When Kate Jones moved to Shanghai earlier this year, she rented her apartment sight unseen while sitting out her mandatory hotel quarantine. “Due to ever-changing COVID rules, I had to find a place quickly for another week of home isolation. It was a leap of faith with only a few surprises,” she smiles.
The New Zealand-born founder and creative director of At Liberty agency has lived in Asia since 2005, spending most of her time in Hong Kong where her thriving business is still based. “I lived in Shanghai nearly 10 years ago and to be back here again during such a shifting time is eye-opening and offering a lot of perspective,” she says.
Over the years, Jones has become an expert in the art of living in small spaces, noting her smallest apartment was 380 square feet, or around 35 square metres. “There are no spare rooms to hoard and no drawers to hide things in!” But she will always find room for treasured pieces found on her travels or gifted by the designers and artists that she works with.
Can you tell us a bit about your new home?
My apartment is located in the Former French Concession, which is a magical part of Shanghai filled with period architecture, tree-lined streets and a maze of hidden lanes that are incredibly fun to explore, especially by bicycle. My interior aesthetic is quite eclectic but with a modern base and a big focus on craft. I'm passionate about how things are made and I love the beauty of simplicity. I don't think about how things will go together – I just collect from my travels or from the numerous makers and designers I'm lucky enough to meet.
You’ve lived in Asia since 2005. Which elements of Asian entertaining style have you embraced since then?
Family-style and relaxed gatherings are something I love in Asia. Cooking together, then sitting on the floor around the coffee table or at the kitchen bench with guests from all around the world is something I treasure.
What time of day do you most enjoy being in your home?
I love the morning, the sun flowing into my bedroom, the prospect of a new day, coffee in bed and a moment of chill before I get into my day.
What are some of the most treasured objects in your home?
Some that stand out are my Kahoko rugs, as I know the love that the Murai family puts into weaving every one of them, and they also take me back to magic times I've spent in Kenya. A sculpture gifted to me by artist Gidon Bing – its weight and the simplicity of design put a smile on my face and I often use it for styling projects. A ceramic bowl I bought from a local potter in Izu, Japan, with my friend Hana – it reminds me of the wonderful times we've spent together in the area, exploring and decorating their rescued homes. The handmade spoons by artist Kaze-san that he carves from a single piece of wood he finds on his walks. Lastly, a Japanese version of an African birthing chair that my traditional Japanese carpenter friends Jon and Yama-San from Soma Cousha made in their Okayama workshop.
Where do you like to shop for homewares?
I'm fortunate to shop directly with the brands or artists I represent and sell through my At Liberty showroom in Hong Kong – Ariake Collection, Gidon Bing, Origin Made and Kahoko all fill my house. However, some of my favourite stores in the world are Owl Bureau in LA for books, Chiarastella Cattana in Venice for textiles, The Shophouse in Hong Kong for art and ceramics, The New Craftsmen in London, and Arts & Science in Japan for Japanese craft.
How do you like to use scent in your home?
You will find some kind of scent in every room of my house. I tend to go for fresh scents in the bathrooms and something more earthy and richer in the living room and bedroom. I also plant herbs in the kitchen and have lemon balm, which I love to smell first thing in the morning and which is also great as a tea.
Do you have any fragrance rituals?
I start and end my days with fragrance rituals. The first thing I do in the morning is burn incense while I meditate or read. Then I burn candles or a diffuser when I shower, both in the morning and evening. To mark the end of the day, I draw the curtains, turn off all ceiling lights and light candles. The change of light and smell signals my brain to relax and wind down.
Which products from the LUMIRA range are you most enjoying and why?
I love the Arabian Oud Parfum. I wear this every day, it's subtle but I often get compliments. I've also started to use the perfume roller, which fits perfectly in my bag and provides a little pick-me-up in the afternoons or when I'm going out straight from work. I also burn LUMIRA candles in the evening when I'm winding down.
What are you most looking forward to for the coming year?
Exploring China. I'm super excited to explore the more isolated parts of the northern regions. I'm also learning about Chinese herbal medicine and I'm on a mission to continue my piano lessons. But mostly I'm looking forward to cutting back and focusing on a few great things, really appreciating them and taking advantage of being in beautiful China.