Back to where it all began. Well, almost. We started this project nearly two years ago one stop away, at Nonhyeon Station (논현역), and the trip to Hakdong brought some familiar sights with it. Foremost among these is Nonhyeon Furniture Street (논현가구거리), which runs along Hakdong-ro (학동로) between the Line 7 stations, and if you’re approaching from Hakdong you’ll want to go out Exit 5 or 6 to reach it.
The majority of this stretch of road is lined with furniture shops. Catering to the more well-heeled Gangnam clientele, the stores here are more upscale than what you’ll find on the furniture streets in Ahyeon (아현) or Isu (이수). Most of them bear European-y names like Ottimo or Scandia, the latter of which of course had pieces of simple Scandinavian design. Window shopping takes you past bedroom sets both minimal and ornate, tall windows with several drapery designs hanging from runners, and safe stores with all the lockboxes you could ever need.
Looking for something a bit more unique? You might want to hang a left on Hakdong-ro-24-gil (학동로24길) where, on the first block you’ll find a boxy, modern three-story building – part showroom, part-workshop. Hearing the buzz of power saws I looked in at the first floor shop. Open to the street and full of very serious looking equipment, an ornate structure of steel tubes sat welded together on a giant table, looking like a clutch of drinking straws that had been dipped in silver paint. This is 최가철물점 (Choi Family Hardware Shop), a renowned hardware and design shop.
Now, you might be skeptical of just how famous a hardware shop can actually be, but this place is much more than your average nuts-and-bolts-in-boxes and six-jelly-donut-a-day-staff DIY store. This is not the kind of place you go to pick up flange nuts or a box-end wrench. It’s the kind of place you go if you have serious cash to splash and want to fit out your business with incredible tables, railings, or installation pieces. The Choi family has provided work for 7 Luck Casino, the Banyan Tree, and the Suncheon Country Club, and they built the workspace where much of the traditional craftwork for the restoration of Sungnyemun (숭례문) (or Namdaemun (남대문)) is being performed. But like me, you’re likely to be most impressed by their simple things. Browse through the website and discover just how beautiful a door handle can be. (The Choi family also owns and runs the Lock Museum (쇳대박물관) in Daehangno.)
The hilly backstreets southwest of the station around 최가철물점 are filled with tile and bath fixture shops, so after you’ve picked up furniture for the new place you can swing through this area for the finishing touches.
You’ll also find tiling and light fixture shops in the backstreets left out of Exit 2, and heading south from Exit 3 or 4 will bring you to yet more lighting and fixture stores. Continue past those and you’ll come to three large sporting goods stores, specializing in outdoor equipment for skiing, snowboarding, diving, and the like.
Bath fixture shopping reaches its zenith at Royal&Co. You’ll see the large gray and glass façade down Nonhyeon-ro (논현로) from Exit 7, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you just stop there. Please, go in. What you’ll find are toilets, urinals, and showerheads lined up on a display floor like cars at an auto show might be. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds. But even weirder is the fact that after a few minutes you adjust and start to walk around admiring the various ceramic structures, comparing their various attributes, and finding yourself impressed by just what a toilet can do. And you have to admit that some of those tubs and showers are downright sexy.
But if passive admiration simply isn’t enough for you, and, oh, it wasn’t for me, stroll past the polished stones in the reflecting pool to what is elsewhere known as a ‘restroom,’ but that here is so much more, as the sign reading ‘Experience Zone’ so clearly states. Pause to admire the urinal artwork before stepping into the bathroom of your appropriate gender. Curse the fate that bore you into such a lowly position that you have to physically raise and lower the toilet seat on the commode at your home as the one before you requires only the slightest movement before a motor kicks in and automatically finishes the job for you. Curse further when you return to the showroom and the sensor on another toilet detects your presence and instigates Seat-Raising without your even needing to lift a finger. Is this paradise? I think we both know the answer to that.
Oh, and if that shopping’s worked up an appetite, simply make for the casual Italian restaurant on Royal&Co’s second floor. The food’s good, but the ambiance is what makes it special.
Believe it or not, there are non-home improvement-related things in Hakdong. Hang an immediate left on Hakdong-ro-33-gil (학동로33길) outside Exit 10, then take your first right, and a half block up on your right-hand side you’ll see a brightly striped sign. Along with the Sajeon Dental Clinic (사전치과) it advertises the Museum of Korean Embroidery (한국사전자수박물관), on the fourth floor of the Sajeon House Building. The building, and therefore the museum, wasn’t open on a recent Saturday, so I couldn’t check it out, but a display picture showed a bright, orderly place exhibiting a series of screens, some wall hangings, and several smaller items.
At the time I was a little bit relieved that the museum was closed, to be honest. Embroidery? Not really my thing. But a look at their website made me think again. The court wrapping cloths (궁보), bridal costumes (활옷), and keepsake pouches (주머니) visible there are quite stunning, and if I find myself in the area some other time I’m going to make it a point to try again.
Lastly, if you walk a short ways down Hakdong-ro from Exit 6, you’ll soon come to Hakdong-ro-21-gil (학동로21길). Turn right here and follow the narrow crooked street to Hakdong Park (학동공원), which will appear on your left in a dense bunching of trees after several blocks. This secluded spot is wonderfully calm and quiet, with no major streets and their accompanying traffic anywhere in the vicinity. The requisite dirt patch with exercise equipment is of course there, but included amongst that are three bench presses if you’re after something a little more legit than rotating wheels in circles. You’ll also find some playground equipment (swings, teeter-totter), a wooden pavilion, and a shady, if hilly, walking path.
Nonhyeon Furniture Street (논현가구거리)
Exit 5 or 6
최가철물점 (Choi Family Hardware Shop)
Exit 5, left on Hakdong-ro-24-gil (학동로24길)
North on Nonhyeon-ro (논현로)
Museum of Korean Embroidery (한국사전자수박물관)
Left on Hakdong-ro-33-gil (학동로33길), then take the first right
Phone: 02) 515-5114~6
Hakdong Park (학동공원)
West on Hakdong-ro (학동로), right on Hakdong-ro-21-gil (학동로21길), continue several blocks