One lesson to learn from Caroline Olah about flat hunting – and life, in general – is that it can pay to lift your head once in a while, not only to give yourself a break and some air, but, in Hong Kong at least, to see what’s above you.
That’s how the interior architect found her 1,200 sq ft, three-bedroom, walk-up apartment in Happy Valley in 2014, just after she had moved to Hong Kong from Malaysia with her family.
“I was walking down the street, looked up and saw this window, and thought, ‘That would be quite a nice space,’” she says.
Having viewed new high-rises in the same price range that were half the size, she and husband Andrew, both Australians of Indonesian descent, registered their interest in the decades-old walk-up flat and pounced on it when it became available. Its many pluses included high ceilings, loads of natural light in the living areas, windows in all three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a play area at the back for their two-year-old son, Eddie.
The rental unit was also on a low floor, which appealed because, she says, “I like being close to the ground and having trees at eye level.”
The leafy grove of Chinese banyan, on the opposite side of the road fronting Olah’s flat, affords a vista few flats in busy areas of Hong Kong enjoy. The trees also provide a measure of privacy: their presence means no building can sprout in front of the big expanse of glass that had first caught her eye. And, as she had hoped, the flat is generous in an old-school way: it provides a big blank canvas (she asked for all the walls to be painted white) and boasts a living area roomy enough to be enjoyed by the whole family. This public half of the apartment accommodates a dining table, lounge, work zone, another play area for Eddie, and even a corner showroom for Olah’s handsome minimalist designs.
In a curtained-off area, Olah displays furniture she has developed in the past 2½ years, sold through her website, http://reddie.co. Many of the fun, simple pieces can also be viewed in situ: the living room features tables and chairs she designed, in different sizes and shapes, paired with legs in a variety of hues. Her angular solid-teak dining table, designed out of necessity and to get her business going, stands legs akimbo on neat yellow feet.
“When we moved to Malaysia we just had the couch,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be in this business, so said, ‘Why don’t I challenge myself ?’ It forced me to get the prototypes happening.”
Having produced the designs, Olah – who worked for architectural services company SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) in New York before moving to Malaysia for a short stint and later Hong Kong – then had to find people willing to produce the furniture. Unsuccessful searches in Malaysia and China led her back to her country of origin, Indonesia, where she found craftsmen who could make what she wanted to sell: minimalist, customisable furniture, put together according to individual tastes, at competitive prices.
Olah also wanted to create a furniture brand that was more like a fashion label in its flexibility and ever-changing nature.
“We will always have our standard collections, but we will be adding new tops, colours … and creating limited-edition pieces in collaboration with artists and designers,” she says.
Olah has already started the process with some furniture in her flat. Carrara marble pieces are now offered as tabletops and because of requests the stone has also started being used as sleek, practical table runners.
Like her plainly stylish furniture, the attraction of her apartment lies in what she attributes to “good bones” and simplicity.
“I’ve never really been into trends,” she says. “I like to keep everything plain, and I don’t think that dates.”
Styling: Shana Buchanan
Living room Caroline Olah furnished her light-flooded living room with many pieces of furniture from Reddie (reddie.co), including the round coffee table (HK$6,950); teak lounge chair (HK$8,950); block side table with metal top (HK$2,950); side table with yellow metal legs (HK$4,450); teak desk with red metal legs (HK$8,450) and stackable chair (HK$2,450). The Momeni hand-tufted wool rug (US$1,000) came from Rug Studio (www.rugstudio.com), in the United States. Also from the US was the Maxwell sofa (from US$2,195), bought from Restoration Hardware (www.restorationhardware.com). The USM sideboard is available for HK$16,630 through Elite Goal International (80 Morrison Hill Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2838 2612). The linen curtains were made by Shenzhen Shefa Curtain and Cloth Decoration Shop, in Shenzhen (tel: 86 755 8232 0849). The artwork was bought from a street artist in Bali, Indonesia.
Dining area The Vinny extendable dining table (HK$18,450) with solid teak top and brass caps on teak legs was the first table Olah prototyped. The Vinny dining chairs (HK$3,450 each) are in whitewashed wood, black wood and natural teak. The Aquabumps (www.aquabumps.com) print of Bondi Beach was a wedding gift. The floor lamp (HK$5,495) is available on request from Reddie.
Kitchen Bisecting the flat is an open kitchen that came with the Ikea shelving. The fruit bowl (HK$780) came from Alessi (various locations; alessi-hk.bluebellgroup.com). The Saaradesign teapot (HK$375) and butter container (HK$330) are available from various shops (see www.saaradesign.com.hk for details). The Wassily Kandinsky print was bought at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (www.moma.org).
Living room detail The Suzy bench/coffee table (HK$4,950) is part of the Reddie range and the art was bought from a street painter in Bali.
Eddie’s room The cot (HK$1,290) came from Ikea, as did the chest of drawers (HK$1,190), with soccer-ball knobs bought from a shop in Wan Chai. The painting and sheepskin rug were gifts. The black-and-white coverlet (HK$876) came from www.idecorateshop.com.
Living area detail (above and below) An Ikea mirror (HK$1,190) stands by a Reddie Suzy occasional table (HK$9,450). The vase, a gift, came from Bowerbird (www.bowerbird.com.sg), in Singapore. The photograph, of a New York subway carriage, came from Ikea. The Kallax bookcase (HK$890) was from Ikea. The cowhide rug came from Olah’s leather supplier in Indonesia. The orange bookshelf was originally the base of a coffee-table prototype. The abstract art is by Berlin-based French artist Damien Tran (www.damientran.com).
Main bedroom The bedroom looks onto an outdoor area frequented by few. The artwork is by Tran. A Kaiser Idell table lamp from Fritz Hansen (fritzhansen.com), in Copenhagen, sits on a Reddie bedside table (HK$4,950). The faux fur throw (HK$1,000) came from Dennis Basso (www.dennisbasso.com), in the US.
TRIED + TESTED
Triple duty The Bob bench (HK$5,450), from Reddie, doubles as a coffee table but took on a third job when Caroline Olah fitted a shoe rack (HK$325, from Ikea) beneath it for a hassle-free solution to keeping everyday footwear accessible. The cushions (HK$1,400 each) came from Jonathan Adler (www.jonathanadler.com), in New York.