A small miracle
TO THE majority of Hong Kong residents, cramped living space is both a reality and a headache, but to interior designer Duncan Lee, the territory's tiny apartments are the ultimate challenge.
Lee, of Design Logic, has a penchant for designing small apartments - unlike some designers whose creativity is employed mainly for the rich. A small flat can be an inspiration rather than a setback to the innovative designer. But instead of attempting to make tight spaces look more spacious, as may be expected, Lee sets out to make miniscule homes look interesting.
'I try to make every home look different, taking into account the occupant's lifestyle,' he says. Lee's design skills were recently tested to the full when he was asked to revamp a 200-square-foot home. His past projects include a 500-square-foot and an 800-square-foot home.
'A bigger place is easier to design as you have to use up the space, but a smaller place is a challenge,' says the designer, who himself lives in a rented 400-square-foot Kowloon apartment. 'The secret is learning how to save space rather than waste it.' So what space-saving tricks does Lee employ in the smaller home? Surprisingly, Lee does not follow the traditional formula when designing small spaces, such as using predominantly light colours, mirrors and minimal furniture. Instead, he sets out to make the available space as unique and practical as possible.
'Even in a small apartment you have to make a home fun to live in, but practical to use. Although you have to keep furnishings to a minimum you can play with the colours,' he says.
'In a small flat, colour is important. If you use all the same colour it will look claustrophobic, but if you play with colours it will be more interesting to look at.' Of course, employing a designer to make the most of your home comes at a price; Lee estimates it costs a minimum of $350,000 to totally revamp a small apartment - and that's not even including furniture. For those who can not afford the luxury of an interior designer, Lee has a few basic rules for maximising space.
'You can't load unnecessary furnishings into a small home and I always prefer clean, not fussy, lines. You have to make it look spacious but keep it simple, with a bit of design - you don't want it to look as though you just haven't bothered to do anything with it,' he says. Lee also suggests making the most of available wall space and advocates an alternative approach to planning your home.
'With a smaller apartment even the lay-out is vital; you don't necessarily have to use a room for what it was intended for. Don't just follow the usual pattern. Just because you have a living room doesn't mean you have to put a sofa there - that's not the way it works,' he says.
Wherever possible, Lee suggests giving things dual functions: a closet can house a pull-down desk, a cupboard can conceal a foldaway bed and the top of a chest of drawers can double up as a TV stand.
But what about those people who rent a small apartment and are constrained by a tight budget? Lee's first piece of advice is: don't even think of touching the bathroom or the kitchen, two projects which usually prove costly.
'If you rent you want to take it with you, so buy removable lighting and furniture. Even closets can be taken with you! Things you can move are yours for ever,' he says.
'Find cheap alternatives for decorating, for example, use a curtain instead of a door for the closet.' A final pointer for the financially challenged, but house-proud home owner: 'Any features that you can't take with you - make it cheap!'