We meet proud Hong Konger, Claire Yates, owner of stationery company The Lion Rock Press, at her Pok Fu Lam apartment to chat about her family, her home… and her very unusual pets.
Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
Our happy but chaotic household includes myself, my husband Andrew, our son Miller (6), daughter Leila Mei (3), and our adored helper Teresa. We also have several pets: colourful fish and snails, along with our treasured Madagascar hissing cockroaches, who have just become the proud parents of 60 baby roaches! Admittedly, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but we love them!
What do you enjoy most about life in Hong Kong?
The things I appreciate most are the safety, the convenience, and having help at home, which allows me to follow my career dreams alongside being a wife and mother. However, the greatest pleasure is the inspiration that I find here. I love the simple, everyday things: the sound of brushes sweeping, the smell of incense, the buzz of cicadas, the clacking of the mahjong tiles, the ding of the trams, the smell of the bakeries, the colours of the markets, the bustling streets, the busy harbour. For me, Hong Kong is paradise.
How did you decide upon your current home?
Earlier this year, our elderly landlord died, so we moved from a ground-floor flat in Sai Ying Pun to this three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot apartment in Pok Fu Lam. I was originally reluctant to move, as I loved living there and the convenience of my work, the kids’ schools and the local shopping and dining scene. But my husband was ready to try something different. So we decided to see if we could find a real sense of community for us and, more importantly, our children.
The home we found has surpassed all my expectations, and we feel incredibly lucky every single day. We have stunning uninterrupted views over to Lantau, Cheung Chau, Lamma and Hei Ling Chau. And we’re blessed most evenings with a spectacular sunset as we watch the ships coming in to anchor at dusk. It’s magical! We never previously had a view and I secretly thought people were a bit daft to pay a premium for one. But now we have one, I could never go back. We’ve been completely spoilt.
Being Eurasian, I’m always going to have family worried about feng shui, as our block flanks two public cemeteries. I find this beautiful, fascinating and peaceful… but I’m not sure my grandparents agree!
Tell us a little about your interior décor.
I wanted to make the living area an adult space for my husband and me to enjoy, relax and entertain in – now that our children are a bit older and the years of living with plastic boxes of toys, playpens and jumperoos are finally behind us! To make that work, I needed to create gorgeous bedrooms that the children would be happy to stay and play in. Luckily, they absolutely love their rooms – so much so that I now have to go and visit them to see what they’re up to!
We’ve mixed antique and custom-made modern Chinese furniture and art with more Western-style soft furnishings. So I would describe the overall style to be like me: Eurasian!
What’s your favourite room?
The living room. I chose a dark teal paint, as I wanted a really sumptuous jewel shade that was almost Chinese imperial in style. My husband nearly had a heart attack when he first saw it! Happily, he trusts my taste and now he loves it … though I’m always threatening to paint our bedroom magenta, which he’s unfortunately put his foot down about!
Where did you source your key furniture pieces?
Before buying anything, I had a massive clear out. And I donated all the furniture from my old place to Nikki from DB Mothers and Friends – a social enterprise that redistributes your preloved items to people in need. After that, my first stop was Sofa Good Sofa, which is a custom furniture outlet near HKU MTR station. I was able to choose a completely custom L-shaped sofa, and they also made my bespoke king-size bed with huge hydraulic storage. On a whim, I also ordered a mustard-coloured armchair and ottoman, just because I fell in love with them!
One of the pieces we get the most compliments on is our multi-coloured wool living room rug. I bought it from Ikea eight years ago and it still looks brand new. Although it’s colourful, it seems to be quite neutral and always goes with our furnishings… and we aren’t too precious about the carnage that it’s subjected to!
What’s your favourite furniture item?
The first piece of furniture I ordered for this home is my favourite – my dream cabinet, custom-made from a sketch of mine, and born from a need to deal with my husband’s beloved 60-inch TV and all the paraphernalia that comes with it! I wanted to design something to display my treasured collection of Chinese relics, as well as provide much-needed storage. I knew I wanted it to be a modern Chinese design, and white, to contrast with the deep jewel colour of the wall. So I asked Asin at Yong Chang in Zhuhai to make it for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so in love with a piece of furniture before – it’s everything I hoped for.
What other pieces do you particularly love?
My dining table and chairs were also made from a sketch. It had long been a dream to have a round Chinese-style table with a “Lazy Susan” like the one in my grandmother’s home. However, I wanted a sleek, modern version in natural wood. I bought them, along with the cabinet, with money inherited from my grandmother, and I know she would have called them “most handsome” pieces.
More recently, on a visit to Zhuhai, I came across a dusty old Ming Dynasty miniature fully set table, complete with wine flask and boar head. I can’t tell you what I paid for it as my husband might read this (and he thinks it’s the ugliest thing he’s ever seen!) but I just had to own it. I love thinking about what it has seen and who has touched it over the last 600 years, as well as getting a glimpse into what they might have eaten all that time ago.
Tell us about your artwork.
I love art, but I’m conscious not to overcrowd the apartment. The butterfly taxidermy by Rebecca Coles is actually made of currency from all over the world, cut into butterfly shapes and secured with a single pin for each. I love it because it’s quite neutral until you get close and then you can spend hours looking at it. I have a Yanko Tihov piece called British Empire, featuring vintage passports from all over the world. Everyone who visits loves it, and it’s always a great talking point. On the opposite wall are two vintage Chinese posters, one of which reminds me of my mother when she was young.
One of my most prized possessions is an Arthur Hacker pen and ink drawing that I acquired when I lived in South London. A gay Chinese couple had an acrimonious split and had my husband – then an estate agent – just “get rid” of everything in their house as they didn’t want anything to remind them of each other! We were young and had no money so were ecstatic, as they had absolutely exquisite taste! Another prized possession is the panoramic shot of the Malvern Hills, where I was at boarding school. It’s shot by my brother, John, who is an incredible photographer.
Do you have any outdoor space?
We are lucky enough to have a reasonable sized balcony, with a big barbecue and, more recently, Teresa’s organic farm! She collects every single seed or stone we ever discard: from melon to tomato, bell pepper to cherry, as well as anything with a root on such as celery or spring onions, and plants them in soil to see what takes. I reckon soon enough we are going to be self-sustaining!
The Lion Rock Press thelionrockpress.com
The Ginger Jar Lamp Co. facebook.com/gingerjarlampco
Yong Chang Furniture, Zhuhai antiqueyc.com.cn
Sofa Good Sofa 5/F, Cheung Fat Building, 7-9 Hill Road, Sai Wan 3106 3651 | sofagoodsofa.com.hk
Candy Bedding, Shenzhen candybedding.com
John Alexander Photography jeaphotography.com
Sum Ngai Brass Factory 195-B Kam Sheung Road, Kam Tin, New Territories sumngaibrass.com
Yuet Tung China Works Unit 1-3, 3/F, Kowloon Bay Industrial Centre, 15 Wang Hoi Road, Kowloon Bay 2796 1125 | porcelainware.com.hk
Like this? See more in our Homes section:
Guide to the best furniture stores in Hong Kong
Where to buy carpets and rugs in Hong Kong