I am utterly fascinated by high-rise family living. I think of all the little things, like getting groceries up 30 floors – which is an entirely different dilemma if the elevators aren’t running! Or, do dwellers in the sky ever miss having a backyard just outside the door? They probably have far less mud in their foyers. And how do you create that sense of indoor-outdoor childhood freedom when getting outside from the super-elevated inside involves a bit of planning? Today’s high up home shows us that it can be done.
Juliana‘s place in Hong Kong, with its endless views and unique space considerations, reminds me of a nest. I love the thought she put into creating a warm and workable family home in what was once a plain white box of an apartment. Friends, I know you’re going to enjoy this very different, very citified Living With Kids tour. Welcome, Juliana!
Q: Tell us all about this family living up high in Hong Kong!
A: We are myself, my husband Jeff, and our three year old daughter Ella. When we arrived eight years ago, I thought we’d be here three years max…but life plants roots even 30+ floors up in the sky!
Jeff is a teacher. He has his own football (soccer) charity for Down Syndrome children. He’s very passionate about life and definitely a giver. He’s a family man and our rock. I’m an Architect with a practice in HK doing both commercial and residential projects. I love designing and making things. It’s a part of my mind that doesn’t want to rest. Ella hasn’t started school yet, but she takes dance, does lots of art, loves exploring around HK, and of course plays football. She’s a really good mix of us.
Jeff loves to write and I’m very visual, so a few months ago we began a blog called The Guest Room in which we both contribute weekly blogs along with some friends about life in HK. It’s our way of bringing our worlds together targeting designers, parents, thinkers, and everything in between.
Q: How did this apartment come to be yours?
A: I’m lucky enough to work from home, and Jeff has been commuting from various parts of the city about 30-45 mins each day over the years to work. Last spring we decided to focus more on quality of life. A short four min walk from Jeff’s school is a beautiful park with fountains and a large playground, long waterfront promenade, and lush green mountains. We’d been living in the heart of Hong kong Island for many years and decided it was time for a change.
We found our flat in a modern building next to the waterfront with stunning views of both mountain and sea and something just sort of pulled us in. We knew it was right for us. The location was great for Jeff to walk to work, there were great outdoor spaces for Ella, the flat had great natural lighting and high ceilings. I quickly began designing the spaces, and within one week I’d taken an empty space with all white walls, completely painted it, hung hooks, art, all new lighting, and revamped some of the kitchen to transform it into our place.
Each room is painted a different color, and there are lots of Ella places within each space. For example, I work from home so next to my desk she has a ladder that she painted yellow that holds her puzzles and building magnets. She spends hours building in the window. I had to be very clever with storage; before we moved in, there wasn’t any storage. It’s a challenge to create more storage than would appear to the eye. Designing in HK, you must think compact. It’s about function and flexibility.
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: Although it’s HOT in August and September, it’s similar to east coast summers in The States. We don’t have snow in winter, but it’s just cold enough to enjoy wearing layers about six months out of the year without freezing. Shopping is…well…it’s the Asia NYC! Maybe even better! There’s every kind of food and it’s real and tasty.
I love being on the Island. Hong Kong is only 20% buildable land area, so it’s one of the densest cities in the world. I love having everything at my fingertips. The layered infrastructure is extremely efficient. You have the density of the city on the North side and in contrast, the South side has great beaches with mountainous shore lines and lots of hiking and walking trails. You can hop on a flight and be in Phuket, Tokyo, Bali, Siem Reap, or Hanoi, to name a few, within a couple of hours! It’s really a city with everything to offer.
Q: Tell us about the decorative considerations you must make living in a high rise in a city that has a typhoon season.
A: We do get typhoons! One summer I think we had eight within eight weeks. It was intense, but it’s a dense city built like a concrete jungle. Structures are not made with wood; it’s all concrete buildings that are designed to withstand high winds. So I don’t stress over typhoon season.
Q: You’re a collector! How do you manage your love of stuff in a smaller shared space?
A: It’s a challenge. I’ve learned to collect small things that can sometimes be functional. For example, I collect spoons. I can’t even remember when this began, but at least 20+ years ago. I have spoons from all over the world. It’s not about being a collector’s item, it’s as simple as the shape, weight of the handle, or proportions of the spoon. I love interesting small boxes as well. Again, functional, as I put jewelry or various things in them, stack them, etc. I also collect rocks. My luggage always weighs more going home!
In Asian cities, I’m always drawn to little unexpected things, like the hand painted 1″ tall vintage wooden Kokeshi doll I found recently in Tokyo. Not something I need, but beautiful and small enough to share a space amongst the other little things I’ve found over the years. We travel a lot and one way to remember places was to pick up a magnet. It’s sort of became a collection for the family.
Q: Do you ever crave more space? If you could add one more room, what would it contain?
A: Good question! I used to crave more space and maybe I still do, but now my comfort zone seems to rest at this scale of space. I feel like I might be overwhelmed by typical North American square footage. If we had one more room, I guess it would be roof terrace or large balcony. We used to have this and that was excellent for dinners with friends and BBQs, growing herbs, and plants. It would be a great space for Ella to play as well.
Q: Tell us how you merge motherhood and design in your career?
A: Ha! Well I worked right through giving birth practically! In a good way, though. I love my work. It’s creative, I’m blessed with amazing clients, and it’s enjoyable. I sometimes have a hard time shutting off.
When Ella was younger, I would schedule my work day around her nap schedule until napping reduced to one to two hours a day. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, she stopped napping and my world changed. It was as if I missed that chapter in the book that told you one day they will stop napping. Now, I love to take her sourcing with me when I can. She loves to bring her camera when I’m doing a photo shoot and click her own pics! I do work weird hours. It’s never set in stone. It’s all on a need basis. I still organize my day around Ella, but next year she will start school and my world will change all over again! So for now, I’ll work very late one evening for a deadline and then play with Ella at Disney the next afternoon. It’s a very blessed life style.
Q: What do you hope your daughter will remember about this childhood home?
A: Gosh! I hope that she will always continue to be creative. That’s something we love together. She has a very creative and clever mind. I love watching how she thinks. We put a lot of love and creative thought into our small living space. Like people, I wanted each room to be its own place and sort of have its own voice.
I hope she’ll remember her places around the flat. I tried to create Ella places in various ways throughout for her to enjoy. I love watching her build things in the window bay next to my desk, dancing to music, drawing pictures on her chalkboard wall, playing in her own kitchen, seeing her excitement to watch the sunset from her window together at night. It’s a small flat, but there is actually a lot of Ella everywhere you look without it being just about toys. It’s a happy place for her to grow up and I love that she and I can spend so much quality time together everyday.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?
A: I’m still fascinated that she was once in my tummy (as we say!). She’s growing up SO fast. I was so excited for her to start talking and I think among many favorites about Ella, I love the amazing things she says. She remembers things that I’m amazed by. She’s very clever and getting cheeky! I always knew being a mom would be the best part of my life, but Ella has surpassed my expectations. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.
In the past six months, I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom (which I expected much later), to mama. It’s a funny process, and I’m learning to just be and go with it. That’s not always easy for me, but it’s about growing together.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I would have known…
A: I wish I would have known they just suddenly stop napping!
I wish I would have known how fast it goes in the beginning. When you’re in those early stages of their life it’s easy to just get the routine going and before you know it they’re nearly four! I give Ella loads of hugs everyday. Maybe too many, but I’ll never get enough hugs!
Thank you so much, Juliana! You’re so right: If there’s one thing I could go back and enjoy a little more, it just might be the very last nap my kids took!
Friends, Juliana’s line about what Ella calls her – “I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom, to mama.” – touched me so much. What do your kids call you? What did they used to call you? For those of you with older ones, do you miss being called Mommy? And isn’t the day they find out your real name one of the funniest moments? It’s as though they’re understanding for the first time that you’re a real person with a real name!