Daphné Mandel’s Hong Kong home has been designed with refined strictness and lashings of passion. That shouldn’t be any surprise, since Mandel is a talented architect and multi-skilled artist. She considers this dual sensibility to be her personal style, the rigours of architectural training tempered by artistic instincts.
“These two routes, architecture and art, are for me indelibly interconnected,” she says. “I could have never produced these artworks without having worked as an architect before. These two activities are definitely feeding the other, in terms of representational technique and inspirational themes.”
Mandel shares the apartment with her husband, who works in banking, and their eight-year-old son. Their home is set high above Hong Kong on Mount Austin. The couple first moved to Hong Kong in 2008, into a place just a few blocks up the road from here. When they decided to move earlier this year, they found a new apartment and were immediately drawn to its sunny corners and generous rooms, which had potential for an understated luxuriousness.
Mandel has always thought Hong Kong was just the right city for her. Along with a resurgence of creative energy in her artistic life, she finds it an alluring place where the opportunities are endless. “Hong Kong has boundless energy, anything is possible, humour, warmth, a fabric of incredible people,” she says.
It’s a long way from Mandel’s birthplace in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her father is French and her mother Dutch; she spent her childhood in Paris. Mandel studied landscape architecture and urban planning at the École Nationale Supérieure du Paysage de Versailles and graduated in 2000. Later that year, she co-founded the Paris-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Gilot & Mandel Paysage. In 2006, the company was recognised for their work when the French Ministry of Culture counted them among the five best young landscape architects in France.
Mandel’s foray into visual arts four years ago was a natural transition. Her artworks are full of visual references to her knowledge of urban planning. The dense, thought-provoking works feature a range of contrasting materials and objects, and many of her mixed media on paper works showcase the form and structure of Hong Kong buildings. The result is fascinating and detailed: they give the idea that the architect is never entirely removed from the creative process. But there is a sense of whimsy, too, and an edearing sense of pure imaginativeness.
Mandel’s apartment is housed in a grey 1960s brick building with many of the dull exterior attributes of housing from that era. But it took Mandel just one look inside to see the stylistic potential in the nearly three-metre-high ceilings and large windows. “Some people might find that they lack charm from the outside, but [these buildings] are greatly located and they have essential qualities,” she says. “They are extremely bright, spacious, each room is generous and the layout is incredibly efficient and functional.”
In fact, the plain sober anonymity of the interior was the ideal blank canvas for Mandel’s decorative choices, which comprise family heirlooms, antique pieces and quirky objects found poring over the Clignancourt flea markets in Paris. An original hospital bed, designed by Jean Prouvé and Jules Leleu in 1934, has taken on a slightly regal tone positioned alongside designer lamps in the living room. A red lampshade hangs over the dining table, which Mandel designed in homage to the wet markets in Hong Kong.
Mandel has tried hard to strike a balance between eccentricity and a contemporary feel. In the entranceway, a multi-coloured neon rabbit-shaped light fixture provokes curious reactions from visitors, which instantly relaxes the mood. “Everyone asks from which gallery I bought it, when in fact I got it from a little dilapidated repair shop on Kennedy Road in Wan Chai for next to nothing,” says Mandel.
Mandel has taken her love of treasure-hunting to the city’s laneways and hidden old stores. She places her discoveries next to furnishings that come from her time living in Paris, including an elegant 1930s Art Deco mirror and a Poul Kjærholm designed 1956 slate-and-stainless steel coffee table, which is used as a bedside table. Mandel also takes creative references from her Dutch grandmother, Wil Fruytier, a famous textile artist whose work thrived in the Netherlands from the late 1950s through to the late 1980s. The look of the home seems inspired by one of her grandmother’s impressive floor-to-ceiling textile pieces, 1960, which is displaced in the long hallway – it merges fairly uncannily with the building’s architectural provenance. Other works by Mandel’s grandmother, such as a weaving samples and numerous family photographs, are placed lovingly throughout the apartment. Mandel’s own work, including a remarkable wooden box installation that features broken Chinese ceramic teacups, plates and saucers, sit alongside her layered mixed-media works on paper.
Mandel says she is inspired by Hong Kong architect William Lim, who also has a successful artistic life as an artist and art collector. “It is his ability to always break boundaries between art, architecture and design that I admire. He is one of the rare creative types in Hong Kong who has brought art into public spaces,” she says.
Mandel works from home in a light-filled room with stunning views over Hong Kong Island and out to the South China Sea. The objects on her desk are relatively minimal and the George Nelson modular shelves behind her desk display an impressive selection of hardcover novels and design books. Other items include a collection of pastels and pencils inherited from her grandmother, which Mandel uses to work.
Mandel has staged four successful shows since coming to Hong Kong. She credits the city’s urban sleeplessness and never-ending energy on her creative endeavours. “Hong Kong has been an infinite source of creativity, in the first instance just by virtue of being so different from Paris, the city in which I grew up,” Mandel says. Mandel believes the world of contrasts, texture and unexpected use of space and design remains at the core of the inspiration Hong Kong provides her as an artist. “I like to explore the rough beauty of these urban contrasts while introducing my own imaginary world,” she says.
The textile district of Sham Shui Po in Kowloon district has always been a source of wonder for Mandel. “Its grid layout, its specific building types such as the [tong lau] shophouses and the low-rise residential constructions give it a unique urban scape,” she explains. She finds soul and authenticity there – it doesn’t resemble any other place in the world, she says.
Whether it’s the thoughtful placement of a chair, or a colourful collection of Chinese ceramics steeped in history, there is something special about Mandel’s home. It’s a structured and planned project, a link between intelligent contemporary interior design and an artist’s natural instincts, but it always has a feel of creative familial cosiness. For her dream project, Mandel would like to be commissioned to transform one of Hong Kong’s popular public spaces with a piece of her artwork, projected in a light installation. If anyone has the talent, tenacity and purpose to make it happen, it’s Mandel.
To explore more of Daphné Mandel’s work visit daphnemandel.com