We snoop around Tim Leard and Russell Lath’s Hollywood Road apartment for tips on interior design for SoHo spaces.
After being shown a myriad of apartments around Central and Soho, Tim Leard and partner Russell Lath had almost given up hope of finding the right space, size and location to call home. But the answer came in the unexpected at ultra-modern CentreStage on Hollywood Road.
Take a tour around this SoHo apartment in the gallery above
“It was the top of the market and there was nothing around,” says Tim, who has lived and worked in Hong Kong as a design director and hotel interior designer for HBA Associates for four years. (He was, however, an architect in the US for some years, even designing the Orange County home of Clint Eastwood.) “I was unimpressed with what they were showing me.
“Then they brought me here, about eight months ago and I immediately thought, I can work with this space.”
Russell – a managing director of APAC Communications, Digital – adds that while the two of them both had differing input into the finishing touches, “our tastes are remarkably aligned. I was the annoying budget guy – we love to say that he’s design and I’m construction.”
It was perhaps the virtually undecorated base that allowed the duo to bring so much colour and personality to the mix.
“There weren’t even any light fixtures,” says Russell, a native of Melbourne who arrived as a permanent Hong Kong dweller only 10 months ago, not long after meeting Tim when he was in the city on business. (The two have since added a few fantastically standout light fittings, including a large film-set-style lamp in the living room.)
What also sold it was that Russell loves to cook; “I needed a good oven and workspace,” he says. The functional and light-filled kitchen really sold it.
This blank canvas also meant their fuss-free-meets-quirky design style could be given free reign within the 1,400-square-foot space, one which has expansive views facing west to Po Hing Fong and south towards Mid-levels.
“We fall in love with certain things,” says Tim. “We don’t believe you have to spend a fortune to get the right look. All it takes is a few key items to bring it to life. And we love colour.”
It’s lucky then, that perhaps the first thing a visitor subconsciously notices in any home is the initial atmosphere, a combination of the resident’s personalities, histories and colour choices. With Tim and Russell’s, it’s the sunny blend of yellow, blue and white that pervades the entrance.
Yellow, design reports say, conveys cheerfulness, happiness and liveliness, thanks to its relationship with the sun and summer. Combined with touches of blue in Russell and Tim’s living room – a shade said to bring peace, professionalism and an increase in creativity – their apartment has become a true reflection of their friendliness and enthusiasm.
For example, the living room upon entry: contrasting patterns found in the angular shapes of the central floor rug, curtains (made by Home Essentials) and cushions in blue, white and yellow create a quirkiness and vibrancy that blends seamlessly with the more sensible/industrial light fixtures from Aluminium and two large white, Kelly Hoppen metal-studded trunks that serve as the coffee tables.
“I like the mix of patterns,” says Tim. “There’s chevrons, squares, circles. It makes it a little less formal.”
They have also created a lively dining corner to sit, eat, work or relax, framed by a sideboard decorated with items such as glassware found on their global travels. A plain glass-topped circular dining table and comfortable, armrest-free white dining chairs (space saving) create a corner area from which you can still feel a part of the soft furnishings of the living room while enjoying the view towards the balcony facing Mid-levels.
The dining area’s monochrome backdrop is brought to life with bursts of colour with small touches, such as an electric bright print overlooking the table. It’s a digitally enhanced series of photographs of some of Hong Kong’s iconic neon lights, a haphazard representation of the thriving streets below.
“We were looking for something that was about Hong Kong or Asia and were walking past Picture This and both saw it at the same time,” says Russell. “I didn’t want a Hong Kong piece that looked cheap, but we wanted something that reminded us of the city.”
Then there are the little talking points. Russell’s four years working in New York City is reflected with decorative art forms of some of the most famous buildings (the Empire State and Chrysler Building) and an interior-lit, hand-made wall panel frames a New York industrial-style clock from Aluminium on the side wall facing the dining table.
A bright yellow and white lamp from Indigo then provides a retro, art deco touch to soften the mood, as does a white ceramic Wellington boot-shaped umbrella stand at the door. Again, there’s that mix of monochrome base and quirky one-offs.
“From the minute this was put together, it felt like home,” says Tim.
Adjoining is the kitchen, which from the get-go had a seamless flow from entrance to window – greys and white fixtures with a wide window bringing in plenty of natural light. However, this sensible area is given a personality boost; small items such as a bright blue toaster, kettle and Le Creuset pans, chosen to stand-out among neutral shelving and, says Russell, “the most expensive rubbish bin in Hong Kong”. He points to a large grey rocket-shaped, German-made trash can in pride of place of the corner of the kitchen (they found it at Sidekick), as well as a charcoal burning stove-top option on which Russell says he often likes to cook a Greek-style butterflied lamb.
Another classic example of how a few small things can change a space is a gymnastics-themed, tall brown leather bar seat that sits against a wall facing the kitchen; the kind of place friends can sit and enjoy a glass of wine while Russ makes magic in the kitchen.
“The kitchen design is a mix of clean and quirky,” says Tim. “It’s not meant to be fussy … which makes it feel more comfortable.”
Yet there has to be some practical arrangements to think about. Russell has two teenage daughters from a previous relationship and they sometimes come to stay, so they need a room. Plus, he often works from home, taking calls at various hours, and needs an area from which to take his job seriously.
The answer is found in the second bedroom, which has been turned into a Ralph Lauren, preppy-style study for Russ and also as a spare room for his daughters.
A club-style brown leather trundle bed plumped with plenty of navy and red cushions (including one of Timothy Oulton’s flag cushions, this time in the Australian flag – Oulton is one of Tim’s favourite designers) frames one side while Russ’ dark timber desk frames the other.
“All the decorative touches in here are from our travels,” says Russ, pointing to various items (from owls to horses to statuettes) that tell stories of their more recent times in Asia. “It’s a great backdrop for conference calls.”
The guest bathroom opposite this room has been almost untouched from its understated contemporary state reminiscent of many upmarket apartment designs, yet Tim says no room is left without some kind of personal touch, bringing attention to several small white vases hand-painted with pale blue Pirate icons he had bought when scouring Melbourne shops not long ago. He adds he was blown away by Melbourne’s architecture and atmosphere when Russell took him there for the first time not long ago.
The hallway then brings us to the standout room of the entire apartment: the impeccably organised walk-in wardrobe large enough in which to stretch and preen, although “wardrobe” is an understatement. This is really a fully functioning dressing room, fitted with several strategically aligned hanging spaces, storage options and drawers, for everything from suitcases to shirts, ties, suits, shoes and the many fancy dress costumes that Russell makes from his sewing machine kept under wraps in the study. Amazingly, this room was already in the apartment when they rented it, ensuring Russell’s “tick-list” was well and truly satisfied.
An added touch is an old-style valet placed strategically by the window in this dressing area, on which the two can place their outfits for special occasions. “There are no wire hangers in here,” says Russell.
Wardrobe envy – especially in space-poor Hong Kong – is likely to be the main emotion any visitor will experience.
“I used to do a lot of amateur theatre in Melbourne,” says Russell, “and my ex was making the costumes, and she taught me a lot. Eventually, I learnt how to thread a needle…it’s really not that hard.”
Not hard for someone with a design talent, maybe.
Along the hallway lined with prints bought in Venice, it’s the 180-degree view from the master bedroom, towards Lamma and then southwest towards the basketball courts on Po Hing Fong, that catches the eye.
“We like the fact that we’re not on top of everyone else up here,” says Tim of the high floor level.
Direct afternoon sunlight is also kept at bay with block-out curtains. The two say they have saved a fortune on cooling costs thanks to this touch. “The temperature dropped by 10 degrees with the block outs,” Tim says.
Cleverly, they have also hidden an unsightly air-conditioning vent behind the bed using a lacquered, lattice frame. Now, the backdrop looks like a simple artistic touch rather than artificial.
Last but not least, the small yet perfectly formed terrace off the living room is the ideal place for an evening glass of wine. Two wicker chairs face each other on a blue synthetic Missoni for Bolon rug. Behind each chair is a lemon tree, one on the verge of sprouting its first fruit. Again, the blue and yellow theme that gives this space so much of its relaxed, happy atmosphere is continued outside.
For these self-confessed urbanites, such a well laid-out, lock-and-leave environment with plenty of homey and personal touches is just right, so much so that Tim is now being asked (on the side) by friends and acquaintances to help them create favourite, feel-good spaces in their homes.
His tips? “You don’t need a lot and you don’t need to spend a fortune,” he says. ‘I have a lot of fun doing it too.”
Homeware & Design
Whole Building, 36 Cochrane Street
Shop 1, G/F, Po Hing Court, Po Hing Fong, Soho
46 Wyndham Street, Central
Homeless & Sidekick
Shop 119, 1/F, Style House
The Park Lane, Causeway Bay
G/F, 15 Gough Street, Central, Soho
Dining & Bars
Cha Cha Wan (Thai restaurant)
206 Hollywood Road, Soho
Chom Chom (Vietnamese bar and kitchen)
58 Peel Street, Soho
G/F, 37-43 Pottinger Street, Soho
Oolaa (café and restaurant)
G/F, CentreStage, Bridges Street, Soho
Stauntons (people-watching bar and restaurant on the escalator)
10 Staunton Street, Central