Every home is different—from how we design and the décor we purchase, to what we prioritize, and how our spaces are conducive to our lifestyles. As such, it goes without saying that depending on your culture, your race, your family, your upbringing, and your values, your home will be unique.
And one company is highlighting that by celebrating these differences and how they attribute to what truly makes a house a home.
Portmanteau Home is a company dedicated to sharing and bringing awareness to multiracial heritage through thoughtfully-created home and lifestyle goods made from authentic materials from around the world. Their current collections feature pieces inspired by Japanese, Korean, and Indian heritages.
We went behind-the-scenes with the founder, Sunyoung (Sunny) Hong, to talk about the inspiration, the vision, the impact of Portmanteau Home, and how this company is creating a space to talk and think about what truly inclusive home design looks like in the world today.
A Celebration of Combining Cultural Identities
“Portmanteau Home’s mission is to celebrate the plurality of the multiracial
heritage of mixed-race people," shares Hong. "And to offer modern and stylish home and lifestyle goods to help them share their heritage with people in their lives."
As a parent of mixed-race children, Hong’s desire is to push back against what she calls the ‘either/or paradigm’—the idea that you have to be one thing or another—and the connection to her own life, with her children thinking they must be either Korean or American.
“When you have to describe yourself as half this and half that, it can often feel like you’re not enough of either,” she says. “I wanted to provide a visual representation of how two cultures can come together to create a brand new cultural identity that is whole and beautiful; just like how a portmanteau is created by combining the sounds and meaning of two words.”
The word portmanteau, by definition, is a mix of two or more words or sounds. As such, the vision behind the company was to showcase this beautiful mix—of identity, culture, and ultimately, sense of self.
Creating Homes That Reflect Multicultural Families
Every household and every individual has a unique set of experiences, beliefs, values, and traditions. However, when it comes to sharing her own culture and heritage with her children, Hong quickly realized that it wasn’t as simple as telling stories or incorporating Korean artifacts into the home décor.
After an initial ‘not-so-great’ conversation with her children about their mixed-race identities which, Hong says in her own defense, was okay because they were young, she quickly decided she wanted to do something more meaningful.
“My background is in architecture, specifically hospitality design, which is all about creating memorable experiences,” she says, “I wanted to leverage my knowledge of designing architectural experiences into helping people create meaningful homes and lifestyles that are more than just about being beautiful.”
To Hong, a home is less about the ‘pretty’ aspects and more about authentically capturing and conveying the story and culture behind the family.
“I feel strongly that your home should reflect your family’s history and speak to who you are beyond your stylistic preferences,” she says. “Sometimes people try to bring in artifacts from their culture, but it can be tricky to have them fit into the overall aesthetic of the home and can seem out of place or kitsch. Then there’s also the problem of the traditional artifacts not representing the true nature of your family’s makeup if you have a multicultural family.”
It’s important that family members—and kids in particular—can see themselves in the objects around the house. And whether that stems from purposeful conversations or intentionality, or it comes from bringing in the right items into the space, Hong is determined to make that awareness and change happen with Portmanteau Home.
The Impact on Home Design
The goal of Portmanteau Home is to bring in products of all variations, from modern to vintage, from around the world in a way that can be both culturally-inclusive and relevant, yet still celebrate what it means to be a part of the ‘American’ society.
“The idea of representing mixed-race culture is very complicated and nuanced," Hong says. “There are limitless possible combinations of mixed-race people out there, and you can go down a rabbit hole asking yourself what the ‘American’ part (currently symbolized by denim) of the equation is. Even so, I think it’s important to start somewhere, to add to the conversation America is having about what it means to be American, especially for mixed-race folks.”
Without ‘trading’ one identity or the other and without looking negatively at either aspect of culture and/or sense of self, Hong’s goal is to bring inclusivity of one’s roots as a natural, intentional part of home design.
“Former president Jimmy Carter has been quoted saying, ‘We become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic,’ about America,” shares Hong. “With two new collections each year to showcase different regions of the world, I hope to provide representation to people who currently have to check the ‘other’ box to describe themselves and continue to explore and celebrate the beauty of the American mosaic to its fullest extent.”