The black sofa

If you’ve lived in Hong Kong for any length of time, and gotten to know a few local people well enough to visit their homes, you’ve likely seen it: the black leather sofa.

It’s not too big – there’s not enough space in the flat for that – nor does it encourage slouching, lounging, or the general slightly hung-over semiconscious sports viewing I associate immediately with my favorite sofa. Ah, that would be ‘Grandma’, a sofa my college roommates and I procured via dumpster diving, and installed in pride of place in our dorm room. It’s an interesting story, how we named her as we did: not only was she soft and comforting – [Editorial alert! Editorial alert! Tangents of this sort are not only irritating, but embarrassing in the extreme. Cease and desist immediately.]

Anyway! Back when I came to live in Hong Kong, now almost two full decades ago, the Black Leather Sofa was ubiquitous. I’d guess that a majority of the local households I visited had it in more or less the form pictured.

Why, you ask? Then oh, let me sing of the Black Leather Sofa’s virtue!

It’s cool. There’s nothing better (well, except perhaps for an icy mini-keg of Sapporo beer) on a hot Hong Kong summer day than having a seat on the smooth, slightly chilled surface of a leather sofa in an air-conditioned room. And black even looks cool.

It’s durable. Leather wears well, is easy to clean – just a good wipe with a damp cloth does wonders – and it hides dirt if you’re too lazy to accomplish even that.

It matches everything. When you’ve got a tiny flat, as most of us do, and you’ve got to squash in a sofa and a TV and a table and some shelves and maybe one or two other things (like sometimes a fridge!) into your living room, there is no latitude available for ‘conversation groups’ that can have their own ‘themes’. Everything in your living room is right there in your face, so it’d better look good together.

It’s unpretentious. Okay, well, once upon a time a sort of minimalist black leather sofa might have been associated with hip Italian interior design, but even by the time I reached Hong Kong, that day was way back in time’s rear view mirror. Whatever cachet the Black Leather Sofa might have once held had been ruthlessly eliminated by the local furniture shops selling knock-offs slapped together in the mainland that often turned out to be even more coarse and basic than the model you chose in the shop (I speak from experience here).

This is in fine contrast to the kind of furniture that White expats would be expected to buy. They’ve got to worry about the quirkiness and authenticity of their furnishings, and as this (I assume intentionally) hilarious article from Salon magazine shows, these are not easy standards to reach:

From the Brazilian handcrafted cowhide rug for $720 (Serena & Lily) to the 19th century Salerno Streetlight Pendant for $2,695 (Restoration Hardware) to the Bewick Cabinet hand-papered with detailed images of birds for $3,998 (Anthropologie), these things are expensive because they're just so real. They look like heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, from ancestors who milked cows on rambling farms in Tuscany or handcrafted wood furniture in Brazil or wove deliriously lovely fabrics in Indonesia. These things trumpet their own authenticity and hint at a connection to the earth and an appreciation for craftsmanship and artistry and the untold charms of the world's foreign peoples -- you know, the ones who squat in mud puddles, sewing embroidered birds onto 350-thread-count Egyptian cotton crib bumpers so that Serena & Lily can include them in their Crib Set Collection (Heirloom quality, $969 each).

If you felt a little tingle of personal recognition upon reading that last paragraph, I do have help to offer. There are plenty of stores in Hong Kong that can help you sate your authenticity urges – you won’t ever need to resort to a black leather sofa. I suggest you start here -- or, even better, here --  but I’m of course open to suggestions on this topic!



you're showing your age and the time you were last seriously purchasing furniture.

These days it's

Indigo living (I'll leave it up to you to find the link ..)

Tree where all the furniture is made from recycled wood, from suppliers in Indonesia and the Philippines. reclaimed from old houses, railways and boats. (ooo lots of cred there!)

Homeless - great designs there - not sure about the functionality though:

and a few shops down, Ecols, ( where you can spend a small fortune for cola cans or tabs or old newsprint turned into something trendy.  Shopping with a conscience doesn't come cheap.


Black leather sofa - I wished!

How I would have loved a black leather sofa in my first flat in Hong Kong. I rented it furnished, and it was overall quite nice, but the leather sofa was puffy and *pink*. Age and weathering (plenty of humidity causing discoloration) had given it the overall look of a wad of dried-up bubble-gum.

But, it was comfy.


Out of the furniture market

Ah, yes, Gweipo -- you could not be more right! I'm both aging and uninterested in hip furnishings. Thanks for the links to the hot new shops -- I feel more authentic already . . . !

SKMama, that's a new one to me. I've seen a lot of leather sofas in my years in HK, but I've never seen a pink one. I suppose one would become accustomed to such a monstrosity, but I'll bet it was tough.

Finally, in my aspiration for perfect transparency on this issue, I must confess we don't have a black leather sofa inhabiting pride of place in Chez Tall at present. We did have one in our old place, but when we moved to our current flat some years ago, we bought a new one: it's leather (no compromises there!) but a sort of natural leather/tan color. It's very nice, but it does show the dirt compared to our old reliable black one!

Um, that's me

We bought a black leather sofa a year ago or so.  Love it.  But I'm not an anxious yuppie, so it really doesn't matter (the art on my walls is mostly personally given to me so sentimental rather than "artsy" and there are bookcases in my dining room--you can tell something about the size of my flat from that statement alone!).  Actually, when I really "notice" the furnishings in someone's house/flat is when I really start feeling anxious about not touching anything.  Trendy--who can be bothered?


a friend of mine ...

I have to be honest that 90% of our furniture is hand me down, 2nd hand and flea markets and about 10% Ikea (shelving etc), and I only know due to 'friends' who seem to spend their lives in designer show rooms.

The concepts always intrigue me, but the practically and price of these places are outrageous!

Sofa so good

When I was renting, flats were generally pretty spartan - 'fully furnished' wasn't a popular concept. Instead the standard equipment list was generally:

  • Grinding, groaning, window aircons
  • Fridge
  • Sideboard for TV, and....
  • The Black Sofa

So, three rented flats, three black sofas. All had seen better days, and I'm not convinced they were leather. In fact, may I ask a personal question.... in spite of copious amounts of body hair, do your thighs stick to your genuine leather sofa on a hot summer's day?

Mine did.

Maybe because we didn't use aircon very often, or maybe because those black leather sofas were really finest pleather from over the border.

In any case, when it came time to buy my first sofa, memories of finding myself fused to the sofa sent me straight to the cloth-covered side of the aisle. Bye-bye black sofa.

slip-covers and art work

We now have the best of both worlds. We have a leather sofa (also brown) that we got about 9 years ago. But, we use cloth slip-covers on it almost all the time. That way we have the durability of the leather, and the non-sticking of cloth (when we want it). It's also nice to break out the *red* slip-cover for the X-mas and Chinese New Year holidays.

The art-work on my walls was given to my husband and me by the artists, in return for our love and devotion and DNA. But, I'm beginning to think that some of the earlier works (K3 & early P) may be ready to take down, now that the artists are in secondary school. :)


Our resident artists are still in K1 and P1, so I think there would be a riot if we tried to take it down. But I'm more concerned about the barbie/princess/disney/... stickers that adorn most flat surfaces in our house. In places they've reached a thickness where they make a significant contribution to the structural integrity of our flat. When the girls finally grow out of stickers I think we'll have to just move to another place, rather than risk the results of removing them.


I hope your daughters appreciate your magnaminity in not only allowing them to have stickers like that, but also to put them up. 

Hip, authentic furnishings

White people alert!

This video of furniture shopping is hilarious (there's one mildly naughty word);