paris, France. The custommade marble table was HK$8,000 from Forest Fortune (20/F, Tung Lee Commercial Building, 91 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2581 1815). The zebra head (HK$28,800) was from PITC (235 Sai Yee Street, Mong Kok, tel: 3106 0892). The ceiling fan (HK$38,400) was designed by Giulio Gianturco for Boffi (69 Blue Pool Road, Happy Valley, tel: 2577 5764). The Baleri Italia ottomans (HK$4,200 for marble design; HK$5,600 for the white) were bought online (www.baleri-italia.com). The wrought-iron rose arch (HK$42,000) and shelf (HK$16,000) around the balcony railing were designed and installed by Forest Fortune.
Dining room The Delta dining table (HK$26,000) by Deko International and handmade iron candelabra (HK$6,000) were from Nature Evolution. The French dining chairs (€500 each) were from Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen. The painting, Had Before, by Zhou Yilun, came from 3812 Gallery (118 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, tel: 2153 3812).
Dining room detail “It took five meetings with the contractor to work out how to have the window opening out rather than in, with no central post,” says Harold Ho. It was arranged by Forest Fortune.
Bedroom The 150-year-old chandelier (€4,500) was from Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen. The bedside table was bought years ago at a market in Rome. The silvercoated Tecnolumen table lamp (HK$25,000) by Eduard-Wilfrid Buquet was from Nature Evolution. The reindeer-skin rug was HK$2,200 from PITC.
Kitchen Forest Fortune designed the simple, handlefree kitchen cabinets and countertop (HK$200,000 in total). The Lapalma barstool (HK$5,000), by Shin and Tomoko Azumi, was from Nature Evolution.
Dressing room The panelled cupboard doors (HK$1,500 per square foot) were designed and installed by Forest Fortune. The shelf units from the Minimal Collection by Boffi were HK$14,000 each. The mirror was bought years ago from a flea market in Paris.
Bathroom The bathtub cost HK$120,000 from Boffi. The large framed fashion illustration, by Gladys Perint Palmer, was from a gallery in New York.
TRIED + TESTED
Power struggle To keep the lacquered walls pristine, Harold Ho Wai-Leung buried the electrical sockets under the floor; they are accessed by doors cut into the teak boards. There's even one under the dining table for hotpots (below).
"Sockets are so ugly. I raised the floor by four inches and the contractor installed the sockets in special boxes. It was important that the flooring pattern was not interrupted, so it took a lot of work," Ho says.
The teak flooring (HK$170 per square foot) and sockets were designed and installed by Forest Fortune.