Everyone has their tastes and among those tastes we each have one that stands out for its peculiarity — for not matching up with the rest. The occasional rap fan will also be a huge fan of Johnny Cash. Some of us that can’t abide watching horror films will make an exception for The Exorcist. An adamant non-beer drinker enjoys the occasional Guinness. The exception proves the rule.
When it comes to interior design, an elegant living room may hold one strange item that fits in precisely for not fitting in. Like a lamp with a glass base made of cow intestine. Or a coffee table inlaid with old bones. Real bones.
Hong Kong native Kobo Sin is doing her best to leave her design mark on Hong Kong’s interiors. A graduate of Hong Kong Polytechnic University where she studied product design, Sin seeks and sources the oddest materials you could imagine for her custom-designed lighting pieces — materials like the aforementioned bone, butterflies, intestines and whatever strange items can be found on that hotbed of strange, the Internet. “I get [most of my material] online. I’m glad for the wet markets and I do get some stuff from there,” explains Sin. “Sheung Wan has lots of dried seafood and things, I go there. I once found a placenta online from a Chinese website,” she says with an uncomfortable laugh. Some lines don’t get crossed.
Sin is a fairly normal designer: stylish, with broad tastes and some brutally honest opinions about Hong Kong’s creative industries. Her taste for Tim Burton-esque macabre aesthetics developed in London while staying with a friend for a few months following a one-semester exchange in Germany at Cologne’s Köln International School of Design. It was there Sin became interested in taxidermy. “I’m very inspired by the past particularly movies like Freaks, and weird old, illustrated books and I developed an interest in lighting in Germany,” she explains. “In London I started experimenting because with taxidermy I couldn’t do it Hong Kong. I can’t order dead animals; I wouldn’t dare pick up a dead bird off the street. But I learned the basics of it myself.” The next step came when she got back home and, casting around for her next move, stumbled upon an ad from an Icelandic designer that needed an assistant. “He was a men’s wear designer that also liked to experiment in odd materials. He made a whale skin wallet. A catalogue cover with sharkskin. A scarf made with spider silk and so on. I didn’t think he’d work with me because I had no experience in fashion.” His odd materials included his own skin, about which a documentary was produced as well.
It may sound gruesome, but Sin is far from a rot-obsessed navel-gazer who sits in her Sham Shui Po studio wearing black. Her lamps have a beautiful quality to them that has nothing to do with embalmed foxes staring at you from wall. But she’s aware her stuff is a hard sell and when she’s not working on a light she dabbles in furniture and, now, reproductions of vintage clothing (which goes down better with Hong Kong shoppers). “It’s very difficult for Hong Kong people, or Asians, to accept my stuff. It’s too weird or too extreme. It’s also considered waste,” she admits. Because her lighting work is custom designed it can get imaginative, which is not a hurdle. “I can do anything, just not mass production. I can do, maybe, 10,” says Sin of a given piece. Prices depend on how labour intensive the job was and how hard getting the materials were. It also depends on how much Sin likes the final piece. “I’m of an artist’s mind that way.”