Fortune At Home: How Laura Cheung Is Reimagining Her Chinese New Year Celebrations
Find full article on Tatler Hong Kong here!
From shopping for festive feasts to giving heirlooms and antiques a new lease of life, Laura Cheung and her family find uniquely Hong Kong ways to celebrate the Year of the Ox
We usually spend Chinese New Year in Sydney with all of our extended family, where we have the tradition of going to people’s houses to bai nian [share greetings and well wishes], going from one house to another with all of the cousins.” Interior decorator Laura Cheung, of home decor and lifestyle studio Lala Curio, paints a picture of her typical Chinese New Year celebrations with an unmistakable wistful tone to her voice.
This year, her extended family—like so many others—will be celebrating from different corners of the world, from Australia and the United States to her own home in a quiet corner of Kowloon’s Kadoorie Hill.
Despite the unusual circumstances, Cheung is determined to make the most of the season. “It’s really such a pleasure that we get to spend Chinese New Year with our Hong Kong side of the family, so at a young age, our baby can be exposed to these traditions,” says Cheung. Cheung’s home—filled with bold statement decor and furnishings on a regular basis—takes on a further air of eccentricity over the festive period; flowers in full bloom occupy every corner of the room, and tablescapes ornately decorated and filled with food create a real sense of occasion for her loved ones.
While typical Chinese New Year decorations include the likes of narcissus and mandarin trees, Cheung tells us, “This year, we’re not just taking on the traditional reds, but also burgundy and purple and lilac, creating floral arrangements using amaryllis and more unconventional Chinese New Year flowers; creating something that still has an oriental flair to it.”
Beyond the festive blooms, Cheung places special emphasis on tablescapes featuring hand-beaded placemats and pagoda napkin holders. Cheung selects auspicious patterns from her family’s extensive collection of antique Japanese obis to complement her chosen colour palate.
In preparation for the new year festivities, Cheung pays an essential visit to the flower market, while her mum scours the city to find Hong Kong’s best pumpkin seeds, fried taro and the like, each individually bought from her preferred vendors. Chinese New Year meals, says Cheung, are a true family affair. “My siblings get in the kitchen serving us whatever their newest creation is. I’m crazy about the interiors and decor, so I play a very specific role in making the dinners beautiful. You really see how each and every person’s contribution creates something so special, and it’s our way of sharing our gratitude to our parents,” she says.
And while customs like bai nian may be postponed to years when the extended family can reunite, tradition still forms the centrepiece of Cheung’s household celebrations. “For us,” she explains, “it’s a lot about embracing traditions; taking on and repurposing antiquities, allowing these articles to be used. A lot of our precious vessels usually sit on the top of a mantel or in our museum-like display cabinets; it’s wonderful to be able to use them decorating for a fun occasion like Chinese New Year.”
For Cheung and her family, Chinese New Year isn’t just a chance to gather; “it’s about creating an occasion, not just any other meal,” she explains. Cheung wants to recreate celebrations that embody the festive atmosphere she grew up in. “[My husband] James also grew up that way in America,” she explains, recollecting his family’s extravagant Christmas decorations and lavish parties to mark the start of the festive season. “It’s interesting to see how he’s embracing Chinese traditions and customs now,” says Cheung.
With son Enso dressed in his Chinese New Year outfits surrounded by “beautiful flowers and the drama of the decor in the room,” the couple hopes his first few years give him an appreciation for the rich tapestry of the culture he will soon come to know. And while many traditions are shared by families across the world, some are deeply personal. “We honour each other by doing these place cards, writing special notes to each other and sharing poetry, and I really want to keep that going within my own family,” she shares. “My dad is really interested in Chinese poetry, so it will be nice having him lead these sharing sessions.”
Particularly in the age of Covid-19, says Cheung, “we really want to make it special, so we dress up for it. We’re really lucky to have the option of a change of scenery, so we’ll eat in the garden, the dining room and our back terrace,” with each night of Chinese New Year consisting of a different set up in a different location.
Despite the undesirable separation the past year has brought, Cheung remains sanguine. “I feel so fortunate to have family with us, and to feel the love and synergy, and to be able to create special experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.”