August 1, 2012

The World is His Studio: An Interview With Jiun Ho

A man of many appetites, Jiun Ho first fell in love with design, then with travel and art. There’s also his literal appetite for food. Yes, like seemingly everyone in San Francisco, Ho is a hard-core foodie. Having enough room for an extravagant kitchen was part of his raison d’être for moving his namesake studio into a space shared with Jiun Ho de Jia, a gallery that doubles as a stellar party place for himself and for hire.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Ho landed in the U.S. as an 18-year-old design student at Iowa State University, followed by the International Academy of Design & Technology in Chicago. After-school stints pulling samples at the Merchandise Mart eventually led to jobs at contract firms, particularly in office design. When he went out on his own, planning to focus on high-end residential interiors, his first project involved custom-designing everything from sconces to sofas—boom, a furnishings designer was born. He’s now represented by 11 showrooms worldwide including Dennis Miller Associates in New York. He’s done lamps for Boyd Lighting, rugs for Kyle Bunting, and chairs for Bolier & Company in addition to completing residential, office, and hospitality projects. Here’s the scoop.

Why did you open Jiun Ho de Jia?
When I travel, mostly to third-world countries, I see amazing artists and artisans who have no way of selling their work. Showing it to the world is my little way of giving back. De Jia, incidentally, means house inMandarin.

The space is your first to be open to the public.

Yes. It’s a lifestyle gallery casual enough to appeal to all audiences. Take the techies from Silicon Valley. They’re rich, but many are kids in their 20s who haven’t been educated about design and art. They could easily be intimidated by somewhere super-formal.

Tell us about the space.
It used to be a factory that made metal fences. Together, the street level, the basement, and the mezzanine total 11,000 square feet. The mezzanine was cut up into little rooms, but I gutted it, and now it contains my office, the studio’s library, and a spa like bath room with a shower and a Japanese soaking tub.

What other changes did you make?
We stripped everything down to its original state. Walls are concrete, and you can still see the marks and stains. Flooring on the main level is Douglas fir, except where I filled in a few holes with steel plate. Beams are redwood. For the major additions, two rebuilt staircases and the kitchen, I used a lot of cerused white oak.

How is merchandise organized?

It’s a mix of furniture, sculpture, and paintings. The ground level has galleries to the front and rear of the kitchen and the studio. The basement is all gallery. Since the basement has a lower ceiling and of course no natural light, I had to put in extra effort to make it special. I think of the feeling as historic village with a twist. The Burmese 18th-century statues are usually found in temples, and the terra-cotta horses are from the Han dynasty. But there’s also an installation of stacked firewood from a recycling plant that cuts logs from fallen trees.

Do you live with art in your apartment?
I’m open to everything. I especially like the darkness of Flemish oil paintings. What I mostly have, though, is paintings and drawings by contemporary artists in Shanghai and Beijing.

Were you always interested in art?
No. Growing up in a developing country, I wasn’t surrounded by note worthy museums. I learned about art from travel.

What were some of your recent destinations?
Biking through the Loire Valley was what led to my 30-piece French collection. A trip to Botswana inspired bronze tables I made in a limited edition. In Laos, I found an 18th century Buddhathat I shipped back. I’ve been to 97 countries and counting. I promised myself I’d hit 100 countries before I turn 40 next year.

Where to next?
At the end of 2012, I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with my partner. He’s from South Africa.

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