This Tiny Hong Kong Coffee Shop Was Inspired by the Australian Sunset


It’s a pretty regular occurrence that we come across a space and think, “Hey, how’d you do that?” From custom built-ins to expert styling to genius pattern combinations, pros in the interior design business know just what to do to make a room or a home or even a coffee table stand out. So with this series, we’re asking them how to let us in on their secrets in the hope we can take our own spaces to the next level.

The district is an older residential area but has transitioned to attract a younger generation with hip shops and restaurants.

A 322-square-foot coffee shop, Today Is Long, in Hong Kong’s up-and-coming Sai Ying Pun district, takes inspiration from quite the unexpected place: Uluru, a red-orange sandstone monolith in Australia’s Northern Territory. The clients, a group of friends with fond memories of their time studying in the country, aimed to create a vibrant, welcoming community hub with ample seating, plenty of greenery, and a design that would juxtapose the older apartment building above.

Architect Etain Ho, design director at Absence From Island, details the creative process and challenges.

Clever: What’s most important to you when designing a space?

Etain: It is most important to express the identity of the space and to tell the story behind it. By doing so, we shall be able to create something special and different because every owner has a different story to tell.

How do you approach a new concept or design?

We usually start by asking the client a lot of questions in order to understand the brief and to find some key ideas and elements that we can base the design on. We then do a lot of testing and experiments, including 2-D drafting, 3-D modeling and renderings, plus scale models and mock-ups to understand the design and to see how people will feel differently in the space.

What did the client want and how did you translate that?

It was crucial for us to design something relating to Australia. We took reference from the sandstone monolith Uluru in the Red Centre of Northern Australia, and made the warm red-orange the theme color of the café. Furthermore, the name, Today Is Long, is a nod to the country’s golden sunsets and geometric composition on the building’s façade.

The entrance arch is Etain’s favorite element of the space.

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