We take a peek inside the colourful Mid-Levels home of Kate Sbuttoni, Founder of The Ginger Jar Lamp Co.
We’re kicking off 2019 with a little home inspo for you all, with a peek inside the bright and colourful space of Kate Sbuttoni, founder of The Ginger Lamp Co.! From her South Devon roots, to moving to Hong Kong nine years ago, Kate tells us all about the inspiration behind her home, and how she finds Hong Kong living. We’re huge fans of the eclectic style and pops of colour throughout, and are especially in love with the statement Chinese cabinet, along with (of course!), her gorgeous collection of contemporary Chinese ginger jar lamps.
Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
I’m originally from picturesque South Devon, in the UK. I moved to HK as a newlywed with my husband Paolo. I’d spent the previous 10 years largely working in London (punctuated by some time abroad), in a range of PR and marketing roles. We envisaged the move here as our last ‘big adventure’ pre-kids…nine years and two daughters later (aged six and three), the adventure continues!
Where do you live and why/how did you choose this flat as your Hong Kong home?
We live on MacDonnell Road in Mid Levels, Central. We’ve been in our current flat for nearly four years. Before that we were just one road below, on Kennedy. We’ve never seriously looked at other locations as feel this is the perfect spot for us.
It combines walkability to most central destinations; proximity to green spaces (including parks and trails); the Peak Tram is on our doorstep; HK’s best veggie restaurant (Pure Veggie House) is a stone’s throw in Coda Plaza, which also houses the YWCA for kids’ classes; and the girls’ schools are nearby.
Our apartment is on a quiet side street, which many people don’t even know is there, and our block is part of a small complex built in the 1950s. We’re on the top floor and the view from our lounge window is of a vast rubber tree. We’re often visited by squirrels and birds, and it’s mostly pretty peaceful.
Where have you taken inspiration from? Did you initially have a theme in mind?
My inspiration comes from the countries I’ve travelled to and lived in. I find the colours, textures and patterns of Asia particularly inspiring, as well as the handmade, one-of-a-kind nature of the region’s craftsmanship. I also love the simplicity of Japanese and Scandinavian design, the richness of the Middle Eastern elements and the bold styles of India and Africa.
Our home is therefore an eclectic mix of treasures we have collected. Artwork from Hanoi and Japan, trinkets and collectibles from Laos & Cambodia, HK and Zhuhai; fabrics from India and Uzbekistan and blue and white ceramics from China and Thailand.
Our apartment doesn’t follow any given theme, I didn’t set out to achieve a particular ‘look’. It’s merely a reflection of the things we love. My main draw is to colour, in every form it takes: soft furnishings, lamps, rugs, artwork and stand-out pieces of furniture, like a Chinese cabinet I had lacquered in the shade of ‘Miami Jade’.
What has been the biggest home improvement you’ve made/want to make?
Living in a rental, we have limited scope in terms of any major changes. When we moved in we had neutral curtains made and all the walls painted white. This acted as a great blank canvas, layering the space with our own pieces.
The one thing I have always wanted in a HK apartment is a balcony, but sadly we don’t have any outdoor space. So if it was possible to create even a small area for a table and chairs, I’d be very happy!
Any tips and tricks for easily updating the look of a room?
Don’t underestimate the power of good lighting to transform a space. I really believe soft and well-placed lighting can make the biggest impact in a room. I’m not keen on overhead lighting because it can be too harsh and unflattering. Instead, I like to use table and floor lamps. These can be used to zone areas in a larger room; to create a cosy reading nook or dedicated dining area.
Hanging beautiful pieces of art on the wall instantly lifts a room and adds personality and character. Hong Kong has so many great framing shops – I’ve been going to Ming Kwok on Queens Road East in Wan Chai for years. They needn’t be expensive pieces either – small watercolours picked up on holidays, vintage exhibition and movie posters, maps, and kids’ artwork can all been transformed with a simple mount and frame. I love gallery walls and hang pieces together in groups for an eclectic, unfussy look.
What’s your favourite piece in your home?
I’d have to say my humble Ginger Jar. I’d hankered after one for a while, having first spotted them used in interiors schemes, in Absolutely Beautiful Things, a book by interior designer Anna Spiro.
When I moved to HK, I learnt about their trade routes’ history, so they became more meaningful. The ones I initially saw in Hollywood Road antiques shops were rarer finds and prohibitively expensive, but I found a more affordable one and it’s had pride of place in our living room ever since. Blue and white is so classic and timeless – I’ll always love it.
Its ‘Double Happiness’ design is a symbol of love and happiness. For me, it also has a double meaning – reminding me of the first weeks in our new home, and also now, as the foundation of my lamp business (which, at the time, I hadn’t even thought of)!
Where is your favourite place to shop for homeware in Hong Kong?
I love the beautiful Indian artisan items at Inside, including the hand-block printed napkins and tablecloths. For exquisite pieces curated across Asia, you can’t beat Altfield Interiors. The collection of blue and white ceramics has always inspired me, and I adore the stunning Burmese silver collection.
I also love hunting for inexpensive pieces around Sheung Wan – Lascar Row and Queens Road. I’ve found beautiful vintage cloisonné figures, old turquoise beads, and one-off ceramics. My latest find was a pair of gorgeous marble foo dogs.
I’ve spent many a happy hour at the fabrics market and streets around Sham Shui Po, picking out silk, African batik and printed cottons. Many have been made into bedding and cushion covers.
And I’m excited to see an increasing number of smaller local interiors brands popping up, like Kben & Hol, Karavan and Maya Rugs. All have beautiful, hand-curated pieces, which are always worth a look.
Any tips for combining style with functionality?
To keep a space looking effortlessly stylish, I think storage is key; a space has to be practical as well as beautiful and everything should have its home. At the end of a busy day, a place to tidy away toys, stash books and magazines and contain miscellaneous items will give a home a sense of order and calm. Wooden chests, large woven baskets and ottomans are all attractive, functional options.
I also like to use trays of varying sizes and styles to cluster items together so they are tidy but easily located. I have a wire basket in the kitchen for all the odd bits that seem to accumulate there; a lacquer tray on our lounge coffee table for the remote control, coasters and a candle, and ceramic trays in the bathrooms for toothbrushes and soap.
What advice would you give before you move in? Any tips for styling a home?
Measure your space so you’re not caught short with pieces of furniture that don’t fit your new dimensions. There’s nothing worse than constantly knocking into an oversized bed or sofa. You may need to think about bespoke pieces if space is an issue. On the flipside, if you’re moving to a larger place, think about sizing up so key pieces don’t get lost.
Think about the key function of each room and the must-have pieces that will meet your needs. A daybed for the office which can convert to a place for overnight guests perhaps? Or a bespoke piece of statement furniture which combines both function and form, such as a lacquered shoe cabinet.
And how can each space be used to its maximum potential? We have an extra large wooden dining table in our living area. As I work from home, it is a perfect additional workspace. It also serves as our kids’ crafting zone, and of course hosts all our family meals and dinner parties.
Which interior trend do you wish would come to end?
I’m not a fan of the ‘feature wall’. To me, to paint or paper just one wall is jarring and can be at odds with the rest of a room. I favour a white – or at least more neutral – uniform background, which serves as a perfect blank canvas, making it much easier to layer patterns, colours and textures.
On the flipside, what’s your favourite interior trend?
If I could call it a ‘trend’, I’d have to say the colourful, maximalist aesthetic which designers like Anna Spiro and Sophie Robinson champion. Not being afraid to use multiple colours and patterns; mixing various designs and eras – antique, vintage and modern; combining the things you have collected over time with new pieces.
This way, you create an uncontrived look that is natural and exclusively ‘you’. Our homes should be a reflection of ourselves and the things we love – how can this happen if we buy everything in one place, and follow a particular design trend or theme?
If you could design your home from scratch – name 5 of your must-have pieces.
- Hans Wegner Wishbone dining chairs – I’ve always loved their beautiful, natural elements
- A large antique Chinoiserie black lacquer cabinet with gold paint detail
- A huge Persian rug for the living room floor
- More art work by our favourite Vietnamese artist
- A sofa covered in fabric by Fermoie, UK
One item you’ve had for years but can’t part with?
It would have to be any one of the handmade pieces we found on a trip to India. Either an intricate, mother-of-pearl inlay mirror from Udaipur, or a colourful hand-knotted kilim from Agra. That trip to Rajasthan was an eye-opener for me in terms of the sheer breadth of craftsmanship and beauty of one country. Both pieces are now in our bedroom and they make me happy each time I look at them. That’s why I love collecting beautiful things – for the sheer joy they keep on giving.
On a scale of 1- 10, how shocked were you at the size of Hong Kong homes, and why?
I was pretty shocked, not only by the size, but also the price tags! As well as the tiniest of places, I’ve also seen the vastness of others. But what frustrates me most is the overall lack of a decent middle ground: well-maintained family apartments that are attractive, functional and affordable. It is a real challenge, but then again, it means you must get even more creative and savvy with the space that you do have!
If the sky was the limit – what would you splurge on?
I’d like to surprise my husband with a Balzac chair and matching footstool. He’s always wanted one and it would be nice place for him to sit and relax at the end of a busy day.
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