“I basically live textiles,” says British designer Sarah Coates, who moved to Hong Kong four years ago with her husband, Peter, a journalist with Reuters, and daughter, Stella, now 11 years old. The family home, a light-filled 2,000 sq ft apartment in Mid-Levels, is evidence of her passion for all things woven, crocheted or otherwise crafted.
“I looked at loads of apartments when we were searching for our new home in Hong Kong, many of which had lots of shiny gold taps, so when our estate agent warned us that this one was ‘a bit basic’ I just thought, ‘Yessss!’” says Coates.
The location, near Bowen Road, with panoramic views over the city towards Kowloon, was another plus.
“I like the idea of being slightly removed from the city but still part of it,” Coates says.
The apartment has an open-plan living and dining room, with a balcony spacious enough to accommodate a large dining table and outdoor sofa.
“I also enjoy the convenience of living on one level, which is very different to our London home,” she says.
The couple lived in New York, Beijing and, more recently, the British capital before moving to Hong Kong.
“I learned my lesson after three international moves,” Coates says. “I ship absolutely everything. It is really important to commit to where you are and to make it your real home.”
Among the couple’s belongings are a bright pink corduroy three-seater that was Coates’ first ever furniture purchase and a vintage oak church pew they bought while living in New York.
“The pink sofa is propped up on one side with books but it is so comfortable and reminds me of my first home, so why not?” Coates says.
Once settled, Coates started designing a range of cushions for Hong Kong design store Deem (recently closed) and developed a retail brand of hand-knitting wool, called KPC Yarns, for Novetex Textiles. “That is the beauty of being a textile designer – it is the ultimate transferable skill,” Coates says.
More recently, she happened upon a family-owned warehouse with a stock of fabrics from the 1960s that she and her business partner, Tarlan Amigh, have since transformed into the Smith & Coates range of distinctive cushions, lampshades and clothing.
“The fabric is quite special with a modern sensibility. I know what I like to live with and how a beautifully woven textile, like a bold geometric print or a vibrant motif, can transform a space,” Coates says, pointing to her daughter’s bedroom, a cornucopia of crocheted cushions, bright prints by local artist and family friend Tania Willis and intricately embroidered fabrics.
“I especially like the Hong Kong-ness of this apartment,” Coates says. “It is also very light, the windows open properly and the parquet floor isn’t shiny, which is often the case in homes here. It was built in 1966 so it has that lovely old Hong Kong feel.
All I had to do was install fabric Roman window blinds and we were set.”
One of the four spacious bedrooms has been transformed, magpie-like, into a studio packed with inspiration. Everything from Delft tiles to Lunar New Year decorations is displayed alongside a rail of Smith & Coates coats featuring a crafted aesthetic, and an exotic assortment of prototype lampshades covered in rich silk brocades with metallic threads.
As an expatriate living what some see as a temporary life in Hong Kong, it is especially important to make an effort to create this sort of sensory “real world” or sense of home with things that are part of your life, says Coates.
“It’s very easy to think your real life is happening somewhere else but … you have to be present wherever you are living and invest in it.”
Living Room Sarah Coates sourced the green Edward Wormley velvet 1960s sofa from local boutique Deem (now closed) while the salmon pink sofa was bought years ago in Britain. The embroidered cushions were handmade by Peter’s Dutch grandmother; Coates crocheted the colourful cushion. The green spotted silk cushion (HK$1,300) was from Smith & Coates (tel: 6245 3500; www.smithandcoates.net). The Scholten & Baijings pink cashmere throw (HK$3,000) was from Droog (www.droog.com), in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. The opium-bed coffee table was bought years ago in Beijing and the side tables were gifts. The rug was sourced from a shop in Ap Lei Chau that has since closed and the lamps cost about HK$1,000 each from a New York flea market. The pair of aqua Foo dogs cost HK$200 each from the Cat Street market, in Sheung Wan. The small leather and wood chair and the leather armchair were gifts from Peter’s grandmother. The artworks on the wall were collected over the years; the main piece is by British artist Karn Holly (www.mallgalleries.org.uk). The Danish outdoor sofa (HK$9,000), with Smith & Coates cushions, came from Manks (14/F, Cheung Tak Building, 30 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2522 2115).
Dining room The dining table (HK$1,000) was from Ikea and the chairs (about HK$2,000 each) were sourced from Deem. The tablecloth (HK$200) came from Anokhi (www.anokhi.com), in India. Coates made the ceramic tulipiere based on a Delft piece as a gift for her husband. The orange stool (HK$2,600) was from Smith & Coates. The rug (HK$1,200) was found at Mister Zimi (www.misterzimi.com), in Australia. The Tom Dixon lamp (HK$2,000) was from Homeless (various locations; www.homeless.hk). The pair of artworks on the wall are by Sophie Smallhorn (www.sophiesmallhorn.co.uk) and were bought directly from the British artist. Beneath the artworks are a lamp (from Wah Tung China, 7/F, Lee Roy Commercial Building, 57 Hollywood Road, Central, tel: 2543 2823), candlesticks and fabric that were all bought years ago. The window blind (HK$500) was made by New Bedford Interiors (67 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2520 0330). The Chinese medicine cabinet and umbrella stand were bought in Beijing. The lacquer lantern (HK$30) was found in a local street market. The artwork above the chest is by British artist and journalist John Piper.
Entrance The sofa was bought years ago from The Conran Shop (www.conranshop.co.uk), in Britain. Coates crocheted the pair of cushions while the lamp came from Peter’s grandmother. The pen drawing is by artist David Teather ([email protected]). On the left is a Chinese embroidered silk sleeve band, one of a pair brought back from Shanghai in the 60s by Peter’s grandmother.
Master bedroom The bed and headboard came from a previous home. The Venetian ornate mirror was a wedding present. The vintage leather trunks and small figurine were found in a Beijing market. The large floor rug was bought in New York; the smaller striped rug came from Afghanistan. The tall mirror came from Peter’s grandmother. The artwork above the bed is by British artist Jo Taylor (represented by The School House Gallery, in Wighton, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, tel: 44 1328 820 457) and was bought years ago directly from the artist. On the bed are a Smith & Coates woven silk coat and spotted cushion (HK$1,300). The curtains were made by New Bedford Interiors and cost about HK$1,500.
Studio An oak dining table, bought years ago in New York, provides ample work space. The chair, from Deem, is part of the dining room set. The brightly coloured work hanging on the chair is a crocheted striped scarf (HK$2,500), which was handmade by Sarah for Smith & Coates. On the clothes rail is a collection of Smith & Coates coats made using vintage silk brocade that comes from a Kowloon silk mill that closed in the 60s. The woven palm mat came from the Philippines and was a present.
Child’s bedroom Beside the Ikea iron bed (about HK$800) and Ikea lamp (HK$200) is an Indian storage chest bought years ago from a shop that has since closed. The bed covers came from Anokhi. The striped cushion was also from Ikea. The remaining cushions (about HK$1,300 each) were from Smith & Coates. The colourful prints, above and to the left of the bed, are by local artist Tania Willis (www.taniawillis.com). The rest of the artworks are junk-shop finds and gifts.
Corridor detail A Smith & Coates hand-crocheted bag rests on an oak church pew bought years ago in New York. It doubles as extra book storage. On the wall are artworks by Willis (left) and Georgia Manifold (www.gmc-art.com).
TRIED + TESTED
Double duty A classic Chinese chair bought on Hollywood Road in the 1990s does double duty as a quirky bedside table. The lamp is a vase that was sourced from Wah Tung China and cost HK$2,000. The small box also came from Wah Tung China. Above the lamp is a picture of an Indian deity bought while on holiday in Cochin. The vintage throws on the bed cost HK$1,800 each from Inside (various locations; www.inside.com.hk).