Perhaps it’s got something to do with our amazing city and the constant slew of things to do, see, and experience out and about, but it’s true that most Hongkongers are not homebodies. Despite our taxing jobs and work hours, we still find it in us to go to the gym, do dinner with friends, have a cheeky tipple or two, before collapsing into bed and doing it all again the next day. Even those with families are more than likely to go out together over weekends instead of simply staying in. Could this be related to our living circumstances?
Hong Kong’s homes are notoriously small, that’s undeniable, but it doesn’t mean they have to be so uncomfortable that its occupants are literally turned out of their own spaces. We sat down with Sonia Lui, head of design at OMÓS—an interesting, eco-friendly furniture brand determined to make a difference—to talk about sustainability, how Hong Kong homes can emulate a vibe that’s conducive for relaxing, and to find out what exactly makes a good home.
The clue is in our name: OMÓS originates from the Greek word ωμός, meaning raw and unpolished—in other words, pure. We create comfort for the eco-conscious millennial household using the most natural materials and methods.
Our aesthetics are Mediterranean-inspired. All of our colours are derived from the Mediterranean: corals and brick reds are from buildings and architecture, the blues and aquamarines are from the sea, and so on. We went to Greece one year and everyone was so chill there, and we thought, “Why aren’t Hong Kong people like that?” Our homes are not big, but houses in Santorini aren’t huge either, so why are people there living so differently? That got us thinking if a part of it might be because our houses here don’t encourage people to stay at home, relax, and actually enjoy the space they’re in. We wanted to bring that spirit of rest and enjoyment back to dense Asian cities and Hong Kong.
Not everything in your home has to be multi-functional; sometimes you just need to be there and enjoy your environment. Lie down, take a nap on your couch, or curl up and watch some TV. We’re really trying to encourage a more relaxing lifestyle in Hong Kong, which I think is very much needed because everyone is so stressed.
A good home makes you want to be there. A lot of people don’t like staying in; they’d rather eat out and hang out outside. It is a challenge in Hong Kong to make homes very comfortable, especially when you might be squished in with four other people, but I think it’s our job as product designers to solve that sort of problem, to find that little corner that belongs to you.
You need to have a sense of ownership, and to feel like you belong in a home for it to be considered ‘good’. So when you have pieces of sentimental value that you have a relationship with, that makes a space homey. Unless you have feelings towards it, it’s not a home, it’s just a house. That’s why we always try to get our customers engaged in the creative process, so they feel that they have contributed to the making of something that belongs to them, and there’s that feeling of ownership and connection.
Our efforts in making our products sustainable are the main difference. We spend a lot of effort sourcing even the most minimal components. Is the dye natural? If it’s not natural, we’re not using it. Is the paper FSC-certified? If it’s not, we’re not using it. We are very detail-oriented on such matters, and really trying to be responsible for what we’re making, so we do our best to educate people on the philosophy behind sustainable furniture.
OMÓS also makes a lot of products that other brands don’t have, such as our live-edge sliding doors, which is a completely sensible design for Hong Kong apartments, but nobody else has done it yet. We are slowly revising our products too, making them smaller to better fit into typical Hong Kong homes, so everyone can enjoy that relaxing spirit, even if they live in a 200-square-foot apartment. This is also why we do a lot of customisation work, which is not a common service provided by furniture makers—a lot of interior designers do it, but not many furniture makers.
Our mother company is a major furniture manufacturer serving over 50,000 Hong Kong families in a year; that means we create a lot of waste. We often see furniture on the streets or, in better cases, online where people resell it. We know that cheaply made furniture doesn’t last, so our founder Gary Lui reflected on the amount of wastage we’re contributing to, asking ourselves if there’s any way we can be more responsible to the environment and produce goods that can actually last 10 or 20 years.
We push our designs to be more sustainable, to create a sentimental value between the product and the client, to encourage customers to take the piece with them when they move, to grow with them. Our furniture changes over time and the people using it also change over time, so you evolve together.
Linen is really one of the most underrated materials and textiles. It’s so versatile. You can make almost anything out of it: sofa upholstery, curtains, pyjamas, bedsheets, you name it. The main reason why we chose linen for OMÓS is due to its great value to the environment. Linen is one of the most sustainable natural fibres in the world because it grows so quickly; when you plant flax, it also rids the surrounding earth and water from toxins.
When people think about linen, they envision rough, coarse fabric that doesn’t quite feel good, but with the right treatment, that is not the case. All of our linen is stone-washed and sand-washed twice before we sell it, so everything is soft, feeling almost like cotton. It’s also great in Hong Kong because it absorbs moisture very fast—when you sleep on it, you don’t end up in a puddle of sweat. The way it feels on skin is great too; you don’t get the sense that it’s sticking to you. It’s also very easy to clean.
From a design perspective, silk as a luxury material is kind of outdated. People now would see it as a more mature fabric, a little bit old-school. We’re trying to provide an alternative for people who care about the environment and want their space to look good too.
We have Libeco Home, a Belgian linen brand that’s over 150 years old, British perfumer Miller Harris, and metalware and enamelware from Riess. Libeco Home, in particular, is exclusive to OMÓS in Hong Kong. They have stores in Tokyo, but none in mainland China, and really wanted to explore the Hong Kong market. Their products also go very well with our own designs. Both brands have the same vision of changing current perceptions of linen and making it a more premium choice of fabric.
It’s been well received—a lot of expats already like linen, but Hongkongers need a little time to get used to the fabric. All of our upholstery is made from linen, and people are accepting of that, but they just need a little more time to grow into our full line of linen products.
The first thing people should do is ask themselves what they are going to do in the space. What is going to be your main activity? Most people just tend to buy something with a lot of storage or create platforms with storage spaces underneath, but that just leads to hoarding! Ask yourself what you’re going to be doing in that home, and what you actually need in it. When you figure out what you need, you can then go on to think about the functionality of products.
Materials are something rarely considered at this stage, but it’s actually very important too. Having a consistent material throughout the home makes it more coherent and comfortable. For example, I see lots of people who have oak flooring and then three other types of wood furniture. They think it’s all just wood, but it’s all in different hues and just makes the space look messy and uncomfortable.
Shopping for your home is a big investment. You’re not going to buy a closet and then change it the next year—again, we don’t encourage throwing out furniture! I understand that a lot of people will have cost as their top priority for consideration, but you should divide the price by the years that you’re going to be using it for. For example, you can get something from IKEA, sure, but it’s only going to last two years. For double that price, maybe you can get something that’ll last you ten years. The mathematics behind the value of a piece of furniture is something that people should also think about, instead of just looking at the overall price tag.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Hong Kong demographic here, and I believe the next trend will be customisation. As apartment layouts get increasingly weirder, it’s so hard to find something that will fit perfectly into your home. Being flexible with sizes, materials, and colours provides people with the opportunity to really make something your own, and this is a service that we provide to our clients. There are a few brands doing customisation too, but they may not have a cohesive style. At OMÓS, we provide our style in the size and way that can fit your home. Customisation is my prediction for what will be huge in 2020 and onwards.
Mine is the live-edge sliding door. I know it doesn’t look like it takes a huge amount of craftsmanship, but it’s a really smart idea in Hong Kong. Get a nice piece of solid wood, put it on a sliding rail, and it immediately gives a home so much character. It’s almost like an art piece, and already something for people to talk about the minute they enter your home.
Looking ahead, I might come up with a line of products in a more neutral palette. A lot of homes in Hong Kong have neutral tones, with grey walls and wood floorings, and they don’t really buy into super colourful home products, unless their whole set-up matches it. So we may consider creations similar to the Libeco Home products, looking into patterns and creating a more neutral palette with textures. We’re also experimenting with woven items, such as macramé and crochet, exploring bringing out textures, edges, finishings, and details. This is all likely to be inspired by the boho-chic style.
Our ultimate goal is to have our own Airbnb type of place—a space to try experimental living, the OMÓS way. It’s hard to convince people of our philosophy when you’re only buying one or two items. We want people to experience the full thing for themselves, in a living show flat of sorts. That’s our goal: to provide a living environment composed by us, have people experience it, then really reflect on their own ways of living, and think about how they can change their personal philosophies and be more eco-friendly as well.
A Japanese man from Okinawa actually came to us last year; he has a small resort with about 20 rooms, and he loved our products, so he asked if we would like to design a hotel for them in the OMÓS style. This is something that could definitely be in the works for the future.
OMÓS HOME | Unit 2611, 26/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau | (+852) 2116 1707