Thinking outside the box for storage solutions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:43pm


The problem of storage is something of an absurdity in Hong Kong. Despite a common lack of storage, shopping remains a prime pastime for many here. Something has to give.

But apartments won't suddenly double in size and the city's passion for fashion doesn't show any signs of abating. Which is why many rely on interior designers for solutions.

It's a challenge that local architecture firm KplusK embraces. The firm, headed by twins Paul and Johnny Kember, recently completed an overhaul of the Ovolo hotel on Queen's Road Central. Transforming every floor of the former serviced-apartment block into an affordable business hotel in the heart of the city required careful space considerations. On each floor, two 473 sq ft flats were subdivided into three bedrooms plus a shared lobby. The building now has 50 rooms in two sizes: 190 sq ft and 150 sq ft.

'We had to think laterally to make the design work,' says Paul Kember, chief designer on the project. 'The design team had to devise unique solutions to meet the storage requirements of the hotel's clients within the new, confined space.'

Among the features is a pull-down hanging rail that is stowed overhead, out of sight. 'We knew that we didn't have the space to install any cabinetry so we began to explore more vertical storage solutions,' says Kember. 'Thankfully the space has high ceilings so we focused on different ways to exploit that space. It's the kind of area most people overlook when they're trying to find more storage because, at first, it seems impractical to keep things out of arm's reach.'

Such solutions are not new. More power-driven examples can rotate clothes within a wardrobe, or raise and lower rails automatically. But these, Kember says, are prone to malfunction and not in keeping with the rest of the hotel's robust design.

'We wanted to stay away from any complicated, overly modern solutions,' he says. 'To my mind, anything that is too clever is just going to break down, so we wanted something really simple. In the end, what we created was a hybrid unit that functions both as a suitcase stand and a retractable hanging rail.'

Kember explains that the KplusK team researched the storage spaces found in Japanese micro hotels of the 1960s and '70s.

The rail is a mass-produced product by Japanese firm Sugatsune and is available from Hong Kong Hardware Supplier in Wan Chai, which is good news for anyone wanting to adopt a similar strategy at home.

'Space is always going to be a premium in Hong Kong,' says Kember. 'Many local designers have approached the problem from the point of view of necessity, which means there are some real practical solutions out there.'

Among the designers Kember cites as inspiration in this field is Gary Chang. The Hong Kong architect has been synonymous with innovative storage solutions ever since he unveiled his 'suitcase apartment' in 2009. A unique sliding-wall system allowed the 344 sq ft apartment to be transformed into 24 room combinations, including some specifically for the storage of linen and clothing.

'We had hidden storage all over,' says Nelson Chow, a former employee of Chang's, and now in charge of his own firm, NC Design & Architecture. 'Anywhere there was space for something 'hidden', Gary would put something in. We hid storage below raised platforms and concealed beds to allow interior spaces to transform their purpose.'

In 2011, Chow ventured out on his own, applying the hidden storage techniques he had learned with Chang to the field of retail interior.

'In [stores], you need to maximise the sales per square foot,' he says. 'Floor space is economically vital, so all the stock has to be hidden away.'

Recently, Chow has turned his hand to residential designs, again using the tricks and techniques he perfected in the field of retail to create unique storage solutions in the home. One of his most recent projects is a 700 sq ft apartment in Mid-Levels. To give the client more closet space, Chow built into the cavity of the wall running the length of the open living room and kitchen, and built floor-to-ceiling storage.

'The only way to make this function aesthetically is to use frameless doors,' he says. 'These allow the storage to blend with the wall. Without, it would just look like a large wardrobe in the middle of the room. With doors flush to the wall, the storage is hidden and all you can see is a continuous wall.'

A similar project was undertaken by the design team at Kon Design, a Hong Kong-based architecture firm. Konie Lam, the designer who led the team, explained that their challenge was 300 books and 200 pairs of shoes that needed to be stored somewhere in the apartment. At 1,600 sq ft, it may not sound like much of a problem, but the property is also home to four people - two of whom are under 10.

'Every space was suddenly considered for storage,' says Lam. 'We hid shelves behind mirrors, added little storage boxes to the ends of wardrobes and built a dining booth with a concealed storage structure inside.'

Similar to Chow, Lam used one of the apartment's primary dividing walls as storage. Accessed via sliding doors, an in-built wardrobe runs the length of the hallway. Perhaps the most dramatic solution of all, though, is the overhead storage boxes.

'There was a structural beam running through the apartment,' Lam says. 'To maintain the feeling of high ceilings, we used the beam as an anchor for overhead storage compartments. It was an incredibly practical solution.'

To make the design work, Lam used a special type of pivot hinge that allows the door to open vertically, folding down a full 180 degrees to give access from below.

When combined with the storage hidden throughout the rest of the home, it may not have been entirely necessary to add more space. The opportunity was there, however, and Lam feels it was wise to have taken it.

'The family has two small children who are only going to get bigger,' Lam says. 'In six or seven years, what might currently be excessive storage for toys will no doubt be useful for something else. When it comes to storage in Hong Kong, I doubt you can ever have too much.'


The number of room combinations Hong Kong architect Gary Chang created in his 344 sq ft 'suitcase apartment' in 2009