Aug 02, 2012|
In this real estate-obsessed city, everyone is deeply interested with each others’ flats. After a move, fielding questions is de rigueur: How big? How much? And, of course, where on earth do you put all your crap? Let’s be honest, we’re sick and tired of hearing endless complaints about shoebox apartments, zero storage space and flimsy Ikea furniture. Even with limited resources, there are ways to take a tiny space and turn it around. So we’ve canvassed Hong Kong’s interior designers, flat owners and other small-space gurus to show you that small really can be beautiful.
Dare Koslow has made a name for himself buying up flats in old tong laus and Andrew Bell is the creative force that decorates them in a style reminiscent of New York’s airy, industrial lofts—even if they’re only 400 square feet.
On Wa Lane, next to a cha chaan teng and across from a metalworker down an alley in Sheung Wan, one of their refurbished apartments epitomizes their philosophy of modern, functional urban design jazzed up with a bit of Hong Kong quirkiness.
The walls are textured, finished with raw gray concrete, while pipes and conduits are exposed and painted metallic silver. Bell eschews direct lighting in favor of subtle fixtures aimed at the ceilings, which he paints white to reflect the light and to make the small space seem bigger. Opting for iron-framed glass doors unites its two rooms and makes the apartment feel more open. And don’t miss the closets’ and cabinets’ seashell-shaped brass handles, and the oversized, old-fashioned clock in the living room that wouldn’t look out of place in a train station—it all comes from nearby Cat Street.
“I try to give an expat [tenant] a touch of the exotic, old Hong Kong,” Bell says. “They feel like they are here, not in any cookie-cutter city all over the world.” The design of the flat prioritizes the practical, too. An executive director at a bank moved from a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Causeway Bay to this one, and she’s impressed by how seamlessly everything fits, from the wardrobe’s capacity to hold the large suitcases that never seem to fit anywhere else to the garbage can built into the countertop. The mounted flat-screen TV’s assorted cords are hidden behind the wall; the fridge is tucked into a closet. But the flat feels far from squished—even her 65-pound dog Winston fits comfortably.
“I lived in Brooklyn when I was in New York. You want to feel like you live in a house with character, not in a high-rise,” she says. “You don’t feel like you’re moving into a sterile rental… I feel like I’m in another country instead of feeling like I’m in a mall.”
Another endearing detail is the ironwork pattern on the windows, which Bell saw on Shelley Street on a decades-old building. Foreigners, he says, assume it’s an Art Deco pattern, but it’s really a nod to vintage Hong Kong design.
Bell sees his design work as an attempt to update spaces for modern-day residents that might otherwise be written off as old and cramped. “My raison d’etre is to improve the tong lau,” he says. “For a return, and also, it makes it worthwhile for people to save them instead of tearing them down.”
Andrew Bell, Earth Home Limited, 2547-0101, www.earthhome.com.hk/andrew.php.
Flat by Andrew Bell
400 square feet
Wa Lane, Sheung Wan
The younger sister of hip boutique Konzepp (which is just around the corner, incidentally), Kouch is a lifestyle concept store with a focus on wine—specifically French and American wines—and champagne. Former sommelier and Kouch’s present “wine guy” David Baudrie points out that the shop sets out to stock exclusive wines and wines new to the city, some of which aren’t available at other restaurants and wine shops elsewhere in Hong Kong. In addition to the wines, items like P.A.P. leather and canvas bags and Ecoya beauty and bath products are also on offer.
Kouch has an au naturel thing going on, with wooden walls and shelving, and a fake-grass floor that spreads out onto the pavement. The couch (hence the shop’s name) is the focal point of the space, creating an inviting place for people to come and chill. No space is left unutilized: the steps behind the counter lead to a tiny wine cellar, with the walls painted in Konzepp’s signature bright yellow; a stylish wooden trunk in the center of the shop doubles up as both a table and—when the top is opened up—a jewelry display case.
The shop isn’t all about selling products, though, as founder Geoffrey Kwan points out: “The point is not really to make a lot of money, but to provide a space for people to hang out.” Kouch hosts film screenings, chocolate nights, champagne nights and occasional block parties together with Konzepp. Kwan admits that they’d love a bigger venue, but since the project is supposed to be a “living room for the public,” having too large a space would destroy the intimate vibe as well as make logistics more difficult to manage.
Limited space, though, doesn’t limit Kouch’s ambitions. “We had 400-500 people at [Konzepp’s] anniversary party,” Kwan recalls.”They didn’t mind hanging around the street all the way down to the end of Tung Street.”
G/F, 12 Tai Ping Shan St., Sheung Wan, 2376-2871. Open daily 1pm-10pm.
Wine Shop/Event Space
300 square feet
Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan
Robata Zawazawa, a stylishly slim robatayaki joint, has just 18 seats. Guests dine close together in the dimly lit, lantern-lined space, watching the chefs behind the grill for an authentically intimate izakaya experience. No surprise, then, that the designer is Japanese.
In his designs, Shigeru Sato alludes to imagery from literature, cinema and national lore, such “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Zatoichi,” a long-running TV and film series about a blind sword-fighting hero. Sato—whose Gonpachi Nishi Azabu restaurant in Tokyo inspired the set for a scene in “Kill Bill”—used gray stone, brown bamboo paneling and off-white rice paper screens to dress up this small space.
“We try to make use of the height of the venue by using mirrors in a variety of ways and also focus on vertical design to accentuate the high ceiling,” says Sato, who is skilled at fielding requests for small-scale projects in restaurants, bars and private homes. “In Robata Zawazawa, we use a range of beautiful paper lanterns of different heights to showcase the high ceiling and décor.”
Keeping with the straight-to-the-source mentality, the lanterns were imported from Tokyo’s Nihonbashi neighborhood and the Japanese kimono fabric used along one wall is from Gion, the geisha district in Kyoto.
At 550 square feet, Robata Zawazawa isn’t even the tiniest place Sato’s designed. That superlative belongs to Café Deco Boca in Tokyo (dcbc.jp/lab.html), which is only 330 square feet. Says Sato: “Small space won’t be negative if people can treat it as an intimate place for gatherings or doing whatever they enjoy.”
LG/F, 41 Wyndham St., Central, 2536-9898. Open Mon-Tue 5pm-midnight; Thu 5pm-midnight; Wed 5pm-3am; Fri 5pm-3am; Sat 5pm-3am.
Restaurant by Shigeru Sato
500 square feet
Wyndham Street, Central
Peter Hunter turned a dank, tiny basement space into a plush, decadent-looking European-style bar.
The British-born interior designer operates out of Hong Kong and Paris, outfitting high-end apartments with carefully chosen antique pieces (or reproductions of them—after all, we’re in China), creative storage solutions (“Slice off part of a room with curtains… the bulk of the crap we all have is behind a curtain”) and lots and lots of mirrors (”A mirror is the cheapest, quickest way to add glamor… you can never have enough mirrors”).
That kind of residential background was exactly what Jaa Bar’s owners were looking for.
“They didn’t want it to feel like a bar. They wanted it to feel like someone’s sitting room,” he says. “My favorite words are cozy, cocoon and comfy—no matter how much money you have or what space you live in.”
The custom bar counter Hunter designed looks like three chests of drawers, and the liquor bottles are stored on bookshelf lookalikes rather than drab shelving. He’s used mirrored walls to make the room look bigger, and installed a rail system for hanging paintings because the bar also serves as a gallery—all the art is for sale. The track lighting can be adjusted according on the paintings on display, and the red shades add to the space’s dim, romantic vibe.
One major misconception Hongkongers have about their small spaces, says Hunter, is that white-washing the walls and filling them with bright, practically surgical lights will make them feel less claustrophobic.
“I like places to be twinkly and dark. I’m not taking out someone’s kidney, I’m serving drinks,” he jokes. Add some crystal, bronze and silver touches to a darker-colored room, and it’ll be appropriately atmospheric on weeknights but also bright on Saturdays and Sundays when you’re home during the day. Adds Hunter: “You have a concrete box. Paint it a dark color, get simple, low-key furniture, and a couple of pieces of—dare I say—bling, and you’re home and hosed.”
Jaa Bar: LG/F, Pak Tsz Lane, Central, 2815-8887, www.jaabar.com. Open Mon-Sat, 3pm-2am.
Peter Hunter Design: 2850-5580, www.peterhunterdesign.com.
Bar by Peter Hunter
500 square feet
Pak Tsz Lane, Central
By day, Anthony Hindmarsh works in real estate at Qi Homes, acquiring properties on behalf of clients and renovating them for rental. So it’s only natural that his own flat is a place any Hongkonger would kill to have—an attractive, artistic blend of styles that seamlessly mesh together. One problem: Hindmarsh isn’t planning to give it up anytime soon.
Together with interior designer Monique McLintock (see p.12 for more of her work), Hindmarsh combined eastern and western elements to create a streamlined, clutter-free home that feels at once modern and colonial. A vintage-looking Louis Vuitton trunk bought on eBay sits at the foot of a contemporary four-poster bed, and a Tibetan chest is topped with a French chandelier lamp and crystal cocktail-making station.
“We tried to make it an interesting mixture of east meets west,” Hindmarsh says. “We’ve got the Burmese Buddha, the Tang dynasty horse and the old English books.”
Dreaming up the perfect kitchen was an exercise in space-saving. Completely obscured under the black counter made of silestone (it’s more durable than granite) is an oak table on wheels that can stay tucked under to make the room feel more open. It can roll out a bit to provide extra counter space or roll out entirely to serve as a dining table or an impromptu bar. Two treatments frame the criss-crossed windows, Roman blinds and curtains, because layering adds depth and dimension to a small room.
Says Hindmarsh: “I was trying to achieve a very upmarket London apartment that you might find in Belgravia or Knightsbridge.”
Anthony Hindmarsh, Qi Homes, 2858-1406, www.qi-homes.com.
Flat by Anthony Hindmarsh
660 square feet
Caine Road, Mid-Levels
Tucked into a nondescript building in SoHo, Coffee Assembly is a cozy, pleasant oasis in an otherwise bustling neighborhood filled with cacophonic street markets and trendy bars. The coffee house could easily have looked like a plain old first-floor studio apartment, with its white walls and tiled floors, but owners Felix Wong and Lily Ko have skillfully sidestepped that foxhole with quaint and charming touches. Glass coffee-making equipment and curios are crammed into shelves and displayed on little side tables; dim lighting gives the space a casually intimate feel; and houseplants dot the tables and windowsills. Cushions add splashes of color to the seating.
Besides selling coffee beans from Central and South America, Africa and Asia, Coffee Assembly runs coffee workshops every Tuesday evening for $500, where you can learn the basics of roasting beans and operating different coffee-making equipment. With just two small tables and three comfy couches to seat guests, the workshops are capped at 10 guests per session. (The sparse seating, unlike other small cafés that attempt to cram in rows and rows of tables, really opens up the space.)
Ko and Wong used creative yet easy solutions to work around potential problems: floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one wall serve more than one purpose, covering stains created by the humid climate and at the same time giving the venue a more spacious appearance. Also, a spot where the ceiling is significantly lower, due to the staircase outside, has been turned into a little office nook complete with desk, chair and printer. “Use every square foot,” Ko says, encouraging others who encounter oddly shaped cubbyholes in their homes or other spaces. “Use up all the space.”
1/F, 6 Elgin St., Central, 2858-8153, www.coffeeassembly.com. Open Thu-Sun, 1-9pm.
350 square feet
Elgin Street, Central
In her 20 years as an interior designer, Monique McLintock has grasped the importance of first impressions—especially for small spaces.
People make snap judgments about apartments, and there are certain techniques to avoid the sense that a typically tiny Hong Kong flat is too cramped. “When you first walk in, you want to see the entire space within the first two seconds,” she says. “You want to see the whole depth of the place.”
McLintock’s most recent project is a sleek 280-square-foot property on the top floor of a building on Wo On Lane, sandwiched between two bars smack in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong. It’s a decidedly no-frills, masculine apartment, with glossy floors that look like industrial concrete, black cupboards, metal shelving, a mirrored closet and silky gray bedding.
It’s also crucial, though, not to sacrifice privacy for the sake of an open-plan design. “With small apartments,” she cautions, “you don’t want to feel your bed is in your living room.” Using half-height walls to divide a room, in which the bottom is solid and the top is either glass or empty space, can help strike that balance.
Many of the furnishings are from Ikea (the hydraulic bed is from G.O.D.), but the flat doesn’t feel plain—one special piece of furniture can serve as a focal point and make all the difference. In this case, it’s the dining table. McLintock salvaged a slab of reclaimed wood from the second-floor of a flooring supplier on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai and had metal legs custom-made for it. It’s not always easy to find those unique items. “You have to ask,” says McLintock. “You have to dig around.”
Monique McLintock Interiors, 6779-3791, www.moniqueinterior.com.
Flat by Monique McLintock
280 square feet
Wo On Lane, Central
We canvassed interior designers and other small space experts for tips that you can apply to your own little shoebox.
I have a great shop on Queen’s Road East that does custom furnishings. You can bring them a design from Italy, and they’ll basically copy it. It’s called Bricks and Stones (G/F, 97 Queen’s Rd. East, Wan Chai, 2520-0577).
- Anthony Hindmarsh, Qi Homes
I buy door handles from Rocky Mountain in the US (www.rockymountainhardware.com). They do it bespoke for each order.
- Andrew Bell, Earth Home Limited
Ap Lei Chau. Try Sofasale.com.hk, and Tree—but it’s not black or masculine.
- Monique McLintock, Monique McLintock Interiors
I get [antiques] from London and Paris, and from some websites like 1stDibs.com out of New York. Here I shop in Lane Crawford’s homeware store in Pacific Place (2118-3398), which has items from $20 to make-your-eyes-water, and get bedding from Prince’s Building. Carpets from the little dealers in the dreaded, ghastly Horizon Plaza. Altfield (www.altfield.com.hk) for Chinese antiques.
- Peter Hunter
Indigo (6/F, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing St., Ap Lei Chau, 2555-0540), Inside (Shop 231, 2/F, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Rd., Central, 2537-6298) and Artura Ficus (Shop 1501, 15/F, Horizon Place, 2 Lee Wing St., Ap Lei Chau, 3105-3903).
- Jo Gray, Grovens Living (www.grovens-living.com)
We were concerned with the price. We just bought our furniture from Ikea. The [black] sofa is from Direct Sales Center (www.dsc.hk)—it was just $900, and it’s still there after almost five years.
- Lily Ko, co-owner of Coffee Assembly
The cheapest solution is to go with Ikea. But when you have something that’s not pre-fabricated I don’t think you can maximize the space, like have the cupboards go up to the ceiling. I prefer built-in—it’s a more expensive solution, but I do think it maximizes space better.
- Anthony Hindmarsh
Simple solutions are always the best: organize your wardrobe by season. Whatever you’re not using, pack away in vacuum-sealed bags under the bed until the season changes…. In your kitchen cabinets, internal shelves can be replaced with pull-out baskets and space-saving accessories so your kitchen space works harder. Use a sink cover that can double up as a chopping board and create more workspace.
- Jo Gray
I think it’s important to bring in colors to the wall. I’m not saying make it really black, but I like to play with taupes and soft blues, to give it a bit of a theme and not just make it look like a hotel room.
- Anthony Hindmarsh
Use pale-colored or light-reflecting materials on surfaces, with elements of dark colors where appropriate—such as accent cushions, a feature wall or smoked glass.
- Jo Gray
I like to take down dividing walls, and I like to build sliding doors into that space. Every centimeter counts.
- Anthony Hindmarsh
Place plants in spots relevant to feng shui philosophies. This year’s [most auspicious] spot [is] facing the east. Doing this will help personal relationships in particular.
- John Wong, feng shui master
Never direct light down at the floor. Never push the bed against the wall—leave at least 60 centimeters on both sides. Never compromise on this.
- Andrew Bell
“Try to avoid the disposable approach to furniture. Buy the best you can, but not everything needs to be a masterpiece. The little pieces will lift it up. Buy stuff with a story. Buy small, and not all at once.”
- Peter Hunter
Balance natural and artificial light.
- Monique McLintock
Not everything in a small space has to be small. Play with scale on soft furnishing patterns, décor accessories and furniture—an oversized mirror or a cushion with a large print fabric can make a space appear larger.
- Jo Gray