Managing Director of BartyED, JEROME BARTY-TAYLOR, has been living in Hong Kong since 2013 and moved to his current walk-up flat in May 2020. He takes us on a wander and gives us some insights into the Kowloon home and its historical features.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Scotland but ran off to Australia as a teenager. I finished school and was an undergraduate there before completing graduate work at Oxford.
When and why did you come to Hong Kong?
Different parts of my family have been in Hong Kong for a long time, so I used to visit once a year or so if I was stopping over between London and Melbourne – I suppose the idea of settling here occurred to me as a teenager because it was halfway between the two; I certainly had no idea what I would do here.
I arrived in Hong Kong in 2013 after completing my Masters at Oxford. The cliché is to say you were planning to be here for two years. I probably only planned to be in Hong Kong for six months, but then I was headhunted for a job and one thing led to another.
For readers who may not be familiar with BartyED, tell us about your work here.
BartyED is a boutique educational and private tutoring consultancy. We work with students of all ages who wish to excel academically, supporting all major curricula (for example, IB, A level and AP) as well as providing academic interventions for young people with dyslexia, dysgraphia and ADD/ADHD.
My work life is very varied and never dull. My team works with a lot of teenagers who come to us with predetermined expectations about their own academic performance, which we challenge through mentoring. Work is always busy; at present, I’m not taking on new students and already have a waiting list for August 2021!
Where is your home in Hong Kong?
I’ve lived in and around Prince Edward for the past seven years. My previous flat was in an old tong lau very close to the MTR. My current home is between Prince Edward Road West and Boundary Street, close to St Teresa’s Church in Kowloon.
How long have you lived there?
With enhanced social distancing and more working from home this year, I decided I needed a break from my old place. I’d also been living in the middle of the protest zone around Prince Edward station during the 2019 social unrest, which presented its own set of challenges. I made the jump to the new place in May of this year and couldn’t be happier.
Tell us a bit about the location; what’s notable about it?
The area is steeped in local history being on the edge of Kowloon Tong, which wasn’t much developed until the 1920s. The first generation of houses in this area were large mansions that were largely displaced by mid-rises in the 1960s and 70s, and some of those again in the 2000s.
St Teresa’s Church was a local landmark when it was completed in 1932, seemingly having been partly paid for by none other than Il Duce himself. (The embossed name of the Italian dictator has fortunately been removed from the commemorative plaque inside!) That was just five years before my father was born. I suppose that always makes one feel closer to the events of the past.
What type of home is it?
It’s a 1950s colonial-style walk-up – around 1,700 square feet. The building is in family ownership and so had retained many lovely original features including 60-year-old year old parquet flooring and delightful modernist picture rails. My partner is currently based in Sydney and can’t travel because of COVID-19; I’m really extraordinarily fortunate to have so much space for one person.
We hear it has an interesting history; can you give us some insight into this?
Like many buildings of its time, it was constructed to house an extended family, with each floor accommodating a different set of relatives. Indeed, the owners still live in the building. Because it was built as a family home, it is very sturdily constructed. Having been built pre air-conditioning, it also has excellent circulation.
I knew the area before moving in and had wondered how a such a unique building of its age could have survived the cycle of redevelopment; it’s the last building in the neighbourhood of its vintage. I went to the initial viewing partly out of curiosity as I wanted to see what such a wonderful old place was like inside.
What are some of its notable features?
Probably the first thing I noticed (and fell in love with) were the transom windows above all the doors. These are very old-fashioned in Hong Kong nowadays. When the (retrofitted but nonetheless antediluvian) air-conditioning in the master bedroom failed during July they were a godsend! Who would have thought one could sleep comfortably in Hong Kong in July without air-conditioning?
The avocado bathroom is very much of its time. You have to buy into the flat, I think, in order to love it. Every time I take a bath, I feel like I’m in a Wong Kar Wai film. The façade is stone – also very unusual in Hong Kong – but this also helps to keep the place cool.
Tell us about your renovation work on the home.
All the potential tenants who had viewed the flat had demanded full renovation by the landlord in advance. The family are very attached to their home and didn’t want to change it drastically. I agreed to take on the place “as seen” and do the work largely myself. Despite being an academic, my father is very handy, so I learnt nearly all of these skills almost on his knee. Through childhood, I slowly graduated from handing him tools to being allowed to do some of the work myself. As a teenager I must have redecorated more rooms than I’d care to count, re-sanded and sealed wooden flooring, and re-tiled several bathrooms and kitchens. Indeed, my siblings and I built a house in Scotland a few years ago.
I wasn’t daunted by taking on the flat, thinking of my work on the place as more of a restoration than a renovation. I repainted the flat in neutral colours to allow the beauty of the original wood fittings to speak for themselves. Well, I also enlisted the help of various current and former students in their summer holidays. I think eight or nine of us worked on the living room walls at different times!
The parquet floors are all original (60 years and counting). In the old days, they would have been finished with French polishing, a technique that has largely been abandoned in Hong Kong. It involves applying many thin layers of shellac to the wood. When the cost of labour for such craftsmanship was cheaper, I’m sure that was the thing to do! I settled for Osmo oil, which takes two coats only and is very easy to maintain. It also brings out the wood’s natural lustre without staining it artificially. I’d used it previously on an oak floor my sister and I built in her kitchen in Scotland: it’s definitely easier to apply with experience.
The light fixtures in the bedrooms ran on the old incandescent 40 watt bulbs that were a little dim for my liking, so I wired in some new chandeliers and fixtures to brighten the place up – especially the third bedroom, which I use as a study cum TV room. The original 60s pink polka dot lamp shade has been repurposed as a plant stand.
What area or features of the home do you like best?
Having a separate dining room is a real luxury in Hong Kong, especially one that can sit 14 people. This has made work events for the team a real delight. The balcony is a genuine joy, too. I grow dill, basil and lemon balm and I have a scotch bonnet plant from my aunt’s garden, although it’s yet to produce any chillies. It’s wonderful to be able to sit out and drink coffee there in the morning – even in the height of summer.
Tell us about a few items that have an interesting story behind them.
When you move flats in Hong Kong, everyone is always so generous with their time and in helping you find furniture. Many of the plants came from an old family friend who was downsizing, including the lovely rubber tree in the master bedroom.
I’m particularly fond of the desk in my study; it’s Qing, and over 150 years old. It has a matching cabinet I keep in the living room. Above the bar cabinet is an early work by Elaine Chiu, an up-and-coming Hong Kong artist. She’s currently represented by JPS Gallery. Many of the other books and smaller pieces have been given to me over the years, or I acquired them second hand. I’ve always got an eye on the AsiaXPAT classifieds looking for a bargain. I guess you can take the boy out of Scotland…
The outside furniture on the terrace actually came from the Aberdeen Boat Club, which was doing a renovation and no longer needed it. As any of the members would attest, it’s a delight to have a little piece of the ABC at home!
I always take visiting friends to eat at…
* Lao Zhang Gui Dongbei in Tai Kok Tsui for Peking Duck that rivals some of HK’s best known establishments.
* Sijie in Aubin House, Wan Chai is also a favourite.
For home renovation supplies, I recommend…
* The hardware shops in Kwun Tong Industrial Centre, a sprawling labyrinthine affair at 472-484 Kwun Tong Road or O’Brien Road in Wan Chai.
* Osmo products are only available through one exclusive supplier on Gloucester Road.
A walk in the flower market isn’t complete without…
* A coffee at Hayfever, 62 Flower Market Road, Mong Kok.
* Flowers from Hing Fat Wholesalers, 56 Flower Market Road; there’s also a shop in Canal Road for HK Islanders.
When I need to unwind I recommend…
* F45 Training, Central – the friendliest and least intimidating fitness tribe I’ve come across in HK, with training that can fit into my six-day work week.
Photography by Col Sim
This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.
Like this? See more in our Homes section.