Interview with Laura Cheung Wolf

by Guy Azouri
February, 2022
Laura Man Ying Cheu Vogue Featured photo

Born in Sydney and raised in Hong Kong and England, Laura Cheung Wolf is the creative mind behind the Lala Curio brand. She crafts and curates unique theatrical interiors using materials and techniques from different cultures and periods. Her creations bring ancient artisanship into the scene of everyday living, making it relevant and meaningful for our contemporary lifestyles. 

Laura is one of Rhodium Floors dearest collaborators, and we took the time to sit and chat a bit about her experiences, fantastical and whimsical artistry, inspiration and artisanship.

In search of the whimsical, the fanciful, the dreamy, the artisanal  

Laura graduated from Parsons School of Design for Interior Design in New York, where she received her Master’s degree at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. 

Laura’s diverse design journey begins in New York with a museum exhibition design for Samsung Global Brand Showcase and World Expositions leading into a design director role in fashion event production for clients such as Tom Ford, Estee Lauder, or Vogue. 

Upon her return to Asia, Laura spent 2 years exploring forgotten crafts in remote parts of China for product development. In March 2014, Laura established her home décor brand LALA CURIO, opening LALA CURIO flagships in Hong Kong, followed by pop-up retail spaces in Landmark Prince’s Building and Design Community PMQ in Hong Kong, TS1 Burma, Bergdof Goodman in NYC and La Rinascente Milan. 

LALA CURIO continues to expand globally through annual design exhibitions at Maison et Objet Paris, Decorez London and Salone del Mobile Milan, with showrooms in London, Paris, Istanbul, Bangkok and soon in the United States. 

But let’s hear it from Laura, in her own words!

Q1. What do you love most about your profession? What is the story behind your brand?

“I love art, creating art and appreciating art. Trained as an interior designer, I treat spaces as a 3D canvas. I treat wallpaper as the grounds for my work; it sets the tone to the whole space and magically ties everything together. I find hand-painted wallpaper the bridge between fine arts and decorative arts, as I get to enjoy the best of both worlds.”

Q2. If you only had 5 words to describe your artistry, what would they be?

“I love embracing ancient artisanship with a whimsical flair. In 5 words, it is fantastical, dreamy, artisanal, fashionable, spicey. “

Q3. When and how did you decide to launch LALA CURIO and pursue the career of an interior designer focused on creating, curating and reinventing ancient artisanship for a contemporary living? 

“LALA CURIO is very much me, reflecting what I love and how I approach the world out there. And it’s visual proof that my penchant for risk has its rewards. 

I took the ambitious decision to launch my brand with a 4,000square-foot booth at the 2013 International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS), one of Asia’s premier design-led trade shows. 

We made quite an impression there, filling the enormous space with 1,500 products I had designed and developed over two years of extensive work and travel. 

Buyers from around the globe visited the booth, ensuring the future of the then 28-year-old entrepreneur’s new venture. 

The experience was overwhelming. It was a bit mad, really, as it was our first show. But the response proved that my idea for a brand like Lala Curio had some real potential. 

In March the following year, I cemented the IFFS success with the opening of my Hong Kong flagship, which was followed by a succession of pop-up stores across the city – and even in far-flung Yangon. 

Then came a boutique at one of the most prestigious landmarks, Prince’s Building, in 2015. All the while, I was also taking part in some of the world’s major design fairs, often the only Hongkonger doing so, and quickly became one of the city’s most respected young designers. 

We used to exhibit every year prior to COVID at Maison& Objet in Paris – the Paris Fashion Week of the design world – also London’s Decorex.”

Lala curio owner with her child

Q4. What were the earliest struggles you went through as a young designer just starting off?

“In 2010, I moved back to Hong Kong, only to leave again on what became a transformative two-year journey across much of Mainland China and Southeast Asia in search of crafts to Master and artisans to learn from. 

I felt this need to explore my heritage, to start from zero. I guess I wanted to create something for myself, something I could call my own. That’s how Lala Curio came to be. 

The living conditions at the factories in some of the more rural parts were a rather drastic contrast to the cushy London, New York, Hong Kong life I was enjoying. In some ways, without distractions, those were probably some of the most productive periods of my life. “

Q5. What is your main inspiration?

“Lala Curio is my idea of what a home should be like – whimsical, fanciful, layered, and with a story to tell. I draw a lot of inspiration from fashion. If we put paillettes on dresses, why can’t we do the same for the places we live in? “

Q6. How do you differentiate your work from others in your industry?

“We are very focused on reinventing ancient crafts, pushing boundaries and bringing what we could dream of into reality. We smothered pearls on walls, hand-embroidered each and every shimmering paillette into the most unexpected works of art. “

Q7. What is the connection between your personal life and your work?

“My penchant for the histrionic and ornamental is rooted in my upbringing. I come from a family long involved in traditional Chinese decorative arts, as both collectors and manufacturers. My father’s family is in the business of rosewood furniture, and my mother’s in the imperial craft cloisonné. As a child, I was exposed to these crafts, climbing over giant Cloisonné elephant sculptures and building my forest with gem trees, cinnabar trinket boxes, and Cloisonné birds. I fell in love with all of it. Our house was filled with hand-embroidered fabrics, cloisonné vases, lacquered boxes, ivory carvings, porcelain. It was always visually stimulating. “

Q8. Who was the biggest motivation in your designer and business journey? 

“I have always honoured my grandmother with my LALA CURIO journey. Inspired by her strength, perseverance and know-how in the rare craft of Cloisonné, she had opened doors to the world of artisans that I would otherwise have no access to. 

I’m grateful to my father for his entrepreneurial coaching since we are kids, to believe that the sky is the limit, to be fearless and take risks and focus always on our passion. “

Q9. Was there someone whose worked inspired you the most when it comes to creating wall designs?

“There’s only a handful of companies that specialise in hand-painted wallpaper. I’d love to meet with their founders one day and make a chapter in decorative arts of the 21st century together.”

Q10. Is there any modern-day up and coming designer who really caught your attention and impressed you?

“I love Gabhan O’Keeffe. I worked with him as an intern when I was at Parsons and later reconnected when I was doing my masters in London. I love the extent of details that goes into every pattern, every fabric, every bespoke piece of upholstery, how unforgivingly glamorous every corner is. Every room is like a jewel box.”

Q11. Is there any particular brand or artist you’d like to work with someday? 

“Dries Van Noten, Etro, Pucci. “

Q12. How were the early days of Covid and lockdown for you?  

“I was in Hong Kong; the cases were relatively few. I enjoyed some quiet time without the socials and found myself more productive in creating new collections and coming up with new creative projects like conceptualising our collaboration with Christie’s for their House of Luxury sale, which launched last year, and gorgeous walls for the Bling Empire.”

Q13. What projects are you working on currently? Can you share some details?

“We are working with Wynn Macau, Mandarin Oriental in Italy, a younger brand of Rosewood Hotel and a few other hotel projects on the pipeline.”

Q14. Is there a particular project that will always have a special place in your heart? 

“Yes. It is our first interior project for a dear friend and mentor, Veronica Chou. “

Q15. Can you share a  little about how you started collaborating with Rhodium Floors? 

“I fell in love with the people always. Roy and Kamini have been so inspiring, kind, and full of life! We are beyond excited to have such amazing individuals representing our brand in Los Angeles.”

Q16. How would you describe Rhodium Floors to a friend?

“A vintage Aston Martin equivalent for floors.” 

Q17. What advice would you give to a young kid just getting started on his/her career path?

“Stick with your passion and keep going.”

You can check out Lala Curio’s poetic wallpaper and tile collections, Chinoiserie furniture and home décor crafts here

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