How Chef Mina Park Creates Cooking Space in Her Loft
An inviting space for cooking, entertaining and spending time with friends was at the top of her list when it came to finding a home in Hong Kong, says US-born Mina Park, the chef behind the food-based lifestyle concept Sook. Widely lauded for her innovative take on contemporary Korean cuisine, which she presents at private dinners in her home, at pop-ups and at functions, Mina has lived in her loft for almost five years.
“Friends who are interior designers had originally found and renovated this flat. They have an amazing aesthetic but the space is also designed for maximum efficiency and comfort. I love the fact they added quirky details like pink acrylic walls in the en-suite bathroom and a central kitchen with a bubblegum-pink oven,” she says of her 3,400sqft apartment, which is in a high-rise residential tower with panoramic sea views.
Mina, a former corporate lawyer who lived in New York and London before moving to Hong Kong, was also drawn to the apartment’s wide-open spaces paired with high ceilings, and large windows that flood the interiors with natural light. “Essentially, the apartment is a massive white box with white walls and a white floor, so creating a sense of warmth and cosiness was the biggest challenge,” she says.
One solution was to offset the sleek and contemporary open space with an eclectic mix of art, architectural lighting, plants and furnishings in natural and neutral materials that add a warm, personal touch. Meanwhile, rugs and cushions provide layers of rich texture without detracting from the fresh, modern aesthetic.
Not surprisingly, Mina’s favourite spot in the apartment is the kitchen, a large free-standing central block that acts as a bold focal point in the apartment and morphs from cocktail bar to food display counter or preparation area depending on need. Most importantly, it allows Mina to prepare food without being cut off from her guests.
“The heart of this apartment is truly the kitchen; it’s the first thing you see when you come through the entryway and is where you’ll usually find me,” she says. “I can spend hours there. When I’m at home, I’m inevitably flipping through a cookbook at the breakfast bar or playing around with recipes at the stove.”
Working from a home with an open floor plan where every space is visible, it is important to define workspaces and living areas. “I’ve tried to divide my flat into two separate spaces: one for work and one for my own personal use,” the chef explains. “But since I live in an open space, work life bleeds into my personal life, but I suppose that is reflective of my life.”
Mina uses the kitchen as a natural divider in the centre of the rectangular space. To one side are her 10-seat dining table paired with classic Eames chairs, and a study that includes a smaller sitting area with vintage armchairs. One of Mina’s favourite pieces, a painting by her mother, Hyun Sook Kim, has pride of place here. “She was an artist as well as a fantastic cook whose meals were always beautifully prepared and who believed that a meal was as much visual and emotional as it was gustatory,” she says. “My passion for art, cooking and entertaining comes from her.”
Opposite the dining table is a low shelf that showcases a collection of curiosities, including artisanal Korean ceramic ware, sketches and mementoes. This shelf is easily transformed into an extra counter when Mina is entertaining. “I like to display an array of handmade ceramics and serving ware that I’ve collected in my travels. I always pick up something for my table, although I’ve had to slow down because I’ve run out of space to put them all.”
The other side of the apartment offers an expansive living area featuring an original Noguchi coffee table and a Saarinen womb chair that were the first pieces of “real furniture” Mina bought as an adult living in New York. She has also created a second, more intimate seating area at the far end of the living area, adding plants and a minimalist teak bench. “This is from a newly founded furniture company in Yangon called Paribawga. It’s dedicated to featuring the craftsmanship of Myanmar but with very modern lines,” she says.
As in the main living area, Mina took a contemporary approach to the bedroom, keeping things simple and adding textured fabrics to complement the furnishings.
Mina started Sook—a name inspired by her mother’s nickname—about three years ago when she began catering for various events. At first, juggling a full-time corporate legal job and an increasingly busy “hobby” was so much fun that she didn’t mind the sleepless nights and loss of free time. But as more and more food-related projects and events started to appear, she realised that cooking full-time was a viable option. “Around this time, I also started to feel run-down physically, so focusing on Sook full-time allowed me to take back control of my health and personal time,” she says.
Loft-style living can be the ideal solution for those who work from home, but it is essential to make the space feel like a personal sanctuary, she says. “For all the homes I’ve had, I’ve wanted to create a retreat from the hectic work day and fantastic urban chaos. Since I entertain a lot, my home has to be welcoming and comfortable where my friends, family and I can lounge and relax for hours. You won’t find sofas or chairs that are impeccably designed but impossibly uncomfortable to sit in.”
She also thrives in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of her home. “I love Hong Kong, but when I’m at home, I also feel like I could be in New York or East London, which makes me feel still connected to my past. But perhaps the best thing about this apartment is the community around it. I have a family of neighbours who are all creatives and who love food. We feed each other with home-cooked meals and inspiration and support constantly. I’m grateful to be living here.”
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Hong Kong Tatler