One of J Lee Rofkind’s fondest memories was her daughter Hailey’s fifth birthday party. The event happened to coincide with the Chicago native receiving the keys to her newly purchased Hong Kong flat.
“We invited 25 of her friends over to graffiti the entire apartment,” recalls the hotel and restaurant designer with a laugh. “Although my contractor eventually redid most of walls during the apartment’s renovation, we kept one. Hailey and her friends have added to it as they grew up. It was a great party and it gave her something very personal.”
Rofkind cites some recent projects that are just as creative with wall treatments. Her design for the Ladies Recreation Club in Hong Kong included Bauhinia blossoms adorning the private dining room walls and photos of Bauhinia trees in the function room, for a subtle sense of place.
“The two rooms are connected, but the dining room has large windows with a green view,” she says. “When the doors are closed, the function room needed something to create that extra dimension. The images in the dining and function rooms were high resolution, large scale photos laminated onto glass.”
For Mandarin Oriental Pudong, wall finishes include a reception backdrop with three layers of leather that appear to peel off each other and mosaic tiles with pixilated landscape imagery.
In the 80s and 90s, Hong Kong collectively fell in love with wallcovering—and some older apartments still bear the scars. “Unless you replaster the walls, it’s difficult to get the glue off even if you strip the wallcovering,” Rofkind notes. “And if you paint over it, the seams may open—it also makes the wallcovering underneath even harder to remove.”
Despite their finicky nature, Rofkind believes that wallcoverings are a good way to bring full size art into the home. “Digital wallcoverings are a trend that has taken off lately because they are relatively affordable,” she says. “It’s a great way to customise a space. For The Ritz Carlton in Montreal, we added a digital wallcovering onto the ceiling that we sourced through a company in Paris.” The high vault ceiling was embellished with images of birds flying overhead among the tops of palm trees, a nod to restaurant’s name: Palm Court.
Those who are renting or on a restricted budget can customise a home with paint, Rofkind advises. “In my living room, two pilasters and a beam formed a natural frame,” she says. “I added a hot pink colour to this section, while the base colour for the flat was white. The colour helped to emphasise the building’s architecture.”
Although she is not a personal fan of chair rails or dado lines as she prefers uninterrupted walls to show off high ceilings, she understands that some people enjoy cosier spaces and the extra detail that a horizontal moulding at waist height provides. “Stenciling is a fun thing to include for a child’s room,” she says. “And kids can see it better if it’s along the dado line.”
For flats with low ceilings, she suggests painting it a darker colour than the walls to make it disappear for the illusion of extra height.
If budgets are unlimited, there are a number of specialty finishes including different metallics and textures to give walls a completely customised look. “The great thing about walls is that when you get tired of them, you can easily refresh or change the look.”