Interior designer Laura Cheung fills her family’s Kowloon Tong home with her trademark eye-popping array of furnishings, patterns and textures, and an eclectic assortment of art

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The airy living room; Photographed by Gareth Gay

Step into Laura Cheung’s family home and you’ll immediately see why the founder of artisan home furnishings boutique Lala Curio has built a reputation for being the ultimate mix master. Five extravagantly woven Japanese obis are draped over a window; intricately embroidered silk, velvet and fur cushions are piled atop low-slung sofas; a trio of primitive African figures transforms a sunny garden room into an exotic haven; and every surface is bursting with intriguing books, objets and art. “There is a lot going on,” Laura laughs.

Up the art deco circular staircase that curls through the core of the 1930s three-storey colonial-style house on leafy Kadoorie Estate, you’ll find more evidence of Laura’s skill at arranging disparate elements—say, an eye-catching array of ceramic and feather masks beside an understated antique pottery vase, abstract Chinese ink paintings, and her own design pearl-encrusted salmon pink wallpaper—into harmonious juxtapositions.

It is a fitting home for someone who has spent her life travelling and combining her passion for traditional Chinese crafts with a career as a product designer and interior decorator. Laura’s home is like her designs, which also often feature a riotous mix of elements, textures, styles and details that range from simple to dramatic, from understated wabi-sabi to downright humorous, all with a jeweller’s eye for extraordinary finishes such as lacquer, glass and marble.

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Fertility dolls from Cameroon make a statement in the garden room;

Photographed by Gareth Gay

The distinctive combination of furnishings feels at once comfortingly traditional and original, sitting perfectly with the family’s collection of art, which includes serene ink brush paintings by the Chinese-born, Paris-based artist T’ang Haywen and an enormous abstract work by the British artist Victor Pasmore that has pride of place in the elegant dining room. Among the home’s other treasures are elegant antique Chinese tapestries and porcelain plaque art.

“I’ve always been crafty, even when very young,” Laura says. “When everyone else was playing with dolls I was making things and drawing. Then at 13, when I went to boarding school at Cheltenham Ladies College in England, I had such fantastic tutors and was lucky enough to have everything from music, painting and life drawing lessons to our own pottery kiln. I was so happy.”

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LEFT: Laura loves floral motifs; the fur rug was custom-made by a friend who combined “loose ends” from her grandfather’s fur company, and the painting is by Victor Pasmore;  RIGHT: Picture frames made of bone, wood and resin, cloisonné malachite tiles and an obi pouffe, all from Lala Curio, in Laura’s bedroom (the central image is by French painter Bernard Frize)

Photographed by Gareth Gay

Today, however, it is not simply the decorative aesthetics that she finds beguiling. Her studies at New York’s Parsons School of Design (for a bachelor’s degree), followed by her master’s in fine and decorative arts at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, confirmed her passion for combining ancient craft skills with contemporary design. “Tradition is about not just looking back to imperial times and doing what you have always done,” she explains. “It’s about still using that craft but for something relevant that makes sense now.

For instance, Laura has long been fascinated with cloisonné, having played with her grandmother’s collection of decorated metalwork as a young child. “When I was studying for my master’s degree, I wanted to do my thesis on cloisonné even though my tutor tried to talk me out of it by saying no one is interested in it anymore.”

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Some favourite Lala Curio designs, including a set of cuffs and necklace featuring baroque pearls and salvaged wood;

Photographed by Gareth Gay

Undaunted, Laura persisted, and has since travelled extensively across China to convince artisans to experiment with innovative designs and techniques. Today, one of the bestselling new products in her Lala Curio boutique is a series of accent tables and lacquered boxes featuring her bold graphic interpretation of the painstaking art form. “I am on something of a mission to revive ancient artisanship,” she explains. “I see myself as a curator coming up with different ideas for how to reinvent things within a contemporary context.”

“I’ve always been crafty, even when very young. When everyone else was playing with dolls I was making things” — Laura Cheung

The designer says she is especially attracted to things that have a story behind them. The vivid geometric rust-red pattern on a rug in the airy garden room, for instance, was replicated from an original watercolour painting. The soft tones offer the perfect foil to Lala Curio’s new collection of Napoleon III-style slipper chairs upholstered in a riotous patchwork of graphic textiles and antique Japanese obi fabrics circa 1890 sourced from the designer’s collection of more than 300 antique obis.

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Photographed by Gareth Gay

Storytelling often features in her commissions to decorate private homes, boutiques and restaurants across the city. One of her favourite projects included the design and furnishing of a friend’s Hong Kong home to reflect a contemporary chinoiserie aesthetic. It included a distinctive bathroom entirely clad in dramatic cloisonné tiles and a whimsical bureau for the couple’s baby in the form of an 18th-century gentlemen’s writing desk that turns into a nappy-changing table. “We decorated it with playful colours and hand-painted little babies playing and dancing around a dreamy chinoiserie playground,” she says.

Creating a home that radiates warmth and individual character is essential to Laura. For her, this means being surrounded by the textures, colours and craftsmanship that she loves. “Some people do not want to mix work and home but I live and breathe it every day so there is no boundary. This is how I live. It’s just me.” 

See more gorgeous snapshots of Laura's home in the slideshow below:


 

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Photographed by Gareth Gay

The art deco staircase


 

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Photographed by Gareth Gay

Macarons and stand by Jouer Atelier; artwork by Victor Pasmore; Cast-iron teapot from Kanazawa, Japan


 

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Photographed by Gareth Gay

A glass and resin bead chandelier


 

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Photographed by Gareth Gay

Macarons on a Lala Curio cloisonné table


 

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