Deep in the Yangon community of Yankin, down an assuming alley and a sweaty climb up to the sixth floor in an apartment block only filled with Myanmar script, you will find the home that Jojo and Jerome built. And I couldn’t have been more lucky to have done that climb one night when friends invited me to a small get together that Jojo and Jerome were hosting. I knew I had to come and hear the story behind their beautiful home filled with equal parts elbow grease, a keen eye for beautiful old things and the good sense that walls should get knocked down.
Looking for a change, and a place that wouldn’t make too much trouble about the paperwork involving a bi-national relationship, Jojo, an American, and Jerome, who is from France, were attracted to Myanmar by friends who described the place as a “blank canvas.” Both left their lucrative finance and consulting gigs in London and made their way over to Yangon in 2014 and have since built careers and reputations as serial entrepreneurs. And what a little empire they are building with Jojo opening Yangon Yoga House and designing the interior of downtown bespoke bar, Hummingbird and Jerome providing key business development and marketing services local firms. But this wasn’t necessarily a huge leap from what they were doing before. Before moving to Yangon, Jojo helped to develop, design and build wine crate shelving solutions at Le Petit Monster, and the pair grew a huge collection of collectibles and pretty things throughout all of their homes around the world. Art history, economics and some knowhow around a toolbox goes a long way.
When they first arrived in Yangon, Jojo and Jerome knew they didn’t want to blow all of their money on an expensive condominium or indulge in the upswing of real estate values since Myanmar has slowly opened up to the world. Instead, they chose to invest in a place they could call home, a respite from the chaos of emerging Yangon. To do that, they had to knock down a literally legally binding wall, strip off the unfortunate lime green laquer adorning their doorways, rearrange some electrical outlets, and endure the pains of DIY in a place where tools of the trade are still scarce and local tastes may conflict. Nearly one year after moving into their Yankin sixth floor walk-up, the hard work has paid off. Jojo and Jerome wanted a vintage meets industrial Brooklyn chic apartment in the heart of Yangon and that is exactly what they got.
With Jojo’s hustling skills (as Jerome describes), the pair also quickly made fast friends with Htet, the owner of Rangoon Tea House. Through Htet, they met the man who is now their most trusted antiques dealer in Yangon. That hustle has resulted in one of the most gorgeous homes cum showrooms in the least likely of places. And as a result, Jojo and Jerome have a constantly evolving home. Every few months, they acquire a trove of new treasures their new friend keeps an eye out for, immediately contacting them when a new piece arrives that he knows they will like. And after some of their own refurbishment and a short stay with them, the collection of benches, chests, side tables and other coterie originating from Myanmar’s colonial era, make it onto the web for the fastest bid. Though they do experience some seller’s remorse after the money is handed over.
However, there is one piece the pair will absolutely not handover. Unless you’re willing to finance their acquisition of several new Chesterfields. Knowing the difficulty of finding high quality pieces in southeast Asia, Jojo and Jerome searched high and low in the UK for the perfect vintage Chesterfield sofa with the perfect spread of patina from a history of warmed bums. This precious item was subsequently driven 400km around the UK before being stowed away in a shipping container bound for Myanmar.
Jojo and Jerome’s home is filled with similar prizes collected from sheer will to serendipity. Like the 25kg antique sewing machine they found in Bordeaux, which was hauled by bicycle (and Jerome), plane and train to London and now sits as the legs for their dining room table. There’s a sketch of Jojo by auteur Michel Gondry which sits proudly framed on a bookshelf. Another piece for conversation fodder is the antique and genuine Chagall that Jojo acquired when Bernie Madoff’s estate was auctioned away.
Likewise, there are the gems they have collected here. Jerome proudly shared an antique lock box they recently found. And then there’s their equally pre-loved bed, which was fashioned by the historic colonial era Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and bear’s the company’s well known fan-shaped logo.
So having given this home some skin that’s been burned by paint solvents, the anxious heart palpitations of hauling antique pieces up twelve flights of stairs and the joys of sourcing DIY tools, and all that jazz, Jojo and Jerome have built themselves a most beautiful home that is so perfect for being shown off during dinner parties, game nights, or tiny little design blogs. I hope you find their home as inspiring as I did.
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.