When Arnault Castel discovered an opportunity to live in Blue House, the iconic Grade-I listed tong lau in Wan Chai, he moved fast. “To be able to live there was like applying to university,” says Arnault. “I had to write an essay and have an interview. You must have a link to the neighbourhood – to Wan Chai and to the community.” That link was the cult Hong Kong concept store Kapok, that Arnault founded in Tin Hau in 2006 before moving the shop to St Francis Yard, and later Sun Street, in Wan Chai, the flagship for others located in K11 Musea, PMQ, and, as of this summer, Landmark. Passing the entrance examinations, a year ago, he moved in.
The building itself, named after its exterior colour, is more than 100 years old, its many incarnations including a hospital and kung fu school, and was expertly restored by St James’ Settlement three years ago, with its high ceilings, balconies, and original tilework being amongst its standout features. A central courtyard has become a sociable space for the eclectic bunch of residents living here. “I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 20 years and have never known my neighbours, but now I do,” says Arnault. “They’re an interesting group of people – designers, architects, local politicians – of all ages. Even my cat meets other cats!”
The period features of Arnault’s apartment speak for themselves – tall French windows, tiled floors and a cast-iron balcony – but he has decorated the space with a mix of European and Japanese influence. It’s minimalist but not unapproachably so – much like his stores. Having carved a niche in Hong Kong for curating a shoppable edit of smaller, little-known international and local brands spanning fashion and lifestyle, that often have a focus on function as well as aesthetic, it is of little surprise that Arnault has filled his home with his finds. Much of the artwork was acquired from Kapok’s early exhibitions, while Tolix chairs are remnants of a time when the store dabbled in selling furniture alongside its clothing, accessories and small homeware goods. “I like everything to be exposed, like a little showroom,” says Arnault of his home, in which his clothing is displayed on rails, and his records “like a Rolodex.” Precious Astier de Villatte ceramics are on show, while Loveramics, who Kapok have collaborated with on a pop-up this summer, is his new favourite brand for kitchenware. “If you come to my store and to my home, you’ll know it’s the same person,” he says.
While Arnault would ordinarily spend much of the year travelling – to the bi-annual shows and to new and interesting cities on a quest to discover brands – the pandemic has, much like for the rest of the world, given him the chance to stay at home more. “I spend so much time at home now so I decided to really invest in buying more furniture,” he says. There’s a vintage sofa from Ligne Roset – “the same age as me, that reminded me of one that was stuck in my head since I was a kid.” There are also lamps that Arnault acquired through his Kapok neighbour, Archetypal, and a roster of new plants, bought from Prince Edward Flower Market. Older keepsakes include his bed, designed by Hong Kong friend and architect Jacqueline Fung.
This mix of vintage and contemporary is what drew Arnault to Wan Chai in the first place, first to open his store and now to live in the heritage Blue House. “It’s very Hong Kong, that difference between the old and new,” he says.
CreditPhotography: Daniel Murray Studio