Interview with Laura Cheung, founder of Lala Curio

Laura Cheung

Tucked away at the very end of the pedestrianised cul-de-sac of Sau Wah Fong in Wan Chai is a big gold door. Much like a fairy tale, behind this big gold door is a colourful room filled with beautiful furniture, antiques and stories. Though a fairy tale, this is not. I am sitting in the flagship store of Lala Curio, founded by interior designer Laura Cheung, and listening to her real-life story which is as intriguing as the curio (or novel, rare objects) around her.

Lala Curio is just four years old, and was started with the intention of reinventing lost artisanship in Asia, while making it relevant and fashionable again. Richly coloured vintage Japanese Obis (kimono belts) from different periods hang on a wall opposite us. “We give them an after life and turn them into lovely cushions or chairs,” she says holding up a small cushion in front of her face. “There’s also the cloisonné tiles that we make, which uses an ancient technique that we turn into something contemporary.” Behind us, the wall is decorated with deep blue and gold wallpaper, hand-painted in the style of 18th century Chinoiserie which is another one of their staple products.

That’s not all she does. Cheung’s brand covers furniture, home accessories, lighting, bedding, and naturally, a range of curios. Lala Curio also offers a design service, in which she has styled residential and commercial spaces in her signature eclectic style. “I love what I do,” she tells me, “the entrepreneurial journey is also fun but it is the hardest part. Being an artist is endless, I could just keep creating.” It appears she has no intention of stopping. In addition to her flagship store in Wan Chai and her second in the Prince’s Building, she has signed on a joint venture, moving into China and going online. “Fifteen stores in five years, with the first one opening next year.” she smiles.

Lala Curio

Lala Curio

It is clear Cheung’s ambition is fuelled by her passion to create, after all, it’s in her blood. She comes from three generations of family involved in artisanship. Her grandparents specialised in the Chinese art of cloisonné, while her father focused on manufacturing. Cheung too spent time in China, in factories, travelling and discovering artisans. “For me, I have always grown up being creative and not very focused on my studies,” she tells me with a smile. Despite this, the Australian-born, Hong Kong-raised artisan made it to sixth form at Cheltenham Ladies College boarding school with good grades which enabled her to head to Parsons School of Design for Interior Design in New York. “Being in England [at Cheltenham] was good for classical training and knowing your craft,” she says “And then when I went to Parsons, so much of the experience came from New York because there was so much creative energy there.”

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Lala Curio

Lala Curio

After school, Cheung stayed on for another five years in New York where she worked for the world’s largest museum exhibition design house Ralph Appelbaum and then as design director for a fashion event design house that handled clients such as Tom Ford, Marchesa, Estee Lauder and MoMa among others. This stretched her as a designer, learning how to work in a multidisciplinary environment and narrate through spaces. As an intern in New York, she also met high-end interior designer Gabhan O’Keeffe who became a mentor to her and whose style still influences her to this day, she tells me. “His work is so ridiculously creative. I remember seeing French moulding with polka dots and stripes on his ceiling!” 

He’s not the only one, she looks to Luke Jones, the former managing director of Timothy Oulton’s holding company for business inspiration too. His work on Oulton’s journey as a brand from manufacturing to retail is also aspirational to Cheung. However, as influencers go, she comes full circle and returns to her family, “My father pushes me and says, “Boom! Go!” -- without him, I wouldn’t have done as much,” she breaks into laughter as she continues, “At the same time, he doesn’t warn you about things to look out for, he just says, “Didn’t that hurt – now you’re learning!”

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