Mario’s home goes against the grain

South China Morning Post
November 4, 2004

Mario’s home goes against the grain

Paggie Leung

While most people are happy to buy plastic furniture, Mario Joao
DeSouza refuses to have such items in his house.

The 40-year-old partner in a furniture shop is in love with the beauty
of wood.

“History,” he says when explaining why he is so fond of classy old
furniture. “It’s because I’m from a refugee family.”

Mr DeSouza speaks fluent Cantonese and says he is an Armenian, although
he was born in Macau and holds a Portuguese passport. His family had
been running for their lives from country to country, first migrating
from Armenia to Mexico, and then moving from Shanghai to Macau “because
of communism”.

When he was five, he moved to Hong Kong, where he has spent most of his
life. “Refugee families need their homes, their temporary homes.
Whenever they go it’s never their original homes, never where they came
from, so you lose a lot of history and miss stories of the past and the
faces,” he says.

“With old furniture in your house or even new furniture that you
cherish, you can rebuild the history. I guess that’s important,
especially for the new generation.”

So when he got a chance to renovate his house about two years ago, he
looked for old Chinese or rustic Indonesian furniture – items he
believes that can last for hundreds of years.

He consulted his friend Jonathan Chong, who sells furniture made from
recycled and old wood. Attracted by the beauty and longevity of the
traditional pieces at the shop, he joined with Mr Chong to develop the
furniture business.

“There’s no way you can own all of them but there’s a way to get in
contact with them – that is to join the business,” he says.

Mr DeSouza has no plastic furniture in his home and is very much
concerned about environmental protection and energy conservation. He
says he tries to recycle as much as possible – glass, plastic, paper –
and criticises Hong Kong people for being too wasteful.

“The throw-away culture is very strong. It’s a very fashion-conscious
city, constantly trying to obtain new things to outdo the people around
them, and this creates a lot of waste,” he says, adding that other than
Japanese, Hongkongers are the only people in the world who change their
mobile phones every six months.

Pointing out that pollution in Hong Kong is getting worse, Mr DeSouza
says the government should take the lead in protecting the environment,
and promote the use of alternative energies.

“I will definitely leave this city if the pollution problems go on,” he
says, although Hong Kong is the place he likes most. “I don’t want to
suffer from that.”

GRAPHIC: (Photo: Jonathan Wong); After his family’s rootlessness, Mario
Joao DeSouza has come to value old furniture for the permanency it
gives to a home.