Holiday Entertaining

A Vintage-Filled Home in Hong Kong, Dressed for the Holidays

Food52 Resident Mandy Lee didn't grow up celebrating the holiday season—but that hasn't stopped her from putting her unique spin on it.

December  3, 2021
Photo by Mandy Lee

Home for the Holidays is a special series featuring our favorite food and home experts and their diverse homes—and holidays—from around the world. From Los Angeles to Mumbai and Hong Kong, we get a peek at how each family approaches the most special of seasons—in a way that’s uniquely theirs.


The holidays permit Food52 Resident—and conjurer of community favorites like this recipe for an instant dan dan noodle mix and this one for the flakiest pastryMandy Lee, to make one important concession at home: she allows help. While cooking for Mandy is a fiercely guarded solitary sport, bringing the holidays to her home lets her drop her guard. “I don't even mind delegating or outsourcing some of the process—although my husband might disagree.”

Some of this letting-go might be a result of her having very few expectations of the holiday season—a fallout of never having been in one country or culture long enough. Mandy describes herself as “Taiwan-born, Vancouver-raised, and slow-aged in New York” and has written unapologetically about the travails of moving around the world as an accompanying spouse. And then, there’s her own upbringing. “I come from a very non-festive family culture—my family is relentlessly talented in curbing holiday enthusiasm,” she says. (This was over email, but I’m imagining a straight face.)

So, each year since they left New York, Mandy and her husband have chosen to celebrate the season by traveling abroad—London, Rome, Vienna—picking spots best for "observing the holiday as non-observers.” The last two years put paid to those travel plans, thanks to the pandemic. “Being stuck in Hong Kong over Christmas, we were forced to transition from being observers to participants. Because if you want Christmas in Hong Kong, you kind of have to bring it yourself,” she says.

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Top Comment:
“You’re so inspiring, Mandy! I could listen to you speak all day, just the way you explain and describe what you’re making. Wish we were neighbors! I adore you! ”
— Darcywags
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Mandy’s apartment in Hong Kong, in which they’ve lived (with their two Rottweiler-mixes—the pups behind her blog lady and pups) since 2016, sits in a residential neighborhood nestled in the heart of the island, and is designed to be a breath of fresh air amid the hustle of the city. “The aesthetic of my apartment is very much inspired by Tara Mangini and Percy Bright from Jersey Ice Cream Co. I was going through a very distressing period of my life at the time, and I would imagine myself in their spaces, and it would feel like a stream of cold milk tempering down a cauldron of black coffee,” she explains.

The moody, vintage-filled kitchen where the magic happens. Photo by Mandy Lee

The result? A palette of grays, creams, and tans; linen drapes; aged wood paneling; and a moody, uncommon-green kitchen flecked with aged wood, copper, and brass. The apartment is also filled with vintage objects: “What draws me to them is the gathering and processing of lost, unclaimed memories. My home is an orphanage for memories,” she says.

So how does she go about layering on the holidays in her home? In a distinctly Mandy Lee way, of course—warm and uncluttered in aesthetic, and mindful of waste. What does that look like? Let’s find out.

Mandy's tip for making your artificial tree look more real: Intentionally install the branches more sparsely with uneven lengths. Oh, and tilt the tree. Photo by Mandy Lee

On holiday decorations:

Don't have space for a tree? Decorate a few branches instead. Photo by Mandy Lee

I try to use organic materials for decor, such as branches, dry flowers and leaves, instead of plastics. I'm pretty against acquiring an ungodly amount of decor, only to be thrown out after the holiday is over—I like my ornaments to be minimal. Unfortunately, getting a real Christmas tree in Hong Kong in both expensive and wasteful (flown in from far-flung places), so I have a reusable fake tree.

I'm also very drawn to the idea of what I call "holiday larder", recalling the memories of Christmas markets in Vienna. I think hanging cured meats and cheeses with a little dash of Christmassy bouquet garni can not only be beautiful, it also invokes a feeling of abundance, warmth, and security—all the good words that we associate with the holiday season. Even better? You get to eat your decor, meaning there's minimal waste.

A holiday larder, reminiscent of Mandy's favorite Christmas markets Photo by Mandy Lee

On the table setting:

Three words: simple, warm, and communal. I like to dress up a couple of essential oil-burners with some evergreen branches, and place them on the main or side table, so the pine-scented oil fills the room. I add on dim lights, lots of candles, etched glasses for flickering reflections, and stacked plates to invite the sharing of tasks. Dinner gatherings in Asia are always more communal—dishes are made to be shared, often presented in enormous vessels, almost like a centerpiece. I feel like it heightens the festivity and sense of gathering.

Essential oil-burners decorated with evergreen branches. Photo by Mandy Lee

On merging Chinese and American holiday traditions:

I do this mainly through the selection of my holiday larder. During the winter time is also when a lot of Chinese cured meats are hung dry, so I mix and match them with European varieties to create a hybrid atmosphere. I also once stuffed Chinese sausage sticky rice into a goose, but I'm still debating if that was necessary.

Photo by Mandy Lee
Photo by Mandy Lee

The one holiday tradition she’d love to add to the mix:

Mulled wine. If only I drank wine.

Three tips for throwing a wonderful holiday celebration:

Golden retriever. Golden retrievers. Golden retriever puppies.

Just add golden retriever puppies. Photo by Mandy Lee

What are some of the decorating rules you're making (or breaking) this holiday season? Tell us in the comments below.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Darcywags
    Darcywags
  • M
    M
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

4 Comments

Darcywags December 4, 2021
You’re so inspiring, Mandy! I could listen to you speak all day, just the way you explain and describe what you’re making. Wish we were neighbors! I adore you!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. December 4, 2021
(same.)
 
M December 3, 2021
I really love her style and it's a great example of how affordable items can look luxurious with the right accents.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. December 3, 2021
I do, too—a beautiful aesthetic. And just the right amount of decor—warm but never cluttered :)